We Need to Talk About Kevin
"There is no point. That's the point."
Eva never really wanted to be a mother—and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who, on a spring Thursday in 1999, three days before his 16th birthday and a few weeks before Columbine
, shot 10 people in his school's gym. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.
Just to make it clear, yes, it's fiction.
Written by Lionel Shriver in 2003. A radio adaption was made in 2008 and a film was released at the end of 2011. The film was directed by Lynne Ramsay
and starred Tilda Swinton
as Eva, John C. Reilly as Franklin, and Ezra Miller of Californication
as Kevin. It was entered into the 2011 Cannes Film Festvial.
This book and the film based on it provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Eva's frustration with Kevin's refusal to use the toilet despite already being six years old eventually leads her to throw him, breaking his arm. It's clearly stated that this causes him to gain a small amount of respect for her, and she becomes the only one who is allowed to see his 'true' nature.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Kevin's "tabloid name" is K.K.
- Adult Fear: Eva fears that her son Kevin, who she suspects to be a sociopath, may harm Celia or herself. Her fears were well founded, though in the end Kevin did not kill her.Celia on the other hand...
- Age-Inappropriate Dress: Kevin deliberately wears all his clothes at least a size too small, and starts a unique fashion trend in the juvenile prison where baggy clothes are the norm.
- Alpha Bitch: Laura, one of the victims in the school shooting. Eva suspects this is due to a warped crush on Kevin's part.
- Armenia: Eva is proud of her Armenian heritage to the point of insisting her son bear her surname, not Franklin's. Of course, at that point Kevin's still in utero and she doesn't know what she'll be dealing with. She later points out that her surname became famous only because of Kevin's school shooting.
Kevin: Thanks to me, now everybody knows how to spell it.
- Axes at School: Bows and arrows actually.
- Bishounen: Kevin, both in Eva's description in the novel, and being portrayed by Ezra Miller in the film.
- Book Ends: The film version's first shot/climax is of billowing curtains in a dark house with the click-click-click sound of a lawn sprinkler in the background. We hear the sprinker throughout the film whenever something really bad is about to happen, so when we reach the final flashback when Eva returns home from the shooting scene and we see the same shot from the beginning of the film, with the sprinker going nuts in the background, we know that whatever she finds on the patio behind the curtains isn't going to be pretty. It isn't.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: Kevin is very smart but just doesn't see the point of getting straight A's.
- Cassandra Truth: Franklin simply refuses to believe that there is something wrong with his son, to a point where it almost grows demented. Kevin is simply putting up a paper-thin guise as a happy boy to his dad to hurt Eva, and resents his dad for failing to see the truth when he was throwing up such a painfully transparent disguise.
- Consummate Liar: Kevin, since he was six.
- Creepy Child: The African mask makes him look even creepier.
- A Date with Rosie Palms:
- Kevin does this with the bathroom door open. It's implied he's doing it just to mess with Eva, rather than having actual urges.
- Even worse in the film version; Eva walks in on him doing it in the bathroom. He locks eyes with her and just does it harder.
- Dangerous Sixteenth Birthday: Eva suspects Kevin of having timed the shooting before this. A court could and did try him as an adult, but because he was under 16, they could only sentence him as a juvenile. He gets seven years.
- Epistolary Novel: The novel is told through Eva's letters to Franklin. It's implied that they're separated... until Eva narrates the Thursday of Kevin's massacre and reveals that Franklin has been dead all along.
- Establishing Character Moment: Kevin starts speaking late, but then in whole sentences, the very first of which is "I don' like dat".
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: In the end, it's obvious that this is the case. The nearest he actually comes to expressing it explicitly, though, is the heartwarming "Left you alive, didn't I?"
- Eye Scream: What happens to Celia.
- Fake American: Tilda Swinton as Eva.
- Foreshadowing: Kevin's sudden interest and affection when Eva reads him Robin Hood as a kid.
- A God Am I: Kevin shows shades of this although it's not specifically stated.
- Gory Discretion Shot: The massacre in the film version. Averted in the book where Eva describes it in blunt and brutal detail based on the news coverage.
- Hot for Student: Kevin accuses his teacher Vicky Pagorski of hitting on him after her class. He tells a very convincing story to the school board and a few parents, which gets Ms. Pagorski fired. Eva, however, suspects that Kevin made up the whole thing.
- Idiot Ball: From Eva's account, it looks as if Franklin acquires one and clutches it in an unrelenting death grip from the moment he finds out she's pregnant.
- Kick the Dog: Poor gerbil... and by extension, poor Celia.
- Kill the Cutie: Kevin murders Celia before the school massacre.
- Loners Are Freaks: Eva's agoraphobically house-bound Reclusive Artist card-designing mother. Kevin himself largely avoids social interaction with anyone where possible, and has exactly one known friend, whom he actively despises.
- Lovable Coward: Celia in a nutshell.
- Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Large parts of the book are Where Did We Go Wrong? about this trope. They tend to exonerate the parents of any blame for the kids' actions...
- Meaningful Name: Celia, a kind, loving and well-behaved little girl who is portrayed throughout the story as the complete opposite of Kevin, has a name meaning "heavenly". Also appropriate given that she is eventually murdered by Kevin.
- Mind Screw: The end of the book.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Kevin.
Kevin: I used to think I knew. Now I'm not so sure.
- Nature Versus Nurture: The book and film is based around the nature/nurture debate — did Kevin grow into a murderer because mummy didn't love him enough, or was he a psychopath from the word "go"? It is ultimately left to the reader's imagination to decide how Kevin became the person he was. There is evidence to support both cases, but Kevin's indifference (and even admiration) toward Eva's neglect strongly suggests it's the latter, but there's hints to the former as well. Lionel Shriver herself claims that the ambiguity is deliberate:
As Kevin attests, I'm a sucker for ambivalence.
- Nice Guy: Kind of played with for Franklin, since this doesn't work out well for him or anyone else involved.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Kevin. "There is no point".
- Not So Different: Both Kevin and Eva invoke this towards each other, but hardly ever at the same time or with agreement from the target. Tilda Swinton says she had planned from the start to "twin" with the actor(s) who played Kevin.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Eva's explanation for Kevin's delay in starting to speak, get housetrained, and interact with other kids, as well as his consistent academic underachievement (the latter suspicion is shared by his English teacher who ends up becoming one of Kevin's victims).
- Odd Couple: Eva and Franklin.
- Oedipus Complex: Implied by Eva's reaction to Kevin's peculiar habit of making sure his mother knows (and hears, and as far as possible sees) when he's getting to grips with himself - she feels like she's being sexually harassed by him. You may now apply the Brain Bleach. Kevin always had a special connection with Eva - she's somewhat pleased that her son shows his true personality to her, but never to his father.
- Pac Man Fever: Horribly straight example in the film. When child Kevin is playing a game with his father, they randomly mash buttons on the controller (which they are holding wrong) and shout cringe-worthy lines such as "How do you jump?" and "DIE! DIE!" at the TV, which blares arcade sounds.
- Parental Neglect: As time goes on, Eva's avoids her child and his odd ways. But Franklin either deliberately goes out of his way to only see to see the good in Kevin or just plain avoids his side of the parenting.
- Patriotic Fervor: Franklin has this to the point that it almost seems too over the top to be real. Then again, the book is from Eva's account, and she does see it as an endearing character trait of Franklin's.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie leaves out Eva's writing letters to the dead Franklin, and a few other things are changed as well. Kevin's weapon of choice is changed from a crossbow to a longbow, and instead of sitting calmly waiting to be arrested, he strolls out of the gym with his hands up.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Kevin does this a few times. To his mother (with a side of Hannibal Lecture), to his supposed best friend, to his father, and in the inevitable TV documentary to pretty much everyone except Eva.
- The one to his mother is especially harsh for two reasons: 1.) He delivers it at a moment when Eva thinks that she and Kevin are finally establishing a connection. Kevin asks her a question about her views on America and when she answers, Kevin proceeds to systematically tear both her answer and Eva apart (of course, the reader isn't sure if Kevin purposely set his mother up with the question or if he really was interested in her answer and responded accordingly.) and 2.) As cringe-worthy as it is, Kevin isn't exactly wrong.
- The Resenter: Kevin, towards everything and everyone, including himself. His mental disorder makes him perceive everything as boring, pointless and uninteresting, and this is how he feels every second of his life.
- The Reveal: Franklin is Dead All Along. Kevin killed him and Celia before he went to the school to kill his classmates and teacher.
- Rule of Symbolism: After Celia loses her eye, Kevin makes a show out of deliberately peeling and eating a lychee fruit, which is eyeball-like in appearance.
- Scare Chord: When Eva's sleep is disturbed by thoughts of Kevin's bow-and-arrow massacre at the school.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Kevin and Celia.
- The Sociopath: Confirmed by Word Of God.
- Soundtrack Dissonance:
- Most of the songs in the film are perky pop or western songs from the 50's or 60's. A rather surreal example, as the songs seem to fit their respective scenes quite well despite being happy songs in a fully bleak film.
- The outstanding example is Buddy Holly's "Everyday", which is played as Eva begins to have a nervous breakdown in her car driving home on Halloween night. As one reviewer puts it, "If I hear Buddy Holly's 'Everyday' any time on Halloween day after this film, I may have a complex".
- Stepford Suburbia: How Eva views the neighborhood Franklin relocates the family to - without asking her - in order to give his little boy what he considers a wholesome childhood environment.
- The Straight and Arrow Path: A malign version. In the school shoot-up, Kevin uses a bow and arrows. There's an explanation for Kevin's use of the crossbow in the novel; according to Eva, it was all deliberate on Kevin's part, in order to make sure that his murder meant nothing (indicating that he didn't actually stand for anything; not for geeks lashing out on their classmates, nor for anti-gun protesters).
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Kevin displays this from birth. He displays absolutely no interest in anything (no, seriously, anything), leaving Eva with a dilemma: how do you discipline a child who does whatever he wants despite any threats and has nothing you can take away from him, with the husband on his side?
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Celia. This is also how Laura Woolford's mother tries to portray her daughter when courting press attention after the massacre.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Colin from the film. Good lord, what an asshole.
- Unreliable Narrator: Eva. The book is her written account of what happened, and the movie takes place in her mind. However, we ultimately never know if anything is exaggerated or fabricated, since we never get a different account to compare hers to. Her brutal honesty makes us trust her more, though.
- Villainous Breakdown:
- Kevin gets a few of these, including a memorable one just before the school shoot-up.
- It's hinted at the end that two years after the event, Kevin's smarter-than-thou attitude has been almost been crushed by the juvenile prison system, showing him with notable scars and wounds. The prospect of going to an adult penitentiary has him visibly terrified.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Played with, in a somewhat sadistic way. Franklin thinks he is this to Kevin, who sneers at him behind his back (calling him "Mr. Plastic", a deliberate mispronunciation of his family name Plaskett). On the other hand, Eva suspects that there may also be a deep need to please somewhere beneath Kevin's willingness to put on a near-constant fake front, and a related anger that his dad actually buys into and likes the fake front.
- Where Did We Go Wrong?
- White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: Franklin's background. Less immediately noticeable for him than for his parents.
- Yandere: One of Eva's various theories about the reasons for Kevin's rampage. She notes that Alpha Bitch Laura was the first to die, and was shot cleanly through the heart (a la Cupid,) and wonders if Kevin killed her because he had some sort of attraction to her, and (since he has such contempt for the sentimental self-pity other shooters have displayed,) killed everyone else to make it a full-scale school shooting and conceal his real motive. Like all the other possible reasons, this one is never proven or disproven, and when confronted with this interpretation Kevin sneers it off. However, Eva thinks that his dismissal was overacted, and that he might be trying to cover up a nerve she just touched.