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Film / We Need to Talk About Kevin

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"There is no point. That's the point."
Kevin Khatchadourian

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a 2011 psychological drama thriller film based on the book of the same name written by Lionel Shriver in 2003note , directed and co-written by Lynne Ramsay. It stars Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, and Ezra Miller, and was additionally scored by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.

Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton) never really wanted to be a mother — and certainly not the mother of Kevin (Miller), the unlovable boy who, on a spring Thursday in 1999, three days before his 16th birthday and a few weeks before Columbine, killed 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 (Reilly). 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.

This book and the film based on it provide examples of:

  • Abusive Offspring: How much of it is in her head is left (somewhat) ambiguous, but before he kills her husband - his father - and her youngest daughter/his sister, Kevin is abusive to his mother Eva, such as bullying her, undermining her in front of Franklin (although this might simply be because Franklin favors Kevin and is disgusted by Eva's attitude towards him), and masturbates in front of her with the door open.
  • 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. In The Movie, however, this is implied to be a major step on Kevin's Start of Darkness.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Eva is still not the peachiest person in the movie, but because the movie changes from an epistolary narrative to a standard one, we don't get to learn of Eva's more prickly, pre-massacre side – like how her apprehension about having children was mostly about how dull and trite she finds them, or how cruelly she talks about most people in private. We don't see highlights from Mary Woolford's lawsuit and the court case in which Eva is intentionally combative. Although the movie does still show Eva's lack of maternal instincts, she is much more of a shell-shocked victim in the movie than in the book.
  • Adaptational Personality Change:
    • Celia is still a reserved, sweet girl in the movie, but she hardly has an ounce of shyness or the constant terror that plagued Book!Celia. Movie!Celia is funny, outgoing and laid-back, as opposed to Book!Celia who gives off vibes of being neurodivergent in some way (see Ambiguous Disorder). Additionally, there's no sign that Franklin thinks of her as anything less than a sweet princess in the movie, whereas Book!Franklin full-on resents Celia and barely spends time with her.
    • Franklin's personality is very dulled in the movie; whereas his steadfast trust of Kevin doesn't stray, his unabashed patriotism, conservative values and modelling of his family in the vision of the American dream are essentially absent, as are his and Eva's clashes about culture.
  • Adapted Out: Vicky Pigorski – some might argue, mercifully.
    • Kevin's best/only friend Leonard Pugh is also not a factor in the movie.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Kevin's "tabloid name" is K.K.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: In the book, Celia is terrified of everything in the world, has highly specific sensory issues, spinelessly bends to every one of her friends' and classmates' wishes, and is so afraid of failure that she simply will not answer easy questions, which can read to some modern readers as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or a mix of both. These traits are largely left out of the movie, though.
  • Ax-Crazy: Kevin eventually graduates to killing everyone in his family bar his mother, and going on a spree-killing rampage at his school.
  • Axes at School: Bows and arrows, actually.
  • The Baby Trap: Played with, as Eva is already married and has a child, but when she tells Franklin she wants another, Franklin points out she resents and picks on Kevin and refuses to discuss the matter. Eva decides to have another baby anyway and Franklin doesn't take it well. The film has them not even discuss it, she just springs it on him after she's already pregnant.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Basically. Kevin gets everything he wants by the end of the book, aside from the slight setback of doing a few years in prison (and even that went according to plan — as a minor, he got nowhere near the sentence he deserved). Kevin hates his dad? His dad's dead. Kevin resents his sister and is jealous of the affection their mother shows her? His sister's dead, but not before he ensured that she was mutilated first. Kevin wants control of his mother? He's practically guaranteed it, once he gets out of prison — Eva is so worn down that she's prepared to sacrifice the last shreds of her dignity, sense of self, and any hope of escaping the control Kevin has over her life because she "loves" him. However, he doesn't get it all his own way. It's implied that the juvenile prison system has somewhat knocked the stuffing out of him — he shows up to his mother's latest visit with visible facial wounds, suggesting the other prisoners beat and abuse him, and possibly more than that. He's incredibly apprehensive of moving to the adult system, which will undoubtedly be even worse. That said, he's described at least once as having scabbed knuckles, suggesting that his scuffles in prison may not be entirely one-sided. His fear about being transferred to an adult prison is more about the fact that he'll have to deal with much more than just fistfights there.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: It's heavily implied that Kevin killed Celia's pet guinea pig. Eva also begged Franklin not to buy Kevin a dog when he was a child, with this reason being implied to be her secret fear.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Even though Kevin makes everyone else's lives worse, it doesn't make him any happier. He sees everything as boring, lame and/or pointless, so he can't find enjoyment in anything and hates people who can. He antagonizes and torments his mother starting from childhood, which is the main factor in their rocky relationship. He kills his sister, his father, and a bunch of other students for reasons only known to him, and after the momentary satisfaction (or whatever enjoyment he got from it) wears off, he goes to juvenile prison where the other prisoners aren't intimidated by him the way everyone else was at home.
  • Berserk Button: Eva notes that as a child, Kevin detested the word 'favorite'.
  • Big Brother Worship: Despite Kevin's overall indifference towards her, Celia adored Kevin. Eva noted her dismay that her daughter was scared of everything in the house, except the one thing she should have been.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Kevin, not that he bothers with the sheep's clothing around Eva. And "bitch" may be the understatement of the century.
    • To a less lethal extent, Franklin, especially in the book. He seems nice enough, and he and Eva love each other (or, at least, did once), but he treats Eva (and, to a lesser extent, Celia) like crap a number of times. This is downplayed in the movie, where he comes off as more of a well-meaning idiot than anything.
  • 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 sprinkler 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 sprinkler 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.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Kevin's stay in prison has definitely undone his arrogance quite a bit and it's shown he's genuinely scared of going into the adult system.
    • Eva goes through this over the course of the book - no matter what Kevin does, Franklin never sides with her over him and her previous arrogance makes her a pariah amongst her neighbours after Thursday.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Kevin is very smart but just doesn't see the point of getting straight A's.
  • The Bully: Kevin has been torturing other children since before he could walk and talk — tormenting other toddlers in his playgroup, smashing his classmate's teacups in kindergarten, encouraging a girl with vitiligo to scratch her skin off, messing with a boy's bike to make him have an accident, and more.
  • Cain and Abel: Kevin is the Cain to Celia's Abel, although Celia is in no way aware that her brother hates her due to his two-faced manipulative Bitch in Sheep's Clothing demeanor that only Eva seems to acknowledge. There are strong implications that Kevin is secretly jealous of all the love and attention that Eva is giving to Celia which may likely be the reason he ends up killing her and their father.
  • 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.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Implied to happen intentionally:
    • 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. When Eva walks in on him doing it in the bathroom, he locks eyes with her and just does it harder.
  • Child Supplants Parent: Kevin couples an unnerving obsession with his mother with absolute contempt for his father, who is so oblivious to his son's antipathy that it skirts Unknown Rival territory. Kevin has a 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. He's 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. And then Kevin actually kills his father (and sister) making it so that he ends up having Eva all to himself. The ending strongly implies that Kevin will move back in with Eva when he's released.
  • Color Motif: The color red that recurs throughout the film (the tomato rain, the neon light in the sex scene, baby Kevin's ball, the digits in the alarm clock, paint on Eva's apartment) symbolizes blood and the killings Kevin does.
  • Columbine: Mentioned several times in the book, and compared to Kevin's rampage at least once.
  • Consummate Liar: Kevin, since he was six.
  • Control Freak: The moment Franklin learned Eva was pregnant with Kevin, he started policing everything she did, including yelling at her for dancing around the living room. Eva's resentment towards Franklin's behaviour and her pregnancy might go to explain why she and Kevin were incapable of bonding when Kevin was born. By contrast, Franklin totally ignored Eva's pregnancy with Celia, and not coincidentally Eva adored Celia from the word go.
  • Country Matters: Used once by Kevin in the film.
    Kevin: Next you can wheedle about whether there isn’t some cute little cunt in the front row that’s got me itchy.
  • Creepy Child: The African mask makes him look even creepier.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Kevin hangs onto Celia's glass eye for two years after he murdered her. Eventually, he gives it back to Eva, as some sort of peace offering.
  • Crucified Hero Shot:
    • See A God Am I below.
    • The opening tomato festival scene in the movie gave us this image of Eva in a pose that may or may not reflect this trope.
  • The Dark Side Will Make You Forget: Kevin in the end:
    Eva: I want you to tell me...why.
    Kevin: I used to think I knew. Now, I'm not so sure.
  • Dangerous 16th 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.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Despite Franklin's constant siding with Kevin over any evidence, when Eva tells him she wants another child he isn't wrong when he points out that she's an incredibly cold mother towards Kevin and interprets everything he does to be motivated out of spite towards her. Eva notably has no rebuttal to this and has to resort to getting pregnant in secret.
  • Enfant Terrible: Kevin when he was a toddler. He did not phase out this behavior as he grew up and actually became much worse as time went on.
  • 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:
    • Kevin claims this to the case. The nearest he actually comes to expressing it explicitly, though, is the heartwarming "Left you alive, didn't I?"
    • Of course, it can be argued that it is merely Sympathy for the Hero that spared her. Also, with her son's notoriety as a murderer, her husband and daughter dead, and herself a social pariah, Eva's life could be seen as a Fate Worse than Death. Eva herself seems to think so in the film, when door-to-door missionaries ask her some "quick questions":
      Young Suited Man #2: Do you know where you're spending the afterlife?
      Eva: Ohhh, yes — I do, as a matter of fact. I'm going straight to hell. Eternal damnation, whole bit. Thank you for asking.
  • Evil Is Petty:
    • Many examples, but perhaps one of the most entertaining is when Eva tells Kevin that he may have a new brother or sister. He spends the entire conversation snapping all his crayons in half.
    • Kevin also purposefully shits a load in his diaper while Eva is trying to get him to speak. After she changes him, he gets up, walks towards the door...and does it again, all the while wearing a grin that most people would eagerly slap right off. This leads to Eva tossing him in anger and breaking his arm.
    • In the novel, Kevin gives a geeky girl at his prom a Hannibal Lecture while she's dancing — we don't know what it is he says to her, but her reaction implies it was bad.
    • Kevin vandalizes Eva's study, very shortly after she's finished decorating it, purely because he thinks the maps look "dumb".
    • Kevin goes through all the trouble of mastering how to use a bow and arrow to perform his massacre (on top of other details of planning) because he wants to make absolutely sure that people understand that the only reason he killed all of those other kids was because they annoyed him.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: In the film, Kevin is played by Ezra Miller, who has quite a deep voice that contrasts his youth and appearance.
  • Eye Scream: What happens to Celia, with bleach.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Kevin's sudden interest and affection when Eva reads him Robin Hood as a kid.
    • According to the screenplay, the neon light in the sex scene flashes like a warning light.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Kevin is described as very attractive and he's played by Ezra Miller in the film, which sharply contrasts the monster lurking underneath.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Really the theme of the whole film, but especially the fact that the one good moment between Eva and Kevin (a bedtime reading of The Adventures of Robin Hood) resulted in tragedy (Kevin taking up archery and massacring his family and school).
  • Feeling the Baby Kick: Referenced when Eva reflects on her first pregnancy. Aside from not particularly wanting to be a mother, she was particularly annoyed and upset by people who only wanted to talk about the unborn child, and wanted to feel him kick, which resulted in multiple people putting their hands on her belly without asking first. She understandably was very uncomfortable with this.
  • For the Evulz: Many of Kevin's actions are for this purpose.
  • Freudian Excuse: However awful a person Kevin is, there are hints here and there that he doesn't enjoy being a sociopathic Straw Nihilist and is lashing out partially because his disorder makes him unable to enjoy life or connect with people on a normal level.
    • He can't seem to find genuine enjoyment in anything and always hated the word "favorite," even as a child. Even when he hurts people For the Evulz, that only brings him momentary gratification (if even that). He chose the victims of his massacre because they all had something in their lives they were passionate about, which could be extrapolated as him being jealous that they found meaning in their lives while he couldn't.
    • Kevin would sneer at such an assessment, but it's heavily implied that he genuinely wanted Franklin's love and affection, and knowing the only way he could get it was by adopting a completely different personality hurt him more than he would like to admit.
  • A God Am I:
    • Kevin shows shades of this, although it's not specifically stated.
    • After the massacre, Kevin bows to the empty gym and outstretches his arms to the point where it begins looking like a Crucified Hero Shot.
  • 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.
  • Grief-Induced Split: In the novel, Eva addresses her letters as if she were writing them to her ex-husband Franklin, who'd left her and taken custody of their daughter Cecilia after their son Kevin murdered multiple classmates in a school massacre. However, the true situation is far different. In reality, Kevin Cecilia and Franklin were the first and second deaths in his murder spree.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: Used occasionally in the film to very offsetting effect.
    • Kevin biting his nails and putting them down in a line.
    • Eva picking bits of eggshell out of her teeth when trying to enjoy a dinner made from broken eggs.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Celia, taking after Franklin in looks.
  • Happily Married: Franklin and Eva were this. Then after Eva became pregnant, everything went sideways. After Kevin's birth, it gets worse. Much worse. Shortly before he died, Franklin demanded a divorce, but it's clear throughout the book that Eva still loves him.
  • Heir Club for Men: Franklin has shades of this, clearly preferring his "big strong boy" Kevin to Celia and frequently showing distaste at his daughter's feminine hobbies, though Eva is quick to add that despite that he still loves Celia very much.
  • 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.
  • Incest Subtext: It's there in the movie, and uncomfortably blatant in the novel. Kevin is rather worryingly obsessed with Eva, only showing his true nature to her, harassing her, and even masturbating in front of her. For bonus points, he also despises his father, and seems to resent Celia because Eva likes her better. She's also the only member of the family he leaves alive. Eva, for her part, isn't into her son (probably), but does compare their relationship to a toxic marriage or sexual relationship a number of times.
  • Irony:
    • In the movie, the only person who understands that Eva is suffering and does not deserve all the acrimony from town is one of Kevin's surviving victims.
    • Despite preferring Kevin over her, Franklin does end up with Celia because they both die together.
  • Jacob and Esau: The screenplay makes it obvious that Kevin is Franklin's favorite child, and Celia is Eva's.
  • Jerkass:
    • In addition to his acts of murder and cruelty, Kevin is generally rude and unpleasant, particularly to Eva.
    • Eva herself isn't exempt from being rude and unpleasant, especially her Holier Than Thou attitude, which Kevin of all people calls her out on.
  • Kick the Dog: Poor mouse... and by extension, poor Celia.
  • Kill the Cutie: Kevin murders Celia before the school massacre.
  • Kubrick Stare: Kevin delivers several genuinely chilling ones, as demonstrated in the poster above.
  • Lack of Empathy: Kevin. Goes with being a sociopath.
    • The ball scene shows that Kevin managed to perfect this as a child.
  • Lean and Mean: Kevin is very tall and has a very slender build.
  • Light Is Not Good: Kevin wears a white shirt on the day of the massacre.
  • Loners Are Freaks:
    • Eva's agoraphobically house-bound reclusive 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.
  • Loving a Shadow: A non-romantic example, but it's implied this is the reason for Kevin's contempt towards Franklin, who was a Doting Parent towards him, but only a version of Kevin he thought existed. Franklin doggedly refused to blame Kevin or suspect him of anything, and as Kevin himself points out, Franklin loved a façade Kevin was putting up, not Kevin's actual personality that he showed to Eva.
  • Manipulative Bastard: For most of his life, Kevin was an expert at playing with emotions, taking advantage of and gaslighting people in order to get his way. This is especially noticeable when Eva (unintentionally) breaks his arm.
  • Maternally Challenged: Eva outright admits she disliked Kevin from birth. She does a better job with Celia. For all the good it does either of them.
  • 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.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Played for Drama. The vast majority of the local townspeople despise Eva for being Kevin's mother, and think nothing of vandalizing her property or physically and verbally assaulting her in public.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Kevin, in the end.
    Eva: Why?
    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 and he can be a real dick towards Eva on the subject of Kevin.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Eva laments that Kevin was impossible to punish as a child because the consequences didn't matter to him - he enjoyed getting under Eva's skin when she slapped him and he had nothing she could deprive him of. When Eva takes Kevin's squirt gun as a four-year-old and then displays joy over finally managing to upset him, Kevin learns from this and develops an uncanny ability to mask everything he feels or thinks, even from her.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Eva's defense lawyer attempts to portray her as a normal mother who had no control over her son's rampage, but Eva is too broken by then to really care and resents being labelled an average mother, so her presentation in court comes off as arrogant and uncaring of the damage Kevin caused.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Both Kevin and Eva invoke this towards each other, but hardly ever at the same time or with agreement from the target.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Eva's agoraphobic mother who hasn't left her house in twenty years offers to fly to see her after Kevin's massacre.
    • Just before the events of Thursday, Kevin's Mask of Sanity finally cracks and he unleashes a rant at Franklin that he's clearly been dying to say for a long time, before quickly pretending nothing happened and leaving.
  • 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. This is brutally Deconstructed as it's because they are so fundamentally different that they cannot agree over their own opinions of Kevin - Franklin even wanted to divorce Eva before Thursday, which is ironically a big factor in what pushed Kevin into doing it.
  • Offing the Annoyance: Kevin goes to all the trouble of using a bow and arrow instead of a gun to commit his school massacre. He doesn't want to make a statement about gun rights, bullying, society or anything like that (and he doesn't want people to interpret his actions as such, either). He wants to make certain everyone knows he killed all these kids because they annoyed him.
  • Once More, with Clarity: In the film, there's a flash-forward scene that depicts Eva at the scene of the aftermath of the shooting and reacting with horror to... something. This exact moment is revisited when it becomes the present, and we find out that Eva was horrified because she saw firemen sawing through a bike lock, which Kevin had purchased several of earlier.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Eva's daughter Celia is killed by her older brother, Kevin.
  • 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. Mind you, they're playing a Nintendo 64 game.
  • Parental Favouritism: Kevin is Franklin's favourite child, Celia is Eva's. Kevin was not happy about that.
  • Parental Neglect: As time goes on, Eva 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.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • During a two-week period where Kevin is sick as a ten-year-old, he's actually nice to Eva and Celia. It doesn't last, unfortunately, but for Kevin it's significant. His disdain for Franklin remains, tellingly.
    • In the book, Eva brings a disk she finds in Kevin's room to work with her... and it turns out to be a virus that wipes out her entire office's system. Oops. Despite her dislike for Kevin and willingness to believe the worst in him, Eva admits this one is on her, and gives the disk back to Kevin, telling him what happened. Kevin responds by commenting that if Eva ever gets pissed off at someone, he could wipe out their computer for her.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Kevin's harsh language about women implies some levels of misogyny, although it's unknown if he was doing it just to get under Eva's skin. In the book, Kevin also makes several racist remarks and uses ethnic slurs, and it is mentioned that he got in trouble in school for writing a paper for Black History Month that went out of its way to use the words "sniggered," "niggardly," and "Nigeria" repeatedly.
  • 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.
  • Pretty Boy: Kevin, both in Eva's description in the novel, and being portrayed by Ezra Miller in the film.
  • Properly Paranoid: 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...
  • Rejected Apology: At the way back home from the doctor, Eva apologizes to her son for hurting him, but Kevin ignores Eva and turns away from her.
  • 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.
    • Eva resented both Franklin and Kevin when she got pregnant because she could no longer travel around the globe:
      Eva (to baby Kevin): Mummy was happy before widdle Kevin came along, you know that, don't you? And now Mummy wakes up every day and wishes she were in France. Mummy's life sucks now, doesn't Mummy's life suck? Do you know there are some days Mummy would rather be dead?
  • Riddle for the Ages: In the end, no one will ever be able to figure out Kevin's exact reason for committing the massacre. Not even Kevin himself is sure.
  • 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. *And then* there's the film's frequent focus on various red liquid, made all the more disturbing by the fact that actual human blood is only shown a couple times.
  • Sadist: Kevin is repeatedly shown to be one, taking immense pleasure in the pain he has inflicted on Eva and others.
    • Eva has a subtle moment of this when she confiscates Kevin's toy gun, visibly frustrating him, and she smugly tells him she took it off him because he was being a jerk and holds the gun just out of his reach the entire car ride to their new house, commenting in her internal monologue this is one of the first times since Kevin's birth she's enjoyed parenting - when she manages to upset her child. Kevin pays her back for this by destroying her study.
  • Scare Chord: When Eva's sleep is disturbed by thoughts of Kevin's bow-and-arrow massacre at the school.
  • Show-and-Tell Antics: Played for Drama — one of the earliest signs of Kevin's cruelty involves his classmate "Muffet's" show-and-tell in kindergarten. She brings an heirloom tea set and passes out teacups so the class can have a tea party. When Kevin drops his teacup on the floor and it smashes into bits, all the other children do too, and then they smash the saucers and spoons before the teacher can do anything. By the time Muffet's mother picks up her sobbing daughter, the only thing left intact is the teapot.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Kevin and Celia.
  • The Sociopath: Kevin.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: In the movie, Kevin normally speaks in a calm tone of voice but that doesn’t stray away from the fact of what kind of person he is.
  • 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 cheery "Everyday" being played as Eva begins to have a nervous breakdown in her car driving home on Halloween night. As one reviewer put it, "If I hear Buddy Holly's 'Everyday' any time on Halloween day after this film, I may have a complex".
  • Spree Killer: The titular Kevin is a budding sociopath, with a contempt for everyone else in existence and a twisted relationship with his mother. Prompted by the discovery his parents are planning to divorce and she'll lose custody of him, depriving him of his victory over her, Kevin kills his father and little sister. Then proceeds to his school, where he locks all the doors to the gymnasium and goes on a rampage killing nine classmates, a teacher and a cafeteria worker with his bow (choosing it to avoid any political discussions taking the focus off him) his timing specifically so that he can't be sentenced as an adult, and will avoid life in prison.
  • Stepford Smiler: Eva herself admits that she behaved this way around Kevin as a young child and notes that despite telling him she loved him, asking him how school was and playing with him, Kevin knew full well that she didn't mean any of it.
  • 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.
  • Straw Nihilist: Kevin. "There is no point."
  • Suburban Gothic: The book and film explore the dynamic between Kevin, his mother, who didn't want children and was abusive toward him when he was young, and his father, who is unfailingly optimistic about the prospect of having a happy family, causing him to overlook Kevin's behavioral warning signs.
  • The Talk: Eva tries to give a young Kevin one, but given the kind of person Kevin is, he catches on very quickly, and even refers to it as "fucking".
  • Troubled Toybreaker: Kevin is a sociopathic kid who has an icy relationship with his mother, Eva. When she tells him that he might get a new brother or sister, he spends the entire conversation snapping his crayons in half. There's also an incident in the book (but not the film) where his classmate in kindergarten brings a porcelain tea set for show-and-tell and passes out teacups to have a tea party; Kevin smashes his teacup and gets everyone else to do the same.
  • 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.
  • Vehicle Vanish: In one scene, Eva and Celia are walking down the street when they see Kevin looking at a poster advertising Eva's book signing across the street. At that exact moment, Kevin turns and looks at them right as a car passes by, and is gone once the car has passed.
  • 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 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.

Tropes only included in the book:

  • 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. In Real Life, tightly-fitting clothes would be the norm amongst teens a decade after the story is set.
    • The shirt-and-diaper combinations Kevin still wears at age six make him look like an overgrown three-year-old.
  • Alpha Bitch: Laura, one of the victims in the school shooting. Eva suspects this is due to a warped crush on Kevin's part.
  • Babysitter's Nightmare: As a baby, Kevin drives his nanny away by pulling her hair, tearing up her silk scarf and throwing his toys and food all over the floor. The situation doesn't improve when he becomes a toddler; the other mothers fear him so much that they start making excuses to pull their children out of his after-preschool playgroup and eventually form a new, Kevin-less one without telling Eva.
  • Consummate Liar: As a six-year-old, Kevin covers up for Eva throwing him and breaking his arm by telling his father that he fell off the changing table and onto his Tonka dump truck. Despite herself, Eva is somewhat impressed by his ability to lie so smoothly and believably, and his ability to deduct that just saying he fell off the changing table would raise suspicions, since that wouldn't be enough to cause such an injury. And the truck was on the nursery floor at the time, too.
  • Cultural Posturing: Eva has Armenian heritage she is very proud of and she likes to think she's above the coarse behaviour of Americans that she disdains, but as Kevin rather bluntly points out, she's just as bad as the people she sneers at.
  • Dead All Along: Franklin and Celia, which is a devastating Twist Ending.
  • Early Personality Signs: Even as a tiny baby, Kevin would always refuse to breastfeed from his mother and wouldn't even take her milk in a bottle. He also pulled his nanny's hair, tore her scarf into bits, and regularly threw all his toys out of his playpen and his food on the floor.
  • Evil Is Petty: In the novel, Kevin gives a geeky girl at his prom a Hannibal Lecture while she's dancing — we don't know what it is he says to her, but her reaction implies it was bad.
    • Kevin vandalises Eva's study, very shortly after she's finished decorating it, purely because he thinks the maps look "dumb".
    • Kevin goes through all the trouble of mastering how to use a bow and arrow to perform his massacre (on top of other details of planning) because he wants to make absolutely sure that people understand that the only reason he killed all of those other kids was because they annoyed him.
  • Freudian Slip: When Celia is distraught over being unable to find her pet mouse and refuses to go to bed, Eva comments in her internal monologue, "It was unlike her to be such a brat" - giving some indicator in how intolerant Eva is with a child who shows her any difficulty, even if it's her precious, well-behaved daughter.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: While Kevin has at least a solid reputation at school, his best friend, Lenny, qualifies as this. It doesn't surprise Eva that Kevin doesn't like him at all.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: When Eva tells Kevin about a neighbourhood boy getting hurt, he comments, "Yeah, well. He thinks he's so cool with that bike", Eva says:
    Eva: The AC must have been turned on too high. I stood up and rubbed my arms. I didn't remember mentioning anything about a bicycle.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Going along with Unreliable Narrator but more pronounced in the book as the subplot is completely left out - it's never made clear if Kevin was molested by his drama teacher.
  • 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...
  • Mind Screw: The end of the book.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Whatever Kevin said to that girl at the Homecoming dance, which remains unanswered but completely broke her in what seems to be minutes.
    • Also invoked in Kevin's admitted lack of motivation for the shooting, although it seems equally inexplicable to him.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Kevin gets a very light sentence due to his apparent use of anti-depressants that drove him psychotic.
  • Priceless Ming Vase: When Kevin was in kindergarten, one of his classmates, nicknamed "Muffet," brought an heirloom tea set for show-and-tell and gave everyone a teacup. When Kevin dropped his cup on the floor, everyone else did too, and then they smashed the saucers and spoons before the teacher could do anything. By the time Muffet's mother picked up her sobbing daughter, the only thing left intact was the teapot.
  • "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 Reveal: Franklin is Dead All Along. Kevin killed him and Celia before he went to the school to kill his classmates and teacher.
  • 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). It also seems like a commentary (on behalf of both the character of Kevin, and the writer/s) about the timelessness of violence, showing it as a problem that will never go away regardless of how the methods change.
  • Soulless Bedroom: Eva is unnerved by the unnaturally pristine state of Kevin's bedroom and how few personal items are in it, lacking posters, CDs, books or any of the typical trappings of a teenage boy's room; even his computer wallpaper is set to the default one. She thinks it looks like "an unoccupied unit at a Quality Inn" and almost wishes his room was covered in Playboy centerfolds and dirty clothes.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Kevin messes with a kid's bike so he loses control while riding it and injures himself.
  • "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.
  • Wham Shot: Returning home from Kevin's massacre, Eva discovers Franklin and Celia's bodies.
  • 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. Ironically, you could interpret Kevin's rampage as being a Yandere towards Eva.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Kevin pulls these over and over, especially noticeable when he accuses his teacher of molestation.

Alternative Title(s): We Need To Talk About Kevin