Actually Tilda Swinton, ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ Has A Lot To Say About Modern Parenting

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I’ve been eager to read a film adaption of We Need To Talk About Kevin since the very moment I finished the book. I concluded those last emotional pages on a sunny summer day at a friend’s summer beach house when I didn’t really have anything else on my mind aside from beating the Hampton’s traffic and avoiding a sunburn. But the haunting narrative of a woman searching for her own responsibility after her son’s murderous actions followed me all the way to the ocean.

Eva Khatchadourian scours back over every moment of her son Kevin’s upbringing after he commits a mass murder at his high school, wondering if she contributed to his crime — in even the smallest way. Contemplating her unenjoyable pregnancy to her less than euphoric first holding of her son to his inability to master potty training, she reexamines her own shortcomings as a parent to gauge where exactly Kevin went astray. In an age old question of if evil is born or nurtured, Eva goes back and forth for about 300 pages, studying the cracks in her marriage and her abilities as a mother.

Tilda Swinton takes to this complex role not only as a woman unafraid to address the struggles of motherhood outside getting your kid to eat their veggies, but also as an actress who isn’t styled as a MILF up on the big screen. The always androgynous and meticulously styled Tilda appears like a lot of women who have been ravaged by a particularly trying motherhood, her vitality draining frame by frame as her son destroys her beloved map collection, hurls another insult at her, and consistently rejects every ounce of maternal warmth that she can muster.

When the film was described as “an amazing piece of birth control” by The New York Times Magazine, Tilda responded by saying the the film was just a “fantasy.”

It’s a fantasy that has as much to do with the practical business of bringing up a child as “Rosemary’s Baby” has to do with being pregnant. Still, there’s always going to be a moment in a pregnancy when you wonder whether the devil was involved.

We Need To Talk About Kevin may not reveal any “practical” examples of parenting a child, but the exploration of a mother’s complex relationship with guilt, blame, and memories following the extreme actions of a child is very truthful. And since we continue to witness utterly tragic school shootings and extreme bullying, Tilda Swinton‘s portrayal as a mother contemplating her own responsibility is all the more relevant.

Tilda’s stigma as her son’s mother is thoroughly navigated as she hides from other mothers in the supermarket and endures public attacks from the family of her son’s victims. Culturally, we often blame those women (and sometimes men) who raise these villainous teens who dominate the new cycle, and yet we never seem to get much of a window into them and what their struggle must be like. Given that their children’s crime tends to completely overshadow their own identities in the press, not much is known of a mother who raised a murderer and what her burden looks like once all the reporters have disappeared. What must a parent feel after the court’s conviction has come through and their child is locked up for a couple of decades, only to be further understood through Plexiglas? What does a mother then do who has spent her life raising a convicted felon?

Perhaps your marriage crumbles and you move into complete isolation, never reaching a hand out to family or members of your community because of that scarlet letter. But whether a mother submerges under depression or lives in a daze of red wine and scrambled eggs, Tilda’s performance contains every shade of the women whom we never empathize with or even try to understand.

We Need to Talk About Kevin doesn’t answer the fundamental question of if a murderer is born or raised. But as we continue to debate the impacts of violent videos games, the right amount of television, and who exactly is to blame in the wake of child-on-child tragedies, this artful meditation on one woman’s experiences deserves a place in discussions of modern parenting.