No-one could have missed the news reports on the stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire as she taught a class, with a 15-year-old pupil charged for her murder. Such a horrifying and devastating thing to have happened, but in a world that is becoming more and more violent we can hardly be surprised that this would happen eventually. Throughout my time as a student a high school, I saw a pupil lose it with a teacher and hurl a table across the room at her, I saw teachers lose it with pupils and throw things at them. When at university I even heard about stabbings and twice was unable to get on or leave my campus because police were having a stand-off. I’m sure this is no different to many other schools and universities, in fact in many places I know it is far worse. What concerns me is why so many are turning immediately to violence to deal with their frustrations.
All this press brought a book and film back into my mind, one I read a few years ago but which still haunts me now. We Need To Talk About Kevin is a chilling tale of murder and love entwined, striking at the heart of parenthood by offering up the greatest test of unconditional love. It raises questions that no parent should ever have to ask themselves – such as whether the age of a child prevents them from blame over the seriousness of their crime, and whether in fact the parents are to blame. Lionel Shriver’s prizewinning 2003 novel is written in a series of letters from Eva, to her estranged husband, Franklin, in the wake of their son, Kevin’s disgusting crime. She looks at her son and writes about his childhood and her memories of him, trying desperately to see if there were things she should have noticed. If she could have prevented his later actions.
I watched the film after reading the book, and I was so glad to have done both. The film too is brilliant, but completely different to the book. It has been completely reworked by British director Lynne Ramsey who focuses on the question of what happens if bad children are born to good parents? And does this mean that the parents themselves are inherently bad and they just fail to realise it? Ramsey too follows Kevin’s short life up to the climax, showing some scenes of a disturbing nature but actually it is the acting and portrayal of Kevin by Ezra Miller that really haunts you. Tilda Swinton does an amazing job of exploring the internal and external struggles experienced by a parent whose child has committed murder as she comes to terms with what her own life, and Kevin’s has become. You see her struggles to realise that actually the son she had unconditional love for was an extremely rose-tinted view of reality, and her shock and fear as she realises that Kevin was not injured by the shooter, that he was the shooter.
It is also interesting to see her connection throughout both the book and the film with her baby – the relationship between her and Kevin is tested and difficult throughout with the clear understanding that she does not like her baby. It suggests she was suffering from post-natal depression and makes you wonder if this, which clearly sets the tone for their life-long relationship, was in fact the effect of her treatment and resentment for her baby in the first instance. Could she have influenced his behaviour by rejecting him so early? It does make you wonder if her understanding of his goading her and playing up as a child is in fact her own depression painting the way she views it. Could it be that in fact Kevin was just an innocent baby at birth and that his mother’s hatred of him caused him to turn into a monster? If not, does that mean he was a monster from birth?
Such an interesting story because it raises all those big questions about good and evil, nature vs nurture. The questions we squirm over answering because we don’t want to believe that someone could be born evil, but at the same time, society doesn’t ever want to believe in people reaching breaking point or parents being unable to cope. Although the telling of a fictional event, some have said it was based on real events such as the Columbine High School killings which makes it ever more terrifying, to know that this has really happened, and now just a few hours from where we all live in the UK.
The vicious nature of the crime is scary enough, but actually what scares me more in the film and book is the fact that Kevin is so calculating and clever. He is not that kid that is just pushed a bit too far by the bullies or doesn’t get on with his teacher, he is a cold-blooded psycho killer who plans the whole thing. I have a slight admission that I have always found the psychology of killers absolutely fascinating and love programmes like CSI and Luthor and films like Seven that delve into the killer psyche. I’m just so curious to know how some people can be wired so differently, or whether in fact this lurks in all of us, it just takes the right circumstance and experiences to bring it out and let it loose. I would really recommend this book because it is one of the best I have read of its type and despite reading it years ago, it has stayed with me ever since. The film is also worth a watch, but after reading the book because it does change the way you view the story significantly and actually I think there are parts of the film that didn’t quite make sense without the book to explain them.
What did you think of We Need To Talk About Kevin and have you got any others like this you could recommend? Where do you stand on the nature vs nurture debate when it comes to evil acts like this?