Tilda Swinton is no stranger to the dramatic film category, but, with We Need to Talk About Kevin, the renowned Scottish actress portrays the extremely singular experience of being the mother of a child responsible for the massacre of his high school peers. Told through the device of flashbacks that are occasionally choppy (but always make sense), the audience is able to feel and grieve as the character of Eva Katchadourian.
The film, adapted from Lionel Shriver's award-winning 2003 novel, has the enunciated stoicism and style of writer-director Lynne Ramsay (also a Scot like Swinton), whose first major movie, Ratcatcher, gained favor and recognition at the Cannes Film Festival and the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1999.
It is clear from the outset of Kevin's birth that Eva is resentful toward him for compromising her career as a successful travel agent living in New York. So perceptive to her uncertain regard for him, his response to being told he'll get used to having another sibling is, "Just because you're used to something doesn't mean you like it. You're used to me." Fearful of Kevin's actions, she allows him to manipulate her and everyone around her, including her extremely clueless husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly, who is, at times, a bit difficult to take seriously in this role).
As Kevin continues into adolescence, his sociopathic nature is more prominent to Eva. Her reflections on his youth include just one memory of him ever showing affection toward her--and that was when he was sick and wanted to hear her read the entirety of Robin Hood to him, a book that would fuel his interest in archery and become the means for which he would murder his classmates. An ironic show of affection in retrospect.
While most might flee the scorn and derision of the town, Eva stays in spite of her son's depravity and blatant lack of concern for her so that she can be close enough to the prison to visit him. On the two year anniversary of the massacre, she goes to see him. Normally with very little to say to one another, Eva is moved to ask him why he killed her husband and daughter. His reply is: "I used to think I knew." With that, Eva and the only person left in her life embrace. It is perhaps one of the most emotionally cutting depictions of unconditional love--the kind that can generally only exist between parent and child.