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Tom Tangney

We Need To Talk About Kevin: a timely chiller for parents


Sometimes events in the outside world seem to conspire to add power or context to a movie that's about to be released. That unfortunately is the case this week with the film "We Need To Talk About Kevin."

It was just three days ago when we listened to the heartbreaking account - from the mother of the first victim of the Chardon High School shooting - of what it was like for her to find her worst fears realized - that her 16 year old son was suddenly dead, murdered in cold blood. We can all relate, and sympathize.

But now imagine what it would be like to be the mother NOT of one of the victims but of the shooter, the perpetrator.

In both cases, a parent's initial shock and horror might be somewhat similar but that's of course compounded by the guilt and the shame of the parent of the "bad kid."

And for good reason. The parent of a victim is blameless - the parent of a murderer may be, or at least may feel, much more culpable. That is the difficult subject of this powerful (and admittedly difficult to watch) movie, "We need to talk about Kevin."

"Why did you do it?" Kevin's mom asks him. That's the overriding question that drives and torments this mom, played brilliantly by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton. She's a mom who, in the aftermath of a tragedy, is tortured by the present and the past.

Told in jumbled flashbacks, the movie shows Swinton reliving key moments from her long anguished relationship with her son - from his infancy when he cries constantly, to toddlerhood when he refuses to talk or play ball, through potty training when it becomes an absolute test of wills, and then his later resentments of a baby sister - all recognizable, if somewhat exaggerated, milestones in many parent-child relationships.

But by the time he's 15, he's far more than just your average sullen teenager. Every gesture at conciliation she makes is met with contempt.

And his presence puts a strain on the entire family - husband-wife, wife-daughter, brother-sister.

What's a parent to do? And how much is this mother responsible?

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is certainly no whitewash of the parent. When Kevin accuses her of being "harsh," she retorts "YOU'RE one to talk," to which he responds, "You wonder where I got it?"

As outside observers, we may feel that Kevin is just beyond the pale, a bad seed, pure and simple. But no "real" parent can be quite so dismissive. That's what's so painful and truthful about this film. Parents are always responsible, or, at least, always feel responsible.

This is chilling stuff, masterfully handled.

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