We Need To Talk About Kevin
C’mon, all you honest parents out
there, you know who you are. You
started out believing that a child is like a blank slate, where all you had
to do was supply the right influence, the proper environment, the loving
family, the happy home, the stable context, the careful nurture, and voila,
you can’t help but produce a well-adjusted, sensitive, considerate child,
right? Who would naturally turn into
a productive, compassionate, competent, emotionally mature adult, right?
OK, for all you good Presbyterians out
there, you can always take comfort that the founder of our beloved but
beleaguered denomination, John Calvin, was so convinced in the theological
truth of our intrinsic evil (and therefore innate need for the salvation
offered by the grace of God through Jesus Christ) that he was convinced of
the “utter depravity” of our very nature.
We cannot help but sin (and therefore need God’s redemption).
We are inherently sinners, weak and selfish, and cannot make
ourselves good no matter how hard we try.
Well, if that’s our theological
tradition as Presbyterians, how do we approach childrearing?
Do we really believe that babies are born into sinfulness, and must
be somehow cajoled, trained, and constantly but firmly reminded to even
affix a thin veneer of civility on an otherwise transparently selfish
personality? Or would we even admit
that maybe, just maybe, there are some children out there who are such
reprobates, so “untrainable” that they will inevitably do the
deplorable, and commit the despicable?
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is
the raising of Kevin by an apparently loving, “normal” family.
Dad, Franklin (John C. Reilly) is hard-working, a good provider,
doting to his child at home, and at least attempts to be considerate of his
wife, Eva (Tilda Swinton) as well. But
Kevin, even as a toddler (Rock Duer) is willfully disobedient to his mother
and cheerfully duplicitous with his Dad. When
he becomes a child (Jasper Newell) he fights royal battles with his mother
at every turn--- even over potty training, long past the age when this
should have been resolved. He doesn’t make friends.
He’s destructive of things and inconsiderate of people.
He won’t be taught “manners” or “politeness.”
He’s willfully disobedient, except when his Dad comes home,
causing, of course, a rift between Mom and Dad, which secretly delights him.
Now, as a teenager (Ezra Miller),
Kevin and Mom are in open warfare when they are by themselves.
He doesn’t even attempt to hide his contempt for her.
He’s extremely angry—and jealous---when Mom has a “surprise”
baby girl, and he’s cruel to his sister at every opportunity, especially
when Mom is looking the other way. The
only time he demonstrates any enthusiasm for anything is when his father
gives him a bow and arrow for his birthday. Then
he graduates quickly from the rubber-tipped play set to the real thing,
where it takes considerable strength to pull those deadly arrows to their
target. At first, of course, he
confines his targets to the inanimate. But
somehow we’re not at all surprised that he’s now intensely curious about
what it would feel like if his targets were human.
It’s every parent’s nightmare that
the school where their child attends would suddenly and tragically become
the place where a mass murderer has struck without warning.
It’s terrifying beyond words for any parent to think that their
child might be the mass murderer.
Tilda Swinton’s performance is
nothing short of riveting, in a role where the viewers don’t want to
sympathize, for fear it could happen to them, or someone they love. She’ll
receive some well-deserved recognition for her nuanced, layered performance
that doesn’t descend into histrionics, only a quiet desperation that burns
from the inside out.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,