Constantly reliving the trauma of your son’s horrific actions cannot be easy but being blamed for the tragedy, too, is even worse. A harsh slap around the face emphasises those memories, as if imprinted on the hand of the cold palm that did it. A carton full of broken eggs with the yolk seeping out of sodden cardboard, forming a pool of sticky discontent. Such are just markers on the timeline of Eva Khatchadourian’s day.
Predominantly set in Eva’s (Tilda Swinton) past memories, We Need to Talk About Kevin utilises overlapping narratives to build the story of her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller), from birth to demise. Present day Eva endlessly scrubs the red paint scorched on her house; her nails worn and stained whilst the paint will not rinse, a constant reminder of not only Kevin’s crime but the blame she cannot scrub off of herself. But why is Eva paying repentance for the blood on her son’s hands, as if it were her own?
Past Eva wallows in rivers of red at a tomato festival, engaging in careless casual sex and stumbling down city streets whilst the rain soaks her clothes. She recalls being happy, a different person to present Eva and we soon understand why. Past Eva sits in a sterile, cold hospital room with baby by her side in silence. No balloons, no laughter, no family visits; it is hardly your picturesque first baby scene but instead the catalyst to present Eva’s tragedy. Right up until Kevin’s downfall, we are met with similar scenes and the lack of connection between mother and son becomes rife. Even as a toddler, Kevin refuses to show compassion towards his mother as he purposely soils himself over and over, forcing Eva to snap back: “Mommy was happy before you came along.” As Kevin grows, so does his resentment, whilst Eva puzzles where it all went wrong as he admires his father, Franklin.
It’s this rejection of conventional motherhood which consequently casts Eva as the villain, seen as unable to form a conventional loving bond with her son and therefore unable to bring him up ‘correctly’. She becomes bait to the press and general public during the aftermath of Kevin’s bloody act. When motherhood is promoted as the ultimate attainment for a woman, and the mother fails, it is her who is tormented into oblivion, scrubbing layers of paint with chipped nails. Yet the palm which struck her face, and the claws which crushed her eggs, fail to recognise that Kevin was neither the conventional loving son. Instead, maybe he was just born evil.
Whilst Eva was clearly never overjoyed at the prospect of motherhood, she was never the monster. So, whilst the public may brand her with a deeper sense of blame than her son, we need to talk about her own struggle as a mother whose son’s actions were completely out of her control.
Women in the Movies is a monthly Eyes on Screen feature by Emmy Brown which focuses on female directors, characters and issues within film.
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