Friday, December 16, 2011

'We Need to Talk About Kevin' & Nature Vs. Nurture: Are Some People Natural Born Killers?

I'm a firm believer in the supremacy of nature. Not just rivers and trees, blue skies and waterfalls, but people's natures, too.

Although the circumstances of one's life might lead to certain actions, one's nature generally determines how he or she will react to those circumstances, therefore largely influencing what those certain actions will be. One kid might respond to bullying by shutting down and withdrawing from social life, another by fighting back, another by suicide and yet another by blowing away his or her fellow classmates -- with a gun or with bows and arrows.

One of the bravest aspects of the film We Need to Talk About Kevin is that Kevin Khatchadourian (played at various ages, and with the right level of inscrutability, by Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller) isn't given a back story that explains why he ended up doing what he did with those bows and arrows. He grew up in a stable home with two parents who loved each other. Aside from one unfortunate diaper incident, there was no evidence of abuse, and there were no scenes in which he was mistreated by classmates or peers.

He was simply one bad apple who was rotten to the core. This is a kid who was trouble before he even began to talk, with most of his ire inexplicably directed toward his mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton, in a performance that I predict will finally get the Supporting Actress Oscar winner a long-deserved nod in the leading actress category).

I felt particularly bad for her when the community ostracized her in the aftermath of the actions of her son that provide the film's climax. Is this what the parents of serial killers and mass murderers deal with in real life? Were they punishing her for giving birth to a killer, raising a killer, or standing by a killer? Hadn't stoic Eva suffered enough?

Unlike the angry mothers in the film who responded to Eva by slapping her, breaking her eggs in the supermarket and throwing red paint on her house and car, I don't subscribe to the notion that parents should be blamed for all of the actions of their kids. I don't believe parents raise mass murderers and serial killers unless they do so on purpose. That said, parents can make it easier for natural born killers to carry out their future misdeeds.

Why didn't Eva insist on therapy for her son, who was so obviously damaged? Where was the discipline and accountability when he acted up? I know John C. Reilly (as Eva's husband Franklin) has made a career out of playing the clueless spouse (in The Good Girl, in Chicago, in The Hours), but are successful businessmen really so completely oblivious to what goes on in their own homes?

And what father in his right mind buys a troubled teen a bow-and-arrow set for Christmas, or what parents' warning bells don't go off when a package of bike locks arrives at the house for their son? The look on Swinton's face when Kevin unwrapped his bow-and-arrow set spoke volumes (she's expert at communicating so much with just a facial expression) and was excellent foreshadowing. She knew this wasn't going to end well, but I wish she had been more assertive with her husband and her son.

Eva and Frank didn't create a monster any more than music and movies do, but more vigilance, more aggressive parenting (I'm not talking corporal punishment but being proactive rather than reactive) and a less clueless father/husband (who paid dearly for his lack of awareness) might have prevented Kevin from carrying out his deadly plan.

But these are oversights that so many parents make. Fortunately, most of them aren't raising evil incarnate. I'm not saying that a person is evil just because he or she does something heinous. I believe that if pushed to the limit, we all have the capacity to commit horrible acts, whether we want to admit it or not. It doesn't make us all bad people. But it takes an especially evil person to carefully plot and execute a mass murder for no apparent reason, one who very well may just have been born that way.
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