We Need to Talk About Kevin
BY PAUL CHADERJIAN
Once there was and there was not…
On this small island in the middle of the Pacific, you’re bound to eventually run into someone you know or run out of land if you just keep going. You’re bound to speak pidgin and start saying ‘howzit’ and ‘bra’ and see the cast and crew of “Hawaii Five-O” in action. Or you may be forced to stare right into the dark eyes of the Armenian Genocide.
Find the Five-O theme song on YouTube now, cue the drum roll and let me explain.
Since I got to Oahu, I’ve been hearing so much about how the original CBS series put the islands on the map in 1968. I’ve heard about street closures for filming, the cast appearing at fundraisers, and people in the newsroom talk story about which private school the lead actor’s son was rejected from and which one he’ll attend.
I was also wondering when I would run into the movie trucks and cranes and spot the crew working.
Last Saturday, it just so happened that Alex O’Loughlin (Steve McGarrett), Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Taylor Wily — minus Danno, who was booked to receive an honor in LA — and their executive producer Steve Boyum were going to appear at the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki as part of the 31st annual Hawaii International Film Festival.
So I took the Juke for a drive and listened with bated-breath as the cast and their producer talked about their production schedule, their vision for the show, character-driven plots versus something they called procedurals, the 200 countries where their modern remake can be seen, and how they all felt blessed and fortunate to be part of it all.
The Past Beckons
Since I had a film festival pass for the day, I decided to see one of the dozens of films screening. As soon as I opened the schedule, one title jumped right out and slapped me in the face. That title was, ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin.’
I didn’t know there had been a movie made of the disturbing and haunting Lionel Shriver book. And of all the people in the film industry, the haunting and mesmerizing Tilda Swinton had produced the project and was starring in it.
My friend Richard had given me Shriver’s book back in July of 2003, and my first reaction was like the ones I’ve had to Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s books. These women’s books (Yes, Lionel is a woman), are the ultimate artistic creations, leaving no words unwritten and no ideas unpondered. These authors capture life-truths so perfectly it seems they are channeling the Creator’s vision and clarity.
Schriver’s story is told through letters, an epistolary novel as they’re called. It’s a masterpiece, well thought-out, well told and well executed. The subject matter, though, is quite dark and at times unbearably disgusting and sheer evil.
The story of a fictional teenager who massacres his classmates disturbed me more than it should have when I read the book 8-years-ago, and I couldn’t figure out why. Shriver had forced me to confront the unfathomable personalities of teens like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who had carried out the real life Columbine High School massacre in 1999. But there was something else.
Last Sunday at a movie theater in what used to be the Dole Cannery, I finally realized why Lionel Shriver had touched a nerve, and it wasn’t just because she had dared to make me think about the psychology of cruel animals that could embark on mass exterminations and murders.
When Eva Khatchadourian, a worldly woman who loves to travel and write, becomes pregnant, she is hesitant about giving up her freedom and becoming a mother. When Kevin is born, Eva is unable to connect with him. Her baby won’t respond to her, and she is unable to show him her love and love him.
But was this all Eva’s fault or was Kevin born with the inability to connect with the woman who gave him life? Was this soured primary relationship why he would go on to toy with his mother’s emotions, physically hurt his little sister, taking her eye out, or why he would put tiny harmless pets into the garbage disposal?
Through Eva, Shriver asks if it is nature or nurture that allows a boy like Kevin to turn against the world and wreak evil?
Shriver builds Kevin’s character around the idea of alienation. Kevin is centered around a modern-day curse of humans feeling unimportant, irrelevant, unwanted, unneeded and unloved. This fictional Armenian teenager has come to think that there really isn’t anything a human can do or needs to do in the modern era.
Kevin believes there is no need for man and no new ground that man can break. He thinks we are all slaves, machines, all working, sleeping and watching other people do things that we see done on television.
When the teenaged Kevin, played disturbingly by actor Ezra Miller, was first introduced on the big screen in director Lynne Ramsay’s film, I was able to stare into the eyes of this living portrayal of the character, and it dawned on me that the sociopath, the homicidal Armenian son was non-other than the ghost of the act of Genocide.
People tell you, get over it. They say, let it go. “That’s all in the past. You can’t do anything about it. Let sleeping ghosts lie.”
But you can’t. You shouldn’t. Kevin won’t let you. He’s the collective of all of our pain and suffering, the tortures and traumas, justice denied, and of victims called liars. Kevin is what the Turks did to the Armenians. He is the continuing Genocide that the children and grandchildren of survivors deal with consciously or unconsciously in so many different aspects of their lives.
Beyond Shriver’s storyline about a mother coping with the aftermath of her son’s evil, the author is showing us the human face of the tormented pain, the unwanted child, the unwanted people, this Genocide born into human form.
Kevin’s ghost has come back and will keep coming back until it is stopped being called a lie, until it is stopped being pushed away by many, including survivors an their children, for nearly 100-hundred years.
Ask yourself, where is the Kevin in me? Where is the Kevin in my daily interactions with others? How does this ghost haunt me? He is there, you know, lurking, wanting to show his face.
Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 for creating Beloved, the ghost representing a murdered daughter and the 60-million slaves who died during the slave trades.
Beloved comes back to haunt her mother, who killed her so she could run from her owners, so that Beloved would not be captured and become a slave.
But the pain of the slaves and those tormented for lifetimes would come back as Beloved’s ghost as Kevin will has come back.
We have to continue talking about Kevin and ask, when will we be able to put our ghosts to rest? The Great Catastrophe, Kevin, will haunt our world unless we acknowledge it.
Order the Shriver book, take it to your reading clubs, invite your friends to the screening of the film. Then turn these works of art inward and try to explain how Genocide and Kevin motivate or repel you.
And three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for you the reader.