One of the advantages cinema offers is the ability to depict the human motives of behaviors we might not otherwise understand. In the place of unruly reality, a dramatic narrative offers an ordered and safely-distant experience. For the most part, films work best when they are outside the viewers life experience, because cinema is mediated and presents meaning through symbol and style.
Doctors often laugh at medical scenes, soldiers mock films which don’t get military basics right, and survivors often complain about the “Hollywood” treatment of their tragedy. Film creates a reality that almost requires you have no real memory of it, otherwise, there will inevitably be a clash between what you know and what the filmmakers created.
Mass murder is thankfully outside most people’s real experience, but the fear of it seeps into everything. Culture has plenty of fascination with serial killers, but even they can be rationalized on some level. We know, through the many cinematic profilers, they have their own logic, and you don’t need to be FBI to think you know a few things about how they got to be the way they are.
Killing people indiscriminately is shocking because it makes no sense at all. There is little comfort in undersanding why someone goes on a killing spree, there are no motives that a sane person can understand. They are so beyond normal human thought that it easy to see spree killers as forces of evil beyond the cause and effect of human development.
We Need to Talk About Kevin digs into where this type of person comes from. In flashbacks cut with current time, the audience watches Kevin (Jasper Newell, Rock Duer) get sicker the older he gets. Yet unlike most stories of this type, Kevin does not suffer any kind of real abuse. Kevin was mis-wired from the start, and any attempt by Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) to fix or ease Kevin’s malice is only met with his derision and rejection.