Watching We Need to Talk About Kevin  

I first became aware of the film We Need To Talk About Kevin in 2010; the trailer was shown in the previews prior to a movie I’ve long since forgotten. There they were in front of me, larger than life: the scathing intensity of Ezra Miller as Kevin, and the haunting Tilda Swinton as his brutally terrorized mother. I knew I wanted to see it immediately, and I knew I wanted to illustrate it as I watched, but I was tentative too: I assumed the movie would destroy me. I decided to wait until it came out on DVD and pre-ordered the film on Amazon.

On an overnight business trip to Cincinnati last May, I checked into my hotel with the intention of ordering room service and watching Law & Order reruns. But when I turned on the television, the on-demand movie channel featured the angry scowls of Swinton and Miller in the same trailer from 2010. I was uncertain about viewing it, especially since I didn’t have my art supplies with me. I made the decision to watch it first without illustrating; I’d wait until my Amazon shipment arrived for that. I sat down on the edge of the bed and pressed “buy.” I figured I’d order my food and change into more comfortable clothes as the movie began to play.

I never ordered any food and the film was over before I changed. Instead, I sat for two hours in the same spot on the bed, paralyzed, then shattered. The movie was all I could think about for days afterward. The story and the images were so disturbing that I began to think the only way to erase them from my imagination might be to get them down on paper.

All in all, I watched the movie four times. Once in my hotel room, once to document the dialogue I wanted to use, once to determine the images to illustrate, and once more as I was drawing. Each viewing was infinitely more difficult. We Need To Talk About Kevin is a heartbreaking story featuring devastating performances that are painfully, tragically, and—given the recent events in Aurora, Colorado—uncannily all too real.

Previously, Debbie Millman drew The Descendants and Beginners. For more of her illustrations, check out Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design—now on sale at

5 thoughts on “Watching We Need to Talk About Kevin  

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  2. Hubert Cumberdale

    Once again, Ms. Millman unleashes the brilliance, and there it goes, ripping and running all over the place. The beautiful pencilwork that contains the rare startle of vivid, violent color; the haunting music as perfect accompaniment; the rhythm of the turning pages–all at the service of an architecture that has a strong spine and excitingly creative cladding. I have not seen anything like this anywhere. I myself am a staunch fan of this series, and am excited to see the next work on display. What film will Ms. Millman tackle next?

  3. lisa

    Wow. Now I feel compelled to see it. So many questions. Why are the orbs the only colored illustration? Franklin? I am so intrigued, – more so than any movie trailer from the studios! Kudos Debbie