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.

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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 MyDesignShop.com.

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  2. 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. 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