At the end of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011), Kevin's mother tells him she wants to know why he did what he did.

He responds:

I used to think I knew. Now I'm not so sure.

What is the purpose of this line? It feels like it is meant to have some broader significance to the story beyond its surface value.

The scene can be seen here starting at about 8:45

5 Answers 5


This line from Kevin sums up the clear lack of a motive for Kevin’s actions throughout the film (and the book). The book and film is based around the nature/nurture debate - did Kevin grow into a murderer or was he a psycho from the get go? Ultimately it is left to the reader to decide.

It would be a relief to get some kind of resolution at the end of the film but no resolution is allowed. We (the viewer) will have to live with the horror, confusion and unanswered questions the same way Eva does and those affected by his terrible actions.


I think his answer has to do with the change in his mother, earlier in the movie when she is visiting him they talk about the scar on his arm and he says it's the only honest thing you ever did.

He seemed to always be trying to get a reaction out of her. He knew that she resented him she even said it to him as a child I could be in France right now instead she is with him.

I always felt like he was trying to get her to admit that she hated him and her resentment towards him cause him to resent her to the point he wanted to make him suffer. But after he murders all those people and even when she is suffering the way he wanted, she still came to see him all the time.

He gave her the chance for her to truly show her hatred towards him but she didn't and I think that's what made him question his reason for doing it. Also I think it was his last test to see if she would finally say it but instead she hugs him.

  • You think a lot. ;-)
    – A J
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 3:47

Kevin hated his middleclass privilege, his mothers bourgeoisie attitude, the tedium of having whatever wants. He wanted a hard life. But at the end the film he bears the physical and mental scars of his time in juvenile prison and is facing the prospect of being moved into adult prison - he is afraid but this is the closest he can come to saying he regrets his actions.

  • Any evidence for this?
    – nilon
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 0:01
  • 1
    @nilon - it's been a long time since I saw the film or read the book but, I think it's spelled out pretty explicitly in the book. I understand the problem that can come about from conflating a film with its source novel but in this case I believe it to be quite a faithful adaptation so may be allowable.
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 14:27

I loved this line, and his mother did too. It was the first time we see him drop the façade of smug superiority and allow himself to be something like vulnerable. Instead of his usual wry, cynical, and ultimately meaningless pseudo-worldly pronouncements, he expresses perhaps the only thing that could have truly reached his mother - the fact that he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

It is almost like he's forgiving her and letting her in. He stops punishing her for her flaws, and gives her a small part of himself. It’s about the most honest thing he could say.


I have just a simple understanding of this line.

Kevin throughout the film makes numerous sadistic attempts to provoke Eva into displaying behavior unbecoming of a parent (or even a human being). But in the end, whatever teeming hatred he has for his mother is tempered by the realization that she continues to love him... despite the carnage he's wreaked on her life and the lives of others.

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