ROADSHOW FILMS: Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star in this powerful new drama by director John Cameron Mitchell.
The loss of a child is one of those subjects that makes you stop mid-sentence in conversation. It is a sublime experience, in the old fashioned sense of the word; one cannot quite put one’s finger on the feeling of it, and god help you if you are trying to connect or communicate with someone who has been through it.
In my mind, such a loss eradicates, as it should, the notion that one can find strength or growth in pain. Melvin Jules Bukiet put it better than me: ‘… the dull truth is that pain is tautological The only thing that suffering teaches us is that we are capable of suffering’. Anyone who says otherwise has never experienced the loss of truly someone close.
It is an insane idea to try and communicate this specific, tortuous form of grief on the screen. Director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus) does it, tries it, using the blank slates of actors Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart to navigate this subject, and very nearly does it very well.
Mitchell has been clever in some respects. Howie (Eckhart) and Becca’s (Kidman) four year old son, Danny, was hit and killed by a car eight months previously. They are two white, upper middle class Americans living in a beautiful home, able to afford to have only one of them working (Howie in a job that is never divulged in an office somewhere). Danny’s death was an accident; there were no questions about speeding or drinking; no neglect on the part of the parents. The set up then, in a way, is a blank slate. There is no messiness to Danny’s death, which means that Howie and Becca’s grief can be taken at face value. There are no secrets kept from the audience, only from each other, and only in saddening, but not necessarily completely damaging ways.
This placement of the main characters is both understandable and annoying, and I can’t quite decide what side of the two emotions wins. A lot of the resources and support and simplicity provided for Howie and Becca to do their hand-wringing in frustrates your ability to like either character as much as you want to. In some ways, though, I think that’s deliberate: both characters are played by actors who are very well known, but not for anything in particular, any ‘type’.
Both characters are, several times in the film, massive jerks. They, but especially Becca, use up everyone’s goodwill like such emotions are emotional Kleenex, while the usually mild-mannered Howie’s occasional explosions of anger are irritating in their predictability. Even Becca’s attempts to connect with Jason (Miles Teller) the troubled teenager who ran her son down seem less altruistic and more selfish than one might hope.
Rabbit Hole is an effective character study, expanded from its original Broadway incarnation by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who also adapted it for the screen; and an honest attempt to look at the absurdities that come about when really terrible, traumatic things happen. It’s thoughtful without being too difficult, and doesn’t try to leave us with a message. Coming out of Hollywood, that’s quite a relief.
Rabbit Hole opens nationally on February 17.
What the Other Critics Said
The Age: "...a searing drama that, despite its bleak theme, bravely posits how even the deepest emotional abyss need not become a prison of depression and hopelessness."
The Vine: "Rabbit Hole is tender and sensitive where it counts, but also terminally tasteful. And there's nothing tasteful about grief.