A film review by Craig J. Koban February 2, 2011
2010, PG-13, 91 mins.
2010, PG-13, 91 mins.
Kidman / Howie: Aaron
Eckhart / Nat: Dianne Wiest / Izzy: Tammy Blanchard /
Oh / Auggie: Giancarlo Esposito /
Jason: Miles Teller
Being a single man
with no children, I have absolutely no frame of reference for what it must
feel like to lose a child. John
Cameron Mitchell’s RABBIT HOLE – based on the Tony Award winning play
of the same name by David Lindsay-Abaire - masterfully conveys what it does
feel like. All I know is
this: no parent should outlive his or her children.
Having children is arguable one of the most emotional and
euphorically gratifying experiences that any person can have, so I would
humbly assume that when the opposite occurs – a child dies or is killed
– then the experience of dealing with such an incalculable personal loss
is too large to put into words. It
is a pain that no human being should have to bare.
RABBIT HOLE is an
unpretentious film made with modest and simplistic filmmaking resources, but
what it has to say about dealing with loss speaks volumes.
This is one of the most uncompromising, heartbreaking, and
difficult-to-watch dramas that has been released in 2010, but it also is
one of the finest explorations into shared grief that I have ever seen.
The film has an almost surgical precision with its moments of raw
and wrenching honesty as it deals with two universal human struggles: (a)
how grief and mourning affects the individual in different ways and
(b) how it can nearly erode a once flourishing and healthy relationship.
The enormity of RABBIT HOLE concerns how one couple’s loss of
their young child as a result of a tragic accident serves to derail all of
the happiness and prosperity they've experienced up until that point.
The brilliant thing about the film is that it never soft-pedals the
material nor does it play up to shameless, wishy-washy soap opera
sentimentality. RABBIT HOLE
is a total downer, but it’s a shrewdly observant and compassionately and
delicately made downer.
We never actually
see the child in question die nor are we given a clear view as to what
actually happened (although a late scene in the film infers – through
some sparse, but evocative juxtaposition of images – the
events that led up to it). Doing that would only serve the purpose of
sensationalizing the trauma of the child’s untimely demise.
RABBIT HOLE hones its interest squarely in the long period of
tumultuous sadness and depression that follows the parents.
What we do know is
that Becca and Howie (played respectively in two of the most quietly
riveting and remarkably touching performances of the year by Nicole Kidman
and Aaron Eckhart) were once happy, financially secure, and
well off parents to their 4-year-old son, that is until the child was
taken from them during a freak automobile accident
on their Hudon Valley, N.Y. suburban street.
Eight full months after the terrible accident they are still
traumatized with heartache and misery: everywhere they go and everything
they see reminds them of their boy. The passion of their marriage has also been put on indefinite
standstill: they no longer seem to desire one another and definitely do
not have sex anymore. Communication
between the pair barely registers: all they share in common is how they
feel about their son’s death, and it plagues their everyday existence.
They try various
failed methods of coping with and dealing with the grief, like attending
group couple therapy sessions, which are headed by the chatty and
sympathetic Gabby (the very good Sandra Oh), but Becca in particular finds
the whole experience a loathsome waste of her time (she particularly
detests how one couple states that God simply took their child because
“He need another angel,” to which she drolly fires back, “Then why
didn’t God just make another angel?
He is God, after all.”). Even
though Becca refuses to attend any more meetings, Howie decides to
persevere and continues to attend them by himself, mostly because, I think,
he finds a caring and considerate person to talk to in Gabby.
Howie at least
seems to be making efforts to manage and move on, but Becca is much more
stubborn: she lives her days in a perpetual state on regret, remorse, and
denial and has little time or patience to let those close in her life help
her. Her time with her
husband immediately reminds her of her son, but even her relationship with
her mother (Diane Wiest, both a figure of humor and pathos in the film)
and sister (Tammy Blanchard) don’t provide her with much solace.
Her mother spends much of her time trying to draw comparisons to
Becca’s son’s death to that of her own, which Becca deeply resents,
seeing as her brother died a 30-year-old crack addict.
Becca’s sister announcing a rather unplanned pregnancy to the
family also seems to wound Becca, seeing as she finds her to be
somewhat immature to raise a baby, notwithstanding that, deep down, she
perhaps detests the idea of someone having a child that did not really
plan on it.
Realizing that her
never-ending period of anguish does not seem to be ending – which also
seems to be slowly destroying her marriage – Becca engages in a
highly peculiar brand of self therapy: At first, she sort of stalks the
teenager that accidentally killed her son, Jason (Miles Teller) until she
finally meets up with him face to face.
Now, in a less sophisticated and honest drama the altercation
between Becca and Jason could have erupted in her hysterically placing
blame on the young man, but the screenplay here does an elegant and
poignant thing: they go to a nearby park, sit down, and calmly and
rationally – as best as they can under the awkward circumstances –
reveal all of their subverted feelings over the boy's death.
Becca is clearly a fragile and wounded figure for her loss, but
Jason is also a person that has experienced great personal hardships as
well for his actions.
It is the scenes
between Kidman and Teller that are the focal point for me in RABBIT HOLE,
and to watch the pair delicately and sincerely give and take with one
another in an effort to mutual heal each other is powerfully touching.
It also highlights how astoundingly well the film rightfully
suggests that grief works differently for every person and how each of us
goes to on a different journey to bring about an end to it.
The film is so compelling for how it establishes such an unlikely
connection between the shy and soft-spoken teen raddled by guilt with the
mother that is consumed with sadness over his actions that cost her a son.
It unavoidably hints at a truism that most viewers will, no doubt,
accept: healing comes often during the most unexpected times and
unforeseen places. Becca’s
path towards healing seems like an unusual one (especially to her husband),
but the significance here is that it is her journey and only she
can take it.
here are all decisive when it comes to echoing not only the film’s
themes, but for wholeheartedly and believably suggesting the massive
anguish and troubles that these characters go through.
Kidman has carved out a career of one refined and exemplary
performance after the other, but I think she finds a new depth to her
craft playing Becca: There is remarkably subtlety with how she shows Becca
as a woman outwardly trying to be well adjusted while inwardly she is
tearing herself up with endless feelings of misery and self-loathing.
Eckhart also has the tricky task of portraying a man that experiences
a similar pain on a much different level (he tries to
move on, even though the hurt still lingers within him) and the way he
shows initial understanding and compassion towards his wife that later
morphs into and mixed feelings of anger and hostile frustration is
stirring. There is not one
moment in the film when the interplay between the pair doesn’t feel
devastatingly genuine. The
portal into the film for the viewers is to immerse themselves and
experience the bewildering maelstrom of conflicting emotions of this
couple, and that’s what makes RABBIT HOLE ring with such a vigilance and
Some people that I
talked to have expressed zero interest in seeing this film because it
would dishearten them to no end.
Yes, RABBIT HOLE deals with a tremendously depressing subject, but
it does so with such an authenticity and compassion that, in the end, it
ironically becomes an modestly uplifting drama.
Another thing that should be noted is how funny the film is
at times in the ways that tortured people often use humor as a defensive
coping mechanism in order to fend off their own despondency, which also
helps to deflect accusations that RABBIT HOLE is not positive minded in
any way and is just grief-porn. Oftentimes,
we use nail-biting wit amidst the worst of scenarios largely because we
just don’t know how else to
Ultimately, RABBIT HOLE is tortuous at times for the emotional sea-saw it places viewers on, but not many films in 2010 have dealt with such an unforgivably disastrous and nerve-racking topic by infusing in it with a combination of astringent honesty and tender optimism. The end of the film does not implicitly tell us that Becca and Howie are on a clearly delineated path to curing their wounds and fractured marriage…just that they trying and are on the path. Could we possibly expect anything else from these people under their hellish circumstances? Again, I may never experience what losing a child would be like, but RABBIT HOLE is a rare breed of enrapturing drama for allowing me to comprehend the enormity and complexity of what it feels like.