Movie Review of the Week – The Rabbit Hole

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Wiest

Grief in American cinema often seems confined to the middle class. In The Bedroom, American Beauty and The Ice Storm are amongst the finest examples of loss and anger committed to film in recent years. The odd similarity is their setting; all affluent families struggling with grief, isolation and a bourgeois malaise. Are the working class invulnerable to sorrow? Or are we simply to believe that material wealth cannot buy happiness, hope or consolation?

Director John Cameron Mitchell follows two films of sex obsessed eccentricity (Shortbus, Hedwig and The Angry Inch) with a film devoid of any intimacy at all. Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) lost their four year old son Danny, 8 months ago in a blameless traffic accident. The family’s excitable dog chased a squirrel onto a road by the garden, Danny followed and was struck by a passing car – driven by local high school student Jason. The once happy family has been torn apart, painfully wounded by the tragic incident. Becca and Howie attend group therapy in at attempt to reconcile their guilt and trauma. The therapy only serves to further strain the troubled relationship. Howie desperately clings on to the memory of his son, watching old videos and obsessing over Danny’s paintings which still adorn the fridge. Becca seeks to remove any trace of Danny from her life; donating his old clothes to charity, convincing Howie to sell the house that is so full of memories and baking endlessly in an attempt to occupy her troubled mind.

Rabbit Hole is a successful character study and moving portrait of grief and loss. Fine lead performances are bolstered by an effective supporting cast (most notably Diane Wiest as Becca’s mother). The simmering, reserved behaviour of the leads threatens to boil over – but never really does. Despite one brief shouting match, feelings are mostly swept under the carpet. However, unlikely figures of solace and comfort slowly appear. Becca befriends Jason, the boy who killed her son. Howie smokes pot with Gaby, an eight year veteran of his trauma therapy group. Ultimately nothing much is resolved, how could it be?

It is difficult to look at the performances of Kidman and Eckhart in isolation. Whilst many of the scenes involving he grieving parents involve them being apart; each dealing with the loss in their own way – the dynamic of the relationship really dictates and influences how the other behaves. Like Blue Valentine, a movie in which the leads witness the death of a marraige – the actors are equal parts of a whole.

The restrained direction allows the actors to inhabit their roles without intrusion. The pristine home, beautiful neighbourhood and attractive leading couple act merely as a shiny veneer, thinly masking the turmoil bubbling underneath. Kidman’s Becca is difficult to warm to, sympathy mainly resides in Eckhart’s portrayal of Howie which conveys more sincere and relatable emotional reaction. The method by which grief is examined through two very different perspectives is both touching and jarring. The overall result is a film of opposites. Past and future, comfort and sorrow and most vividly – hope and despair. Often deeply affecting but unfortunately somewhat inconsistent in its delivery.

2011 : A Film Odyssey is the movie review site of Chris Vaughan.

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