Rabbit Hole (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Rabbit Hole (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEGrief is difficult to deal with in movies.  Part of it stems from the fact that a lot of attempts to deal with it come off too distant or cloying, either trying to make sure it can't affect us or presenting it in such a way that it's rendered toothless.  Real honest to God grief, the kind where you can barely rouse yourself off of the floor, is barely presented.  The truly brave are willing to bare it all and say that we have the capability of being cruel, malicious, ignorant, and outright evil when we're grieving.  Rabbit Hole is willing to go down that path, and the results are amazing.

Rabbit Hole (based on a stage play of the same name) scored Nicole Kidman an Oscar nomination for her role for her role as Becca Corbett.  She, along with her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart), has been trying to deal with the death of their son Danny.  He ran into the middle of the road chasing after a dog he loved and was struck by Jason (Miles Teller), a kid who loved to drive.

Becca and Howie go to group therapy session every week to try and find some conventionally acceptable way of grieving their lost child.  The group provides a grim glimpse into their future when they meet Gabby (Sandra Oh) who has been going to these meetings for eight years and still hasn't made much progress.  Other much needed therapy comes from Becca's mother Nat (Dianne Wiest), whose son died of a heroin overdoes years ago, and her newly pregnant sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), representing something of a fresh start for the despairing families.

John Cameron Mitchell provides just the right touch on these scenes, especially when you realize exactly how much the school-bus means in this shot.

The film is directed by John Cameron Mitchell and he's something of a surprising pick.  He previously directed Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a film about a trans-gendered rock star stuck with the annoying remnants of a penis, and Shortbus, about a group of sexually healthy 9/11 survivors who are trying to find something to live for.

The subject matter between Hedwig/Shortbus and Rabbit Hole seems a bit disconnected, but all three movies are about people trying to carve out new identities for themselves after a tragedy.  In the case of Rabbit Hole, Mitchell's approach is perfect.  He mostly gives the performers the freedom to do what they need to in front of the camera, and provides the subtlest of onscreen queues and reminders of the son that is no longer there.  This is pretty much all the performers show and Mitchell sets the stage just right.

Nicole Kidman is an actress I very much respect but don't always love.  The best roles for her involve an element of artificiality (she's like Naomi Watts in this sense) that she can use to mask her characters feelings.  Rabbit Hole provides a perfect opportunity for her with Becca.  She has been subconsciously trying to worm out little bits of her son's existence in her memory not so much so that she can move on with her life, but so that she can forget that she's in any kind of pain.  She goes so far as to delete a video of their son from Howie's phone in an attempt to get him to do the same.  All the while Kidman plays off this pathos with a kind of willing denial and does all the hard work on the edges of her face.  It's not the flashiest performance, but it suggests the most.

We're capable of so much cruelty when we're grieving, especially against things/people that won't fight back.

Still, as much as I like performances that suggest, I can't deny the kind of catharsis I experience when people are expressing their pain honestly.  To that end Aaron Eckhart's performance as Howie is absolutely stunning.  He has an argument with Becca in the middle where he lays out the facts of their sons death so plainly yet so emotionally that it was difficult to keep watching the screen.  His is definitely the more conventionally dramatic role, and Eckhart backs it up with amazing force and just the right amount of restraint from pushing things too far.

As good as the leads are, the supporting cast is downright amazing.  The biggest kudos go to Dianne West as Becca's mother.  She brings the right amount of humor and patience as a fellow mother who has lost a child and as Becca's own mother.  Her's is the kind of role ripe for the kind of cloying nonsense that something like Elizabethtown provided, but by keeping her character rooted in sound advice and love she avoids those pitfalls.  Equally amazing are Sandra Oh and Miles Teller, who both make the most of their screen-time to emote wonderful warmth, empathy, and sadness.

Rabbit Hole never forgets that there's not a "right" way to grieve.  Yes, Becca can be cruel and, yes, Howie pushed things too far.  But we're dealing with emotions that can scarcely be touched with written words.  Sometimes all we need to see is the right face, the right body, curled up to strike against unknown enemies, to know that we're never alone in our grief.  We may laugh, but it's always to conceal something we'd rather not face.

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Rabbit Hole (2010)

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell.
Screenplay and based on the play by David Lindsay-Abaire.
Starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart.

Posted by Andrew

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