Old 12-24-2010, 11:55 PM
John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Rabbit Hole (2010)

John Cameron Mitchell’s “Rabbit Hole” is a heart-breaking, somewhat depressing film that deals with one of the worst tragedies a couple can face. It is also one of the best films of the year. Here we get an inside look at how individuals deal with grief in their own ways. Some handle it better than others, but it is always there, waiting to remind them of their devastating loss. This is the story of such a couple who desperately want to move beyond their pain.

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) seem like any other couple out there, only they’ve experienced something that turned their world upside down. Eight months prior to the start of the film, their young son, Danny, ran out into the middle of the road while chasing after his dog. A teenager, Jason (Miles Teller), driving down the road, tried to swerve out of the way, but ends up cutting Danny’s life short.

Becca and Howie have tried to get on with their lives. They start attending a group of people in the same situation that is also attended by a friend of theirs, Gaby (Sandra Oh). This seems to be of little comfort to either of them, and even irritates Becca with all the talk of God. One day, Becca is out visiting her old office when she happens to see Jason. She begins to have regular meetings with him, talking about this and that, occasionally talking about what happened with Danny. Meanwhile, Howie tries to find his own way to deal with his pain, which includes spending more time with Gaby.

It would have been so easy for a film like this to stray into the melodramatic, and yet it miraculously never sinks to that level. The characters feel so real, as though they could be your next door neighbors. It’s hard to imagine what anyone would do in such a situation. How could you possibly come to terms with something as tragic as losing a child? Becca and Howie try their best to do what seems right for them, but they are truly at a loss as to what would be best.

At first, they try the group. We learn that they apparently don’t say very much, but they go for several weeks nonetheless. While one couple is speaking about how God must have needed another angel and therefore took their child, Becca can’t stand it anymore as she retorts that God could have simply made another angel. Religious consolation is obviously not the right path for her.

The scenes between her and Jason are particularly interesting. There is no animosity from her towards him. In fact, they don’t blame Jason at all. It’s fascinating to watch them discuss everyday matters, like a comic book he’s drawing about parallel universes. It’s possible that Becca is trying to convince herself with these conversations that Jason is not really a bad person and is simply trying to take a step towards consoling herself in a different way.

Meanwhile, at home, things are not going well. Becca seems to be trying to erase Danny from their lives by getting rid of his clothes, boxing up his drawings, and wanting to sell the house, while Howie often watches the same video of Danny on his phone, wanting to see his face again and eventually confronting Becca about her seeming attempt to get rid of any trace of Danny.

The confrontation is a particularly powerful scene, and is made even better by the outstanding, Oscar-caliber performances from Kidman and Eckhart. Their portrayals are the main reason why the characters feel so real. Kidman has shown before how great she can be in a dramatic role (she won her Oscar for “The Hours”), but this is the first time that I can recall Eckhart, who had been great in “Thank You for Smoking” and “The Dark Knight,” really getting to show how good he can be in such an emotional situation.

The film ends on the perfect note, which I don’t want to give away here, but it just goes to show that recovering from a devastating loss like this is an ongoing process and is not something that can be easily solved by talking about it or trying to put it out of mind. They must slowly take steps to get to a point of living with it because it won’t ever truly go away. This is the notion the film leaves us with for it really couldn’t have ended any other way. 4/4 stars.
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