Austin Film Festival 2010
By Don Simpson | November 20, 2010
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Writer(s): David Lindsay-Abaire (play, screenplay)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Sandra Oh, Dianne Wiest, Jon Tenney, Giancario Esposito, Tammy Blanchard
We are introduced to Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) eight months after their young son Danny (Phoenix List) ran out into the street and was killed accidentally by a passing car. (Yes, Rabbit Hole is one of those films…kind of.) It does not take long for us to realize that Becca and Howie have dramatically different ways of grieving the loss of their child. Becca does not want to let go of Danny emotionally, though she has less of a problem letting go of physical reminders of him. Howie is the opposite; he is ready to move on emotionally, but wants to keep as many physical artifacts of Danny as possible. Hence, Becca and Howie’s emotional tug-of-war.
Howie continues to attend group therapy, even after Becca stops going with him. This is where Howie begins to bond with Gaby (Sandra Oh), a fellow grieving parent whose spouse also abandons therapy. Though he seems like a faithful and loving husband, we are constantly left wondering whether or not Howie will cross the line and cheat on his wife. His marriage with Becca has been atypical and asexual ever since the accident — it has been eight very long months and a man has needs.
Becca no longer works and has chased away most of her friends; she spends most of her days gardening alone. She is still enraged at the world and her mental stability is questionable at best; her passive-aggressive outbursts seem to explode out of nowhere. Becca discovers a strange sort of solace in a friendship with a high school boy, Jason (Miles Teller), who is developing a Richard Kelly-esque graphic novel titled Rabbit Hole which is about alternate realities. Becca and Jason begin to meet regularly at a park to discuss parallel universes, accidental deaths and forgiveness of oneself and others. It is not until Jason’s history is revealed that their friendship begins to make sense.
There is a lot of uncertainty that drives Rabbit Hole; carrots are dangled in front our faces, but we are left guessing as to when and where to bite. A drastic departure from John Cameron Mitchell’s previous films (Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus), Mitchell reveals the utmost amount of directorial patience and restraint. More about understatement than anything else, Rabbit Hole is a smoldering and quietly devastating mood piece that skillfully contemplates the nature of sorrow as well as the difficulties of letting go of the past and moving onward into the future.
Kidman and Eckhart bring their A-game to Rabbit Hole as they showcase an incredibly dramatic range of natural human emotions, from silent changes in facial expressions to thundering eruptions of anger. Their performances are beyond raw and brutal; they wrench your heart from your chest and pry open the floodgates from your nasolacrimal ducts. Kidman and Eckhart are shoe-ins for Oscar nominations as Rabbit Hole promises to bring much sobbing and some bawling to a theater near you.
For some of you, Rabbit Hole probably sounds like sheer torture. Who wants to watch a film about two grieving parents whose marriage falls apart right before your very eyes? Other than the incredible performances, there is really nothing to enjoy per se about Rabbit Hole. It is a punishing and soul-crushing experience that promises to stick with you for a very long time.
Adapted for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire, who also penned the source Pulitzer Prize winning play, Rabbit Hole never feels staged or contrived. The scenes (shot by cinematographer Frank DeMarco) flow organically with an unbridled naturalism. Due to the incredibly intimate vantage point from which we observe the events and the seamless editing, we feel like we are intruding on the most private moments of Becca and Howie’s life. It is practically impossible not to suffer through these most trying of times along with them.
As an admirer of Mitchell’s Hedwig, I kept waiting for a little playfulness or gayness to trickle into Rabbit Hole — you know, maybe a musical number or two — but that never happened. Rabbit Hole is a very curious choice for Mitchell’s third film. I respect Mitchell for taking a complete 180 degree turn by making such a depressingly dire film — and I admit that he handles this grave material quite masterfully — but I really want the man who created Hedwig back!!!