Monday, 31 January 2011

'Rabbit Hole' review:

'Rabbit Hole', starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a married couple going through the motions eight months after the tragic death of their four year old son, is a surprising and deeply effecting experience. Kidman has earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance - and deservedly so - but Eckhart should not be overlooked as he is equally superb in a rare relationship drama which mostly manages to avoid being cloying and calculated despite revolving around such an emotive event. The film pulls this off by virtue of the subtlety of the two lead performances, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the dialogue is often not of the same abundant class.

David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay, adapted from his own award-winning 2006 stage play of the same name, is mostly decent but weighed down by some cliché lines, such as "what do you want from me?" and "I can't do this any more!" Yet Kidman and Eckhart invest each moment with such raw intensity and emotional honesty that the film is never less than captivating, never more so than when the two share screen time. Likewise John Cameron Mitchell's direction is unpretentious and respects the ability of the actors to hold our attention without distracting camera tricks and rapid cutting (take note Danny Boyle). The director and his stars are helped by the fact that 'Rabbit Hole' as a dramatic piece refuses to take the same well-beaten path of other relationship dramas. They are also beneficiaries of a writer who has crafted well-rounded characters, both of whom we are able to empathise with even though they try to overcome grief and maintain their marriage in completely different ways - something which reminded me of 'Blue Valentine' even though that film is about a very different and more commonplace emotional turmoil.

'Rabbit Hole' differs from 'Blue Valentine' however when it comes to the film's resolution, which is as melancholic as one would expect, but far less despairing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel in shared grief, but the suggestion is not that there is any quick fix to the emotional damage we have witnessed. The characters don't do anything silly either; they don't get involved in any irritating misunderstandings - any "baby, it's not what it looks like" moments. The film also differs from a lot of American tales about grief in that it doesn't bend over backwards to placate the religious in the audience. Kidman's character is critical of those in a child death support group who insist that the death of their child is "part of God's plan". She laughs at the suggestion openly and it turns her against taking part. When she has an argument with her mother (Dianne Wiest) about disliking the use of religion as a coping mechanism, her mother comes back with all the familiar platitudes yet she isn't forced to back down and change her mind as the film takes an intriguing turn.

The thing I liked best about 'Rabbit Hole' was the fact that Kidman's character doesn't have to go on a journey to "make peace with God" and find that "faith" is the answer to all life's trials and tribulations. The opposite is instead true: possibly for the first time in any film I've seen, science is mooted as a cause for optimism and as a means of comfort, specifically the quantum physics idea of parallel universes. You could argue that this is just another belief system and one requiring the same leap of faith as religious belief. Yet parallel universes are a widely accepted scientific possibility (based on measurable, testable data) and the fact is that this character pointedly finds hope in science rather than superstition. Eckhart's arc is similarly refreshing and pleasing if for entirely different, trend-bucking reasons. He is a rare mature, emotionally sensitive male character in American cinema who is not governed by his libido - even if his desire for sex is a contributing factor in the worsening of relations with his wife.

The film's one grating, uncomfortable moment falls to Dianne Wiest who has to deliver a monologue to her daughter about her own journey in dealing with the loss of a son. When asked if the hurt ever goes away, Wiest says that it becomes bearable but that it turns into something you "carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you... you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and - there it is." This moment is just a little florid and stagy when compared with the rest of the film and it doesn't strike me as being very true to the way people actually talk: does anyone really ever come up with overwrought, bafflingly counterintuitive metaphors like that in real life? Who puts a brick in their pocket anyway? Can you even fit a brick in a pocket? Why can't you just take the brick out of the pocket? It's just a rubbish way of explaining and simplifying grief.

But the script only finds itself lacking in a few isolated moments. Most of the film is solidly crafted and the performances are gripping. I shed more than one tear - and at little moments too, such as when Kidman throws her son's clothes in a charity bin, pausing for a moment afterwards as if to contemplate the fact that she can't get them back out again. The film is at it's most emotional when it isn't trying to hard. In the latter case it can feel manipulative. It is true that the supporting characters are thinly drawn props only there to provide added emotional complication to our leads, such as Kidman's irresponsible younger sister (Tammy Blanchard) who falls pregnant and the couples's best friends who have failed to keep in contact out of awkwardness, but these characters do the job and provide a necessary foil for our protagonists. It's all about Kidman and Eckhart and they elevate an interesting, diverting drama into an outside Oscar hopeful.

'Rabbit Hole' is rated '12A' by the BBFC and is out on Friday the 4th of February.


  1. Has anyone close to you ever died? You can carry a brick in your pocket believe me! Maybe people don't talk like that in real life, hence art forms, that capture your feelings in a few well written lines. Why else watch movies? Listen to music? You pissed me off!

  2. The answer to your question is "yes", but that line didn't work for me. I agree that dialogue doesn't have to be restricted to the totally naturalistic, but I thought it was trite. You aren't the first person to disagree with me about that scene though, so I definitely want to see it again.

    Sorry to piss you off though! I liked the movie overall. That one scene was really my only criticism.