Pressing on – Rabbit Hole review

Rabbit Hole – Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

The best any of us can hope for when we inevitably shuffle off this mortal coil is a dignified exit, as opposed to what is surely a more frequent occurrence: screeches of terror and cries for mercy as we are dragged by the Grim Reaper into the abyss. We all hope to meet our maker with grace and poise. But what of those we leave behind? The unfortunate souls left alone with their grief are cursed with being forced to carry on. They are excused for the emotional turbulence they inflict upon others; assumed it’s merely a reflection of the anguish within. They can be cruel to the people they love; they can be awful to complete strangers; they could re-evaluate their lives; they could withdraw completely into their comfort zone. There is no cure-all, and no time-frame for healing. In short, death is really sucky for all involved.

John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole concerns a married couple dealing with the death of their son Danny. They, of course, fall victim to the aforementioned “indulgences” of the grieving. But Mitchell never does. His direction is elegant; his camera unblinking; his performers raw, occasionally witty, and always human. Adapted for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire (from his play of the same name), Rabbit Hole begins months after young Danny has passed away. The wounds are still fresh for parents Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), but they’ve begun to reintegrate themselves into society. If an outsider was asked, they would not be able to pick them out of a crowd as the parents of a dead child, which is probably good enough for now.

Becca refuses to go to group counseling with her husband, claiming to be weirded out by the religious attendees (fair enough, probably). She instead bonds with Jason (Miles Teller), the teenage driver who accidentally ran down her son. Howie, meanwhile, sparks a platonic (and pot-fuelled) relationship with Gaby (Sandra Oh), a fellow parent dealing with the grief of a lost child – except she’s been dealing with it for a decade. Sitting on the sidelines doling out advice to Becca and Howie – who are unable to talk to each other about their issues at length – is Becca’s mother (Dianne Wiest), who lost her son to drug addiction years earlier. She’s always inappropriate, and often inflammatory, but in the film’s best scene, she shares a nugget of wisdom with her daughter (and forgive me for quoting so generously from the film): “At some point, it becomes bearable. It turns into something that you can crawl out from under and carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and – there it is. ‘Oh right, that.’ Which could be awful; not all the time. It’s kinda…not that you’d like it exactly, but it’s what you’ve got instead of your son. So, you carry it around. And it doesn’t go away. Which is… fine, actually.”

Mitchell and Lindsay-Abaire astutely sidestep the unbearable histrionics that often go hand-in-hand with films about death and grieving. There is only one scene in which the couple engages in a screaming match, and it reminded me of a key moment from In the Bedroom (which also documents the disintegration of a marriage following an untimely death). But here, we also get to see the couple attempt (and occasionally fail) to pick up the pieces of their life and move on, such as the impossible-to-navigate-scenario of having sex once again, and of a former-stay-at-home mum figuring out whether or not to return to work. Kidman and Eckhart expertly traverse the emotional minefield of their characters, never forgetting to be funny when necessary, and never placing upon themselves the expectation that they must come across as sin-free martyrs. Wiest and Teller turn in wonderful supporting performances as two very different people carrying their sadness in different ways. But I’m offering the majority of credit to Mitchell, who previously helmed the brilliant (and similarly human) sex comedy Shortbus. This is one tricky subject to navigate, but he ably corrals his cast and complements them with a perfectly calibrated directorial touch. Best of all is a final coda, akin to the devastating finale of 25th Hour, which suggests there is hope for those of us left behind on this scary, earthly plane.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Rabbit Hole opens across Australia February 17th.

One Response to “Pressing on – Rabbit Hole review”

  1. >Thanks, Simon, once again for a succinct and interesting review. Despite the fact that Kidman leaves me cold, both as an actress and a person, I do believe you have convinced me to chance this one ! Liza. G

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