Rabbit Hole

Bleak and Bleaker

Main Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Wiest, Sandra Oh

Director:  John Cameron Mitchell

For the record, I have absolutely nothing against depressing dramas.  They’re a movie staple for me, dark and dreary is fine and dandy.  I liked The Ice Storm, which should be more than enough to prove my depression stamina.  Yet it appears that even I have limits.  So far it’s a limit of one: Rabbit Hole.

So here’s your basic rundown.  Becca (Nicole Kidman) is married to Howie (Aaron Eckhart).  Eight months before we enter their lives, their 4-year-old son dies in an accident, leaving them shattered.   The movie is the story of their grief.  The end.

Yes, of course there are other people involved and a few things happen.  Diane Wiest joins the cast as Becca’s mother, also a grieving mother who lost her own son.  Tammy Blanchard and Giancarlo Esposito show up as Becca’s “irresponsible” sister and boyfriend, who happen to be unexpectedly pregnant.  Sandra Oh is in the group the couples attend to help them deal with their grief.  It’s a terrific cast and each supporting player performs admirably with the material they’re given.  Diane Wiest is especially touching as Becca’s grief whipping boy.

Yet with all this talent the movie is a void.  Nicole Kidman plays her now trademarked cold, distant and mean character.  We’ve seen it so many times now that Becca just melds with all the other unpleasant people she’s played.  It’s really, really hard to connect with Becca making it really, really hard to connect with the movie.

Eckhart does better.  Howie is more open with his emotions, frustrated with Becca but still in love with his wife.  He has no idea how to grieve or how to help his wife, nor will she let him.  She shuts him out like she shuts everything out, with a snide remark or angry dismissal.  But because so much of the screen time is spent with Becca, Eckhart can’t quite carry the emotional weight of the film.  He tries and his performance is terrific but the rest of the movie pulls him down.

The one redeeming feature that makes Rabbit Hole a movie worth making (not seeing, but making) is the complicated relationship Becca strikes up with the young man involved in the accident that killed her son.  This is the only glimmer of humanity from her character and the only glimmer of originality in the screenplay.  There’s no blame in the situation and for some reason Becca is driven to connect with this young man who shares part of her grief, even as he moves on with his life as her son never will.  It’s a very, very effective method of showing the many faces of grief and how they manifest so dramatically differently in those most closely involved.  It’s here, in this relationship, that Becca shines as a person and her bitter and ugly shell shows the smallest crack, hinting at a more accessible person.

Sadly, director John Cameron Mitchell does not make that relationship a large enough part of the film to save it any more than can the performance of Eckhart.  The cold, hard silence that mostly makes up the persona of Becca is too difficult to overcome.  We know and understand that she is in deep mourning, but we never really feel it.  Instead we just see another cold Kidman performance that lacks depth or the raw power inherent to the character.  As a parent, this movie should make me weep.  It doesn’t.  Every time there is enough raw feeling on the table, we’re pulled back by the unconvincing Kidman and reminded that we’re watching pretend people pretend to be grieving.

My daughter asked me what Rabbit Hole was about.  When I briefly told her she asked “why anyone would make a movie about that”?  And that is the essential downfall of the film.  There’s nothing to redeem its relentless pushing of unending grief.  No hope, no respite, nowhere to turn that isn’t bleak and unceasingly cold and cruel.  With one sentence any parent can see into the nightmare of this family.  The hour and a half of the film sheds no more light on it than our own imaginations.  The film was first a play and in the translation it loses its soul.  2 stars, not recommended.

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