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Movie Review: ‘Rabbit Hole’

December 15, 2010

Rabbit Hole is a gut churning look at the aftermath one couple is left with after losing their four-year old son.  Stark, raw, and devastating, the movie delivers a voyeuristic look into the life of Becca and Howie, who are struggling day to day eight months after the death of their son.

You always hear how common it is for couples to split up after the death of a child, and it is easy to understand why.  This movie shows us the dissolution of Becca and Howie’s marriage in a unflinching, yet nuanced way.

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) handle their grief in drastically different ways.  Howie openly weeps while watching home videos of his son every night, while Becca takes a more pragmatic approach to her grief.

Howie prefers to leave every trace of their son intact-the fingerprints on doorknobs, the bedroom left precisely as it was before his death.  Becca wants to move out of the house that harbors far too many painful memories for her to bear.

He sees these things as memories that keep his son alive, she is haunted by those very same memories. Where is the middle ground?  No one is really wrong here.

Complicating things further, Becca’s deadbeat sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) has just announced she is pregnant.  Becca goes through all the right motions regarding this development, but everything she does is passive-aggressive, and bubbling with resentment.

Everyone treads on eggshells around Becca, who is brimming with hate and bitterness, but how long does a child’s death give you a pass for bad behavior?  The couple attends a support group for grieving parents.  The group seems to be a healthy coping mechanism for Howie, but Becca explodes when one couple talks about their faith in God helping them deal with their loss. Becca spews some hateful words, and never returns to the group.

Her soft-spoke mother (played by Dianne Wiest) knows a thing or two about loss, having lost her 30 year-old son recently.  Her kind gestures are rebuked by Becca, who can’t believe her mother’s audacity at comparing the two deaths.  One was a grown man, who happened to die of a drug overdose, one was an innocent four year-old. In Becca’s mind, her son’s life was worth a great deal more than her brother’s. But her mom points out, “he was still my son.”

Becca reaches out to a young man, Jason (Miles Teller), who drove the car that killed her son. The two develop an unlikely, uncomfortable friendship.  Jason is a gifted comic book artist, and is working on a book entitled Rabbit Hole. All hell breaks loose when Howie finds out that Becca has become friends with the young man.

There is some flat-out amazing acting in the movie. Kidman pulls off one of the best performances of her career.  Wiest is terrific as well.  I already knew that both these women could act, but it is Eckhart who really surprised me.

I always considered him reliable, but he reaches down further than he ever has before and makes Howie so sympathetic that you are practically rooting for him to have an affair to escape the cold, lonely confines of his wife and house.  Sandra Oh is a fellow grieving parent from the group who attempts to get close to Howie.

Director John Cameron Mitchell has shown some tremendous range over the course of his three-film career. He debuted as a director with critically lauded Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but followed that up with the off-putting and sexually explicit  Shortbus.  Now he delivers a beautiful, moving character study.

The story was adapted by David Lindsay-Abairre from his own play, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007, and was nominated for several Tony Awards.

There is not a lot that happens in Rabbit Hole, but I found it compulsively watchable.  Ultimately, it is about learning how to live with your grief, rather than without it.

Rating 4.5/5


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