Friday, January 14, 2011

Rabbit Hole

Is there anything worse than the loss of a child? Adapted from his play, writer David Lindsay-Abaire gives us the tale of a couple struggling with the death of their young son Danny (Phoenix List) eight months after his death.

On the outside the lives of Howie (Aaron Eckhart) and Becca (Nicole Kidman) seem normal enough. But we can tell something is wrong. We slowly realize there is a missing member of this family whose absence is not only felt in every frame but is slowly destroying the couple from within.

For 90 minutes we follow Howie and Becca through their pain, various coping techniques, and watch each of them struggle with their inability to move beyond such a devastating loss. Director John Cameron Mitchell's film is not a fun hour-and-a-half by any means. This version of Lindsay-Abaire's play is full of raw emotion just under (and often boiling over) the surface.

The crux of the movie is how each of the characters reacts to Danny's death in different ways, and how as a couple they aren't able to deal with the issue together. Becca's response is to push away painful memories by giving away her son's clothes, looking to remove his traces from their home, and even expressing a desire to sell the house. In contrast, Howie becomes lost in old videos of Danny and grows increasing angry and resentful of what he sees as his wife's callous reaction to his death.

Both Eckhart and Kidman are terrific and balancing the various emotions each needs to bring to the surface at any time. It's also an interesting choice to go somewhat against type by making the mother the more logical of the pair, and the one attempting to bury the feelings that threaten to crush her.

With the couple's relationship so strained, we learn much more about each of them in their interactions with others than with themselves. These scenes include the couple attending a support group for parents who have lost their children, Howie's flirtatious friendship with another member of the group (Sandra Oh), and Becca's odd friendship with the young teen (Miles Teller) involved in the accident that took their son.

There are several small roles of note in the film but the two that stand out are Tellar as the awkward teen weighed down by both guilt and confusion over Becca's offer of friendship, and Dianne Wiest as Becca's mother who can't find the right words to comfort her daughter. Tammy Blanchard also has a small role as Becca's irresponsible younger sister whose pregnancy is a bittersweet reminder of what she's lost.

Rabbit Hole isn't a pleasant film to watch, and there a couple of troubling scenes involving Eckhart's character getting high with Sandra Oh in the one piece of the film where it seems to get off-track. But for the most part the film sticks to its unflinching look at two people in people in a tremendous amount of pain. You don't want to spend more than 91 minutes with these people, but for that amount of time Rabbit Hole delivers a strong story about grief and loss which is filled with powerful performances by its cast.

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