Monday, December 20, 2010
Rabbit Hole ***½
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart
Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller, Sandra Oh
Rabbit Hole often feels like a clinical dissection of pain. The way in which director Mitchell interprets David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay (adapted from his own play) lacks any sentimentalism or melodramatic undertones.
In fact the film and the story can become so painful that some might even perceive Mitchell's directorial decisions as sadism but those willing to look past this will see how his film thrives with humanity.
Kidman and Eckhart play Becca and Howie, a married couple whose lives were shattered with the sudden death of their four year old son. When we first meet them it's been eight months since the tragedy and at first we don't even know what's going on.
Those coming into the film without knowing what it's about will probably detect an air of awkwardness and hostility during the first few scenes in which we see Becca go through her daily chores as if performing commands uttered by an unseen force.
She's almost robotic in her duties, even when she interacts with her husband. He's not any better, he makes her go to group therapy where they both agree they don't fit.
After we learn the reason for the strain in their relationship, the film takes on an even darker path as we see how they are forced to evaluate what will become of them in the wake of tragedy.
The idea that they might need to "move on" in order to survive gives the film its dilemma, for how can you move on without trying to forget the pain and for that matter how can you turn someone you love into pain you need to get away from?
The nature of suffering is questioned under extreme scrutiny and Kidman does it with such grace that you can't even fathom the depths he must've reached in order to deliver such a performance.
Becca is someone who at first glance seems like a controlling bitch. The way she reacts, the manner in which she moves and especially the tone of her words are filled with such passive aggressiveness that all you want to do is stay away from her.
In one scene she cooks creme brulee for her sister (Blanchard) she's just picked up from the police station. Her sister begins to eat her dessert and joyfully exclaims "I love the way it cracks" as she hits the sugar with her spoon. Becca auotmatically replies "of course you do" filled with contempt and bitterness.
Her performance is composed of dozens of tiny minutes like this during which we see Becca's pain seep through the cracks. We wonder how long will it take until her entire shell shatters and when it never happens (at least not in the way we expect it to) we are left with a true enigma of a woman.
Best of all is to see the way in which Becca's eyes move, she's always fully aware of everything going on around her, almost as if she's on constant guard trying to avoid more pain from coming into her life. Then she makes you want to reach out and hug her.
If Kidman is the film's center, the supporting cast is nothing if not impressive. Eckhart is often shattering and really funny (his scenes with Sandra Oh are magical), Blanchard is terrific and Wiest does such wonderful things with tiny scenes that you really end up craving more of her character when the film is over.
But perhaps Kidman's counterpart is in fact Miles Teller who plays Jason, the teenager who accidentally killed the child. When Becca reaches out to him the film could've easily turned into some sort of vendetta drama or a weird psychological thriller but in fact once he appears on the screen, we end up realizing that the pain isn't reserved to those who think they were the only ones affected by tragedy.
It's Jason who gives the film its name and in a strange way the heart Becca is trying so hard to find. Watching the plot unfold in unexpected ways makes for a beautiful experience and Mitchell proves to be a master of restrain (who would've guessed judging from his previous films?) who makes absolutely perfect touches with his camera.
Director of photography Frank G. DeMarco does an outstanding job externalizing Becca's emotions. During one scene we see Becca take her son's clothes out of the washing machine filled with hope because she has a plan for them. When said plan fails she drives by a Salvation Army deposit box and simply throws the clothes in.
The same action essentially symbolizes two extreme opposites. First as we see her take them out lovingly, we are reminded of someone taking a baked good of the oven, filled with promise. Then these very elements show us how Becca simply gives up.
Considering how often domestic dramas set in the suburbs recur to the same tricks, it's wonderful to see how Rabbit Hole was so thought out. The ideas behind the movie, like the way in which it flirts with metaphysics as a way of consolation, often seem too overwhelming for the genre and threaten to distance the audience but the delicate way in which it's executed make it seem oddly familiar.