It’s rare that a film as daring, artistically uncompromised and emotionally raw as Rabbit Hole should enter even the farthest reaches of indie cinema, so the fact that John Cameron Mitchell’s latest achieved mainstream success and Oscar buzz is a fact to be celebrated. Indeed, this is about as brave as screen drama gets, and it’s one of the best films of the year so far. Rabbit Hole is a film with many fascinating aspects, and it tells the story of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), whose life is turned upside down after their young son is killed in an accident (he chased a dog into the path of an incoming car). If the setup sounds very TV Movie Of The Week, don’t worry. This one never declines into coy or saccharine sentiment, or daytime melodramatics. Words sting and actions have repercussions which echo throughout the entire picture. The pain which exudes from every frame can be difficult to deal with, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it leaves me in tears, especially during the middle third. But its complexities will reward, and come the denouement bring a unique kind of comfort.
Rabbit Hole poses an interesting quandary about the process of grief and the places we seek comfort in times of unimaginable pain. “I can’t stand the God freaks” spits Becca, after a particularly uncomfortable group therapy session. Many films about loss turn to God as a solution or, perhaps more cynically, a plot device. God is big business in America, and the masses consume it like they do McDonald’s, so it’s not that these transitions would be unbelievable, or are unlikely. When we lose a loved one it’s perhaps natural to look outside the perimeters of our world and imagine them elsewhere – not heaven necessarily, but in some celestial resting place. Yet Rabbit Hole refuses God, and plants the healing process firmly within the perimeters of a house. Becca finds a different way of dealing with her loss in the form of a book called ‘Parallel Universes’, which literally supposes that there are multiple planes of existence in which versions of our Earth selves are living alternate lives. “We’re just the sad version” says Becca. “Somewhere out there I’m having a good time.” It’s a lovely thought, and a refreshing alternative to religion, yet it never condemns the notion of faith or calls it out as wrong. I find the idea comforting, and it was nice to see a film which embraced different ideas for a different audience, and didn’t stick within the rigid dramatic lines that populate so many US dramas. This may seem like an odd thing to draw attention to, but it makes the film unique and presents an unfamiliar emotional dynamic, so I think it’s important.
David Lindsay-Abaire adapted the script from his own stage play, and despite the stripped-back nature of the film, which largely consists of two-handed conversations in rooms, it never feels theatrical, or bound by the restrictions of a stage. The direction isn’t especially adventurous, yet the bright tones of the field where Becca and Jason (Miles Teller), the teenager who accidentally killed her four-year-old son, meet provides a feeling which only the cinema could produce. Equally the sequences of Jason drawing his comic book (the titular Rabbit Hole) give life to a film populated by the air of death. Films have a fascination with the process of people making things (assembling guns or gadgets in spy movies, for example) and the slow development of the centrefold image gives the film a peculiar mystery which could not be accomplished on the stage. But the standout elements of the film are its performances…
Nicole Kidman was rightly awarded an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Becca, and certainly this is her best performance since the phenomenal Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003), where she proved that Best Actress Oscar (won the previous year for Stephen Daldry’s The Hours) was well deserved. Her turn here is intense, brittle and scarred; her recovery takes place behind deeply sad eyes, and Kidman’s posture is frequently affected by the weight of her grief. It’s a commanding turn, but it’s sad that Aaron Eckhart was so ignored. Without him Kidman’s performance would be useless, for they are two sides of the same damaged coin. It’s their scenes together which prove most powerful and Eckhart is the one who really drives the film home. His is a more volatile character and therefore he has more grandstanding, but there’s great truth to his performance. When he flies off the handle it feels real; like he’s continually hitting breaking point, and too afraid to go back. It’s a complex performance and the one which continually grabs me. He’s sensational, and deserved not just a nomination, but the Oscar. Essential viewing.
The film is brand new so it looks pretty great; DP Frank G. DeMarco lensed the film beautifully, and his work is well served here. Shame there isn’t a Blu-Ray. It’s also a shame that there are no extras – not even a theatrical trailer, or your typically vanilla back-slapping featurette. A missed opportunity.
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhar, Dianne Wiest
Runtime: 91 min