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Film Review

Rabbit Hole

Is there anything more devastating to a parent than the death of their child? It seems a violation of the natural order today: that parents grow old, and their children care for, and later, bury them. Most parents who lose a child recover outwardly, but inside there is always that hole in their heart that never heals. Many marriages become crippled and don't survive. Much has been written about the death of a child, but none can adequately describe the impact on the parents. Films have tried to portray the grief, but only a few have been artistically successful, such as The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997) and Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, 2003). Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009) was an example of the unsuccessful. The hardest problem for the film maker is how to portray the loss without verging into melodrama. David Lindsay-Abaire won a Pulitzer Prize (2007) and several Tony nominations for his Broadway play, Rabbit Hole, which looked at the effect of a child's death on a marriage. Now, John Cameron Mitchell, actor and writer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), has directed the film version, with the screenplay by Lindsay-Abaire.

Becca and Howie, played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, are a suburban couple in a large picture book Queen Anne, whose four year old son has been killed by a car in front of their house eight months earlier. Each is attempting to cope. Becca, with her fragile veneer of normalcy, often punctuated by bursts of rage, and Howie, who is fully functioning at work and trying to persuade his wife that they need to move on. Yet it is Howie who is upset that Becca would take their son's drawings down from the refrigerator, and even more upset that she is donating his clothes to Goodwill. Becca had given her son's dog to her mother, played by Dianne Wiest, because the dog reminded her of her son. Becca decides to sell the house, but Howie refuses, and insists that the dog come back. Becca wants to begin working again, so visits her old office at Sotheby's, but when she arrives, discovers that most of her co-workers have moved to Christie's or have left the business. Both have been attending a support group for grieving parents, but are shocked to realize that many of the parents have been in the group for years. One of the mothers says that God needed another angel, so he took her daughter. Becca, enraged at this statement, lashes out by saying "If God needed another angel, why didn't he just make one". Later, she is stopped at a traffic light next to a school bus, looks up, and see the boy who had hit her son. She follows the bus, watches him get out and go into his house. She begins to stalk him. The story, both past and present, and more complex than we imagined, emerges slowly, with a number of surprises.

The cinematography is very accomplished, with many outdoor scenes of their leafy suburb (shot in Yonkers), as if to signify the potential for new life after death. The music, mostly muted arpeggios with a few pop melodies. This is an undramatic but powerful film. The performances are absolutely outstanding, understated and smoldering with repressed anger and grief. There are many memorable scenes. One in particular, Becca talking to her mother, asks, "Did it ever go away? No, but it changes", is unforgettable. This may be the finest performance that Nicole Kidman has ever given, and Aaron Eckhart is equally good. Their faces say as much as any dialogue. Despite these fine performances, this reviewer felt Kidman and Eckhart, both gorgeous even by film star standards, that their very beauty distracted, and interfered to some extent, with the director's intent of depicting emotional devastation. That said, I loved Rabbit Hole, and am convinced we will see at least several Oscar nominations for performances here. The story is sad, but not depressing. There are certainly Kleenex moments here, but this should not deter you from seeing an exceptionally fine film about a difficult subject. Just opened at the Embarcadero.

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