“Rabbit Hole” is a rarely seen movie depiction of a couple’s relationship and grief following the accidental death of their son. Let’s stop right there for a moment. I know that’s enough to kill a movie’s chances at the box office. Traditionally, “downer” movies about child-death do not resonate well with audiences. But I assure you, this film is wonderful. You will probably cry (and laugh). But when the movie is done, the overriding impact is not sadness and depression, but hope, and you will emerge better from the experience.
“Rabbit Hole” is directed by James Cameron Mitchell, based on a play/screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire. This is the third movie directed by Mitchell. His first two films, the incredible “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and the provocative “Shortbus,” were a thousand times more daring than this one. This is a much more tame and mainstream Mitchell here. I have to admit, I am pleasantly surprised by his dexterity.
Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are a married couple trying to cope with the death of their four-year old son who was hit by a car after running into the street. Now the couple’s relationship is on the brink. They attend group therapy, which isn’t going very well. They talk with friends and family, which sometimes helps, but often just adds more stress to their surreal predicament. They see the memory of their son in their home every day–drawings on the refrigerator, mobile phone videos made while he was alive, the toys in his bedroom and in the family dog. Their pain is unbearable and numbing. However, they also realize they must try to move forward. But what does move forward really mean in the wake of the loss of a child? The film explores that pain–and how people can possibly get on with life when such a tragedy occurs.
As the story unfolds, Becca makes the unusual choice of befriending a local teen named Jason. Jason, dealing with his own angst, was behind the wheel of the car which killed Becca’s son. Jason and Becca meet occasionally to talk–and this seems to help them both. In addition, Becca’s mother, played by Dianne Wiest, does what mothers sometimes do: she annoys her daughter, but also provides some sage motherly words. In the end, though, a marriage is about two people and how they choose to be together. So ultimately, it’s up to Becca and Howie to determine their own fate.
All of the acting in “Rabbit Hole” is good. But the weight of the movie is carried by Nicole Kidman. Her performance is solid, nuanced and beautiful. Eckhart, Wiest and the supporting cast provide good acting as well. Mitchell, an actor himself, has taken the time to pull solid performances from his ensemble. At the beginning of the film, we really don’t know (or care about) any of these characters. But things build, and by the end, we are engrossed–the emotional impact is powerful. I will remember several scenes from Rabbit Hole for a long time–such as when Becca watches Jason leaving for prom, and when Howie scolds then comforts his dog. I found the rhythm of the movie to be quite lyrical, similar to what I’ve seen in some of John Sayles’ films–though much simpler. It’s not a perfect film. One could argue that the tone is perhaps too syrupy sweet, with a lot of actor-ly moments, a couple of which came off as surface-level performance rather than true emotion. And the characters could probably have been fleshed out in the screenplay with a little more depth and background.
Movies are not always just to entertain. They can also to help us, and change us. “Rabbit Hole” is entertaining, but it’s also deeply affective. It tries, in its simple, beautiful way to answer a difficult question: How might we cope with life after loss?
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
2010, Rated PG-13, 91 minutes, Drama