Rabbit Hole: A Delicate Look At Parents Learning To Live With Loss
Getting over the death of a family member is enormously difficult. I can only imagine what the loss of a young child must be like. Most films would use such an event as an excuse for lots of screaming and weeping and throwing of dishes against the wall. But Rabbit Hole, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire now adapted into a film by John Cameron Mitchell, is far too smart for that. It shows how you live by delicately balancing on the tightrope between forgetting what happened and being haunted by what happened. The script manages to strike the right chord between the lapses into full-blown depression and survival by staying busy. There are even moments of light humor tossed into the mix. Between the lovely portraits that Mitchell paints and the fine performances, especially the strong turn by Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole is a film that deftly captures grief in a way not often seen in art– one that closely reflects reality.
It’s been roughly eight months since Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) lost their son Danny. His drawings are still on the refrigerator, his room still contains all his belongings. They move forward in their lives. Howie goes to work, plays squash, and maintains a busy routine, though he often watches videos of Danny he has on his iPhone. Becca, however, spends most of every day at home, having to encounter remnants of Danny constantly, toys he left under the couch months ago, clothing left in the laundry room, and fingerprints of his still staining the windows. She receives visits from her sister (Tammy Blanchard) and mother (Dianne Wiest) often, but she’s more directly haunted by Danny’s ghost due to leisure in the house. By happenstance, she runs into Jason (Miles Teller), a teenager to whom she has a special connection. Becca wants to start trying to remove Danny’s stuff from the house, while Howie wants to keep it around, accusing Becca of attempting to get rid of Danny from their memory.
Some of the images are somewhat heavyhanded, to be sure. The film begins with Becca planting a small plant in her garden, and someone else coming and stepping on it– not exactly subtle imagery. Still, Mitchell gets away with it because the script and performances rarely delve into melodrama. Scenes with Kidman and Eckhart in a trauma support group get to create some mild levity in the social niceties that one must observe. “God wanted another angel,” one mourning parent observes. “Why didn’t he just create another angel? He’s God,” Becca replies. Kidman’s not really known for her comedic delivery, but she has her moments here. Overall, as an actress who I believe has had her talent drastically reduced by Botox which has limited her expressiveness to that of a porcelain doll, she does her best work in years here, since Mitchell allows her to do some subtler work than she normally does. She does get overly weepy in a scene or two, and the fact that her top lip is two different sizes is perturbing, but she in no way subtracts from the quality of the work.
Just as when I saw the play at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, the star of the play surprisingly becomes Howie, played by Eckhart. Eckhart is known for his earnest charm and his quick tongue in most flicks, but here he digs deep. Watch the scene in which he confronts Becca when his video is suddenly missing from his phone– it’s like watching a father lose his child all over again. He’s not merely mourning, he alternates from angry to complacent to horny to wanting to escape to never wanting to leave. It’s going to be left out of serious Oscar consideration this year, which is kind of a shame, as it’s likely his best performance to date. I also thoroughly enjoyed Teller as the teenager: his honest delivery without much affectation is far more moving than the majority of the weeping in the film. Lindsay-Abaire takes a difficult task– expanding a Pulitzer Prize winning play into film form– and does so with very few obvious seams. The Sandra Oh subplot is shaky at times, especially in its resolution, but it provides some nice relief from the grief. That’s all these characters are looking for. It’s impossible to move on yet impossible to stay immersed in sadness. Rabbit Hole goes deeper into examining this paradox than most melodramas could dream of doing.