Directed By: John Cameron Mitchell
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest
While it may be uncomfortable to watch, Rabbit Hole is nonetheless essential viewing.
Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are a suburbanite couple in mourning from the recent death of their young son. As Becca seeks solace in repression interspersed by outbreaks of rage, Howie wants to share his pain in hope of catharsis. Unsurprisingly their togetherness, their marriage, is slowly breaking apart. This is a film that defines its characters’ identity by their grief and how they choose to experience it.
Kidman is a model of self-control as the Cath Kidston-esque housewife who seemingly has it all. Of course, money, stability and a loving husband are no substitute for the irrevocable agony of burying her child. In fact, life is no longer quantifiable in such a way for Becca; even if she overcomes her anguish she will not allow herself to be happy. Howie may on the surface seem the calm head of reason, an unassuming man just wanting to ‘move on’, but, unlike Becca, he cannot face the driver of the car that killed his son, a teenage boy, Jason (Miles Teller), whom Becca eventually strikes up a kinship with.
The scenes between Becca and aspiring comic book artist Jason are among the least subtle in what is a very subtle film; the rabbit hole metaphor derived from Jason’s comic is particularly improbable, even if it does represent his own way of coming to terms with guilt. However as a subplot it feels less connected to the story than Howie’s ongoing quest for comfort, not lust, which ultimately comes in the welcoming arms of similarly suffering Gabby (Sandra Oh), a woman that Becca describes as a ‘serial griever’.
Significant effort has been made by costume designer Ann Roth (Working Girl) to depict Becca as an ordinary housewife. Her clothes are plain cotton tees and dresses, long flowery skirts. Inconspicuous, frumpy even. Shades of blue and grey provide a literal interpretation of Becca’s mood. During the one scene Becca wears black, it is an attempt to return to life before her son. In actuality it is mourning the death of her old self; a final goodbye to everything that had gone before.
Rabbit Hole is a fine example of cinematic empathy. No hysteria, no judgment, just understated yet powerful moments in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy.
Rabbit Hole is released in the UK on 4th February.
© 2011 – 2012, Christopher Laverty.