Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart
Run time: 91 mins
Based on the Pulitzer-winning play of the same name by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole offers us a concentrated and epiphanic insight into the lives of grieving parents, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart). Following the loss of their son Danny in a tragic accident, we are drawn into the Corbett household eight months on, compelled to assemble the trauma through and alongside the couple. The film makes a concerted effort to convey the highly personal, uncompromising nature of loss with a sense of delicacy and care. The focus of the movie is of course the relationship between the couple, and Kidman in particular stands out with her performance as the defiant Becca, loath to accept the ‘God stuff’ and other readily available comforts provided by support groups and her mother. Eckhart, however, is less convincing, clumsy even, in his portrayal of the pragmatic husband attempting to fix their fractured marriage.
The real merit of the film, however, lies in director John Cameron Mitchell’s manipulation of screen-space. Despite its primarily domestic setting, Rabbit Hole is not claustrophobic, alluding instead to the scale and space of grief. As Becca and Howie live around each other in their shared home, internalising their sorrow, their movements appear out of sync, enabling us to tentatively grasp the void-like magnitude of their pain as the distance grows between them. Cameron Mitchell’s approach might appear self-consciously tasteful in this respect. Like his characters he avoids confronting any totalising philosophy of bereavement. Instead, he is concerned with presenting to us the minutiae of daily existence – the inevitable, unforeseen difficulties and the pain of imagining continuity in the aftermath of the death of a child. If the film has an agenda it seems to be this subtle engagement with the perpetual present of trauma.
Ironically where the film falls down is largely in its failure to achieve this end. Somewhat detracting from the subtle play of tension between Becca and Howie, a host of subsidiary characters are introduced: Becca’s mother (Diane West), her sister (Tammy Blanchard), and Jason (Miles Teller), a Donnie Darko-esque teen (replete with an obsession with parallel universes), whom we find Becca increasingly fixated by. Each character exerts a pressure on the private mourning of Becca and Howie, through their own related experiences and situations. Such overt correlation seems heavy-handed and distracts us from the otherwise subtle presentation of bereavement. Ultimately, what has the potential to be an elegiac close-up of domestic discord following the death of a child becomes little more than a clichéd portrayal of familial relations, never managing to completely break free of convention, and come into its own as a striking and uncompromising piece of cinema.