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Rabbit Hole

USA 2010
Directed by
John Cameron Mitchell
91 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Rabbit Hole

Synopsis: Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) were a happily married couple until their four-year-old son Danny was killed tragically in a car accident. We meet them eight months after the event as they are trying, in very different ways, to live with the event. They attend a therapy group for bereaved parents, tentatively renew connections with friends, but the weight of what has happened threatens to tear their marriage apart.

Based upon a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay Abaire and scripted by him, Rabbit Hole could have been just another domestic drama, delving into tragedy, marital conflict and the related themes so often seen in film. But the wonderful acting, along with great direction by Mitchell (director of the 2001 cult musical, Hedwig And The Angry Inch, and 2006's offbeat Shortbus) raises the film well above others of its ilk.

One would expect that with such a tragic backstory Rabbit Hole will be a real downer of a film. On the contrary, while emotions run deep, there are enough moments of lightness and humour to allow audiences to experience the gamut of these parents’ feelings. Just as Carroll’s Alice plunged into a surreal and unknown world after falling through her rabbit hole, similarly, this couple enter an unknown world, and how they cope is critical to the film’s outcome. There are all the expected responses of anger, recrimination, denial and more, but at the same time there is a gentle optimism as the pair investigate whether they have something worth saving that will help them move forward.

Becca and Howie are played with absolute honestly, openness and vulnerability by the two leads. So far Nicole Kidman has been nominated for more than a dozen Best Actress awards for this performance. Win or lose (the Best Actress Oscar went to Natalie Portman for Black Swan), this is certainly one of her finest performances in a long time. The unpredictability, struggle, pain and humour she brings to Becca are searingly intense, as her character struggles to suppress the emotional flood, only held back by her stoicism, that threatens to engulf her. Eckhart, who typically plays Mr Masculine, brings a contrasting edge to Howie, who is more stuck in the past, traumatised by any attempt to throw out anything from their son’s life, yet desperate to reconnect with his wife who has shut him out physically. The way these two actors interact is impressive. We believe in them as a couple, we desperately want for them to find a way back to each other, as we sense what was (and still is) connecting them.

The supporting characters all add subtle nuances to the plot. Becca’s mother Nat (Dianne Wiest) tries desperately to support her daughter but seems only able to say and do the wrong thing. At the support group Gaby (Sandra Oh) seems to understand Howie better than Becca does. Meantime Becca becomes fixated on Jason (Miles Teller), the unfortunate young man who was driving the car when Danny ran out into the street.

Despite the film’s being in fairly limited settings, careful work has gone into creating a sense of ordinariness . All that supports the underlying awareness that anyone’s life can be turned upside down in an instant, and that it is only our inner mettle and sense of humour, that will pull us through.

FYI: For related subject matter see In The Bedroom (2001)




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