Rabbit Hole Review


John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole takes you to an emotional place no man or woman ever wants to experience, but it does so with such unflinching honesty that it’s hard not to admire it. Is it a film I love? That’s a tricky question because I love what the filmmakers accomplish. I love what the actors bring to the table. I’m not sure I love feeling the brutally raw emotions the film brings out of you, but that’s only because they feel so real and organic. It’s an impressive feat and certainly makes Rabbit Hole one of the most remarkable, unforgettable films of the year.

Eight months after the death of their 4-year-old son, Danny, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) have yet to recover. Becca is a shell of her former self. Every reminder she sees of her son sends her spiraling downward for days, and the support group she and Howie frequent does nothing for her at all. Howie, on the other hand, has done his best to return to his old life, and the support group actually helps him, but he’s increasingly distant from his wife, and on the rare occasion that he’s forced to have an honest discussion about his feelings, he blows up. When Becca finds out her sister (Tammy Blanchard) is pregnant, her pain resurfaces in an ugly way, and the only solace she finds isn’t in her mother (Dianne Wiest), but in the young boy, Jason (Miles Teller), who drove the car that killed her boy.

I regularly voice my frustration with films that lack a clear narrative arc. Rabbit Hole is the exception to that rule. It introduces us to the characters and shows us how they’re all dealing with Danny’s death, as well as with Becca and Howie’s grief. Then, it lets these characters loose. It presents their positions clearly and doesn’t shy away from honest (often emotionally draining) discussions of their sorrow and anger. In many ways, the film is not about these characters. Instead, it’s about the process of grieving—about how the process is different for everyone and how these differences can drive wedges between even the closest of partners.

As well-written as the film is (thanks to David Linday-Abaire, who also wrote the play upon which Rabbit Hole is based), it’s nothing without its exemplary cast. Nicole Kidman gives what, when all is said and done, will almost certainly be my favorite performance of 2010. As good as Natalie Portman and Colin Firth were in Black Swan and The King’s Speech respectively, Kidman is a tour de force. While we certainly pity her, she doesn’t make it easy to stand by her, as she attacks a mother in a grocery store and lashes out at her mother for comparing their losses (her mother lost a 30-year-old son to an overdose). Yet her vulnerability is apparent in every frame of the film, and the scenes with Miles Teller (who’s also fantastic as the absolutely shattered Jason) are complicated but fascinating to watch.

Aaron Eckhart, overlooked time and time again by the Academy, is the perfect choice for Howie. He’s a kindhearted man who truly loves his wife, but every time they’re together, his love is put to the test. He resents Becca for trying to erase the memory of Danny from their house and wants to snap his fingers to make his wife better. But she’s not in that place. In fact, she seems OK with staying in the awful place she’s in. But that’s not OK with Howie, and Eckhart sells the frustration magnificently.

The supporting cast includes familiar names (two-time Oscar winner, and should-be 2010 Oscar nominee Dianne Wiest) and unfamiliar ones (Tammy Blanchard, the aforementioned Miles Teller). Each actor fills his or her role incredibly well. No role is easy, nor are there any chances to really chew the scenery. Everything in Rabbit Hole feels authentic, which few films in recent memory can also claim.

While the emotions in this film are gut-wrenching, they’re necessary to tell this story. Art needs to be difficult, needs to challenge us, in order to succeed, and Rabbit Hole is as artful an examination of the human condition as I can remember.

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