A painful film for sure, of a couple dealing with the absolute worst kind of pain – the loss of one’s son, a toddler. Despite the pain and stress between Becca and Howie, we so desperately yearn for them to get through it. Miraculously, the film manages to humanize every character, creating organic conflict without melodramatically exploiting the tragedy.
Rabbit Hole (2011) dir. John Cameron Mitchell
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Weist, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh
By Alan Bacchus
Nicole Kidman plays Becca, who is in the middle of a grieving period after seeing her 4-year-old son tragically killed in a car accident. She and her husband, Howie (Eckhart), are doing their best to deal with it. It’s been eight months, and the stress is weakening the joints of their marriage. For Howie, coping means going to group therapy, watching old videos of his son and maintaining their domestic lifestyle. On the other hand, Becca needs change. Packing up the baby clothes, removing the car seat and mocking the therapy sessions seem like spiteful reactions to Howie.
Writer David Lindsay-Abaire purposefully evens the scales between the two. No one is right and no one is wrong, yet their marriage is crumbling. They quickly start to lead more independent lives. Becca finds comfort in meeting Jason, the young man who drove the car that killed her son, and Howie quietly flirts with Gaby (Sandra Oh) from group therapy.
Director John Cameron Mitchell rings out some remarkable austere tension in these moments. The chemistry between Howie and Gaby is palpable, and we’re never quite sure what he should do. Though the interactions between Becca and Jason are innocent, there is some sexual tension there. We understand both of their reactions, and the fact that we’re not told who to side with propels the story forward with a surprisingly aggressive thrust.
Eckhart and Kidman are fantastic as Becca and Howie – it’s some of the best work either actor has ever done. But the discovery is the young actor playing Jason, Miles Teller, who is simply astonishing. His mesmerizing and earth-shatteringly real reactions to such extreme sadness are spot-on perfection.
Mitchell satisfies our needs as the audience and hits those strong emotional buttons. Scenes of infinite sadness and loud shouting matches are the stuff Academy voters love to see. But the power of this movie is what keeps the couple together – an inexplicable bond of their love for each other and the love of their son. This is what makes the film so compelling, hopeful and celebratory of life.