Sunday, May 1, 2011

Somewhere Out There I'm Happy -- Reflections on "Rabbit Hole" (2010)

Yeah, it's that kind of film. Keep Kleenex on hand. You'll need it.

Last year, I lost my children.

They didn't die, if that's what you are thinking. No car accidents, diseases or burning houses. But, I still lost them the moment I decided to allow my ex-wife to move them out of California to Arizona. It was a hard decision that I made after many sleepless nights, pros-and-con lists, and advice from everyone I knew. This isn't the time or place to go over my reasons, but it is important to note that I have lost them. Maybe not physically, but emotionally. I've been grieving ever since they left 9 months ago.

Watching Rabbit Hole was difficult because even though I do not know what it is to deal with the death of one of my children, I do understand the process of grief. I understand it everyday when I don't hear their voices, or when I make food they can't enjoy. I feel it in the moments when I laugh and can't share it, or simply miss staring at them as they go about their kid business. I don't think the heart is capable of categorizing grief. When it hurts, it hurts. And I hurt all the time.

So do the characters in Rabbit Hole, a film based on the stage play by David Lindsay-Abaire. They hurt and hurt and try to escape into the different holes they can find, only to realize that each hole is only a moment's relief from the pain that weighs them down. It is a excellent film, brutal and honest. I don't think it says anything that hasn't already been said before in other films (like In the Bedroom, The Sweet Hereafter, and Ordinary People), but the performances are remarkable and it packs an emotional wallop.

Basics: Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are struggling in the aftermath of the death of their 4-year old son, Danny eight months earlier. Becca is cold and shut off, resisting everyone's comfort, and trying to rid herself of Danny's memory even though it haunts her. Howie, on the other hand, dives into healing by joining a support group for grieving parents. Becca's world is shaken, though, by two events. Her free-spirited sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), announces she is pregnant, and Becca runs into Jason (Miles Teller), the teenager who hit her son with his car. From there, this is a heart wrenching story about people trying to make sense of the world. There are no easy answers, and coming to terms with such an earth-shattering loss is quite messy.

I Like a Little Sci-Fi Mixed With My Therapy Drama: The central image of the film is the abstract concept of parallel universes criss-crossing each other. It's a challenging idea, and could have easily made the movie seem absurd, but the screenplay lets the characters be who they are and talk as they like. This leads to the film's defining moment in a park, in which Becca considers the notion of parallel universes in which there are other Becca's living lives similar to, but different, from hers. "I like the idea that somewhere out there I'm happy."

Thankless Roles: It seems that in movies involving the death of children, fathers always wind up in one of two groups -- 1) the avenging parent and 2) the escapist parent. Aaron Eckhart gets the opportunity to do both in this movie, albeit in more subtle ways than some other films. Nonetheless, Eckhart takes a thankless role and makes it his own. At every turn when he seems like he's about to become the cliche, he throws a wrinkle in there that makes Howie seem more real and less of a movie character. Nicole Kidman got the glory role here -- and knocked it out of the park -- but Eckhart goes toe-to-toe with her and delivers his finest performance since Thank You For Smoking.

Endings Suck: Movies about grief are so much different than movies about giant robots, superheroes and ghosts. It's really hard to end them. You can't just make everyone feel better about their kid dying. The moment the mother and father act like they're happy, the movie runs the risk of being seen as insincere. Yet, you can't just end a movie with more grief either. Too much pain and misery is hard to take in a story. Fortunately, Rabbit Hole sticks the ending nicely. It finds a nice balance and leaves you feeling closure without feeling like everybody's happy now.

Regardless of the quality of the movie, most people will be either drawn to or repelled by Rabbit Hole because of its content. Our children are precious, and it's hard to watch people suffer the loss of a child. So, if you're looking for a hardcore drama about pain, misery, and anguish, Rabbit Hole is a good way to indulge.