Thursday 3 February 2011

"Rabbit Hole" (ST 06/02/11)

Rabbit Hole (12A) 91 mins ***

John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole is an example of a film so sensitive around ideas of absence that, for some time, it appears reluctant to describe what it’s actually about. Its elected tactic is to leave us, like its characters, circling a void, wondering what caused it, and what may yet emerge from it. Something’s amiss in the superficially perfect parlours and kitchens of square-jawed Aaron Eckhart and dutiful Nicole Kidman. Only gradually – as Kidman begins purging cupboards (more voids) and makes reluctant appearances at initially unspecified support groups – does the film reveal what that is: that these are bereaved parents, and it’s been almost a year since their young son was killed in a road accident.

David Lindsay-Abaire, adapting from his own stageplay, speaks the language of loss with sober fluency: he grasps how even a friendly inquiry of “How’s the family?” can send the bereaved reeling, and makes you understand why Kidman’s mother (the ever-welcome Dianne Wiest) now answers her daughter’s telephone calls with a panicky “What’s wrong?” Mitchell keeps Rabbit Hole similarly guarded: theatrical in many places, it’s vaguely televisual in others. Only when the direction loosens up does the drama begin to take on the dimensions of real life: during Kidman’s park-bench encounters with the teenager responsible for the accident (the excellent Miles Teller), we feel the wind drying the tears on these characters’ cheeks.

As a couple seeking answers from outside parties rather than solace in one another, the leads are never less than believable, together and apart. Yet the material is underpinned by neat, stage-bound symmetries – we’re spared the messiness of grief – and by some very American notions of healing: one key visual motif is a comic book panel intended to illustrate how we’re all reaching out across the ether. “It reminded me of Eurydice and Orpheus,” Kidman notes, reminding us the film is the work of a Pulitzer-winning playwright. For those who’ve lost loved ones, I don’t rule out the possibility Rabbit Hole might serve as a properly cathartic experience – but then so might a dozen other, far less rigidly uptight ventures.

Rabbit Hole opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.

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