The spectacle of grieving parents mourning the loss of a child—what pain could be more primal?—has become a staple of the culture business. Whole TV networks have been built on the bones of dead children, and we’ve lost count of the number of books, plays, and movies that have assaulted our tear ducts—sometimes honorably, more often not—with untimely mortality. Now, in Rabbit Hole, we meet another pair of bereaved parents, the Corbetts, Becca and Howie (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart), a once-happy couple whose lives, eight months after the accidental death of their 4-year-old son, Danny, have been shattered. But if the premise of Rabbit Hole is generic, the honesty, acuity, and restraint of the execution—not to mention its dry gallows humor—are not. Adapted and smartly opened up by David Lindsay-Abaire from his Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, Rabbit Hole deftly sidesteps sentimentality and still wrenches your heart.
Kidman’s tightly wound Becca has coiled her sorrow into a knot of rage. Accompanying Howie to group therapy with other mourning parents, she bristles with contempt at their testimony. Every attempt of her mother (Dianne Weist)—who lost a son herself—and her wilder, newly pregnant sister (Tammy Blanchard) to comfort her is rebuffed, as are her husband’s advances. Howie doesn’t cloak his emotions. He sits alone in their big Westchester house watching old home movies of his son, wanting to remember; she tries to give away Danny’s clothes and toys, needing to forget. Unable to face each other, they secretly seek solace elsewhere: she with the high-school boy (Miles Teller) who was driving the car that killed her boy; he with a wry new friend from group therapy (Sandra Oh), who likes a toke on a joint before their meetings.
The surprise of Rabbit Hole is that it is directed, with self-effacing sensitivity, by John Cameron Mitchell, whose previous films, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the full-frontal Short Bus, come from another planet entirely. An actor himself, he wrings nearly faultless performances from his cast, and he’s smart enough to know that with a subject this charged, you don’t need to oversell the emotion. Rabbit Hole asks fundamental questions: how do you go on living in the face of irreparable loss? How do you patch together a relationship that has been sundered by grief? The answers it gives, tentative and hard-won, may not be surprising, but they feel right.
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