Losing a child is the greatest fear of every parent. It’s something that you don’t read about in books or other parents talk about. It’s a feeling you get the moment your child is born. You are tasked with helping this child grow. A survival instinct you didn’t know you had kicks in and you can’t stop it. I remember early on in my daughter’s life, I would constantly go into her room at night and place my hand on her chest to make sure she was still breathing. There was nothing that told me that something was wrong, but I felt a constant need to make sure she was alright. I’ve had moments where horrible thoughts of something happening to her will just pop into my mind out of nowhere and it’s something that shakes you to your core. These ideas and emotions are explored in the film ‘Rabbit Hole’, which plays out the scenario that is like a secret whisper among parents.
‘Rabbit Hole’, which is based on a play, features Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as Becca and Howie. The film picks up eight months after their son Danny had run out into the street after the family dog and was struck down by a vehicle. Their house is like a museum. Danny’s drawings are all over the fridge. His room looks like it’s just been straightened up. Everything looks like he’s still there except for the quiet. Howie and Becca are in group therapy for parents coping with the loss of a child. While one parent speaks about how ‘God needed another angel’ Becca, who does not seem willing to give up her feelings, lashes out at the parent and decides that the group is not for her. Howie seems on the surface to be coping more with his feelings, but he also watches a video of his son on a tire swing over and over on his cell phone. The film shows so well the uncomfortable way that people outside a tragedy step lightly around those in it. Becca’s sister gets pregnant and the family doesn’t really know how to handle the situation without causing more stress to Becca.
Soon Howie is going to group therapy by himself and smoking pot with another parent in the parking lot. While on the other side, Becca is getting rid of Danny’s clothes and following a boy on a school bus. They both hide their secrets from each other which ends up exploding in a few scenes of intensity. The strong point of this film is the performances. I’m not a big fan of Nicole Kidman but she really shines in this movie. The movie asks her to have emotion but you can feel her trying to hold herself together for most of the film. She’s complicated because she seems to be cold to the emotion of it, but once you see what she’s been doing following a kid on a school bus you understand that this is just her coping method. The film could have suffered from trying so hard to pull on the old tear ducts. It could have made it a 2 hour misery porn but wisely understands that mourning isn’t always a 24 hour emotion. You can tell these characters do care about each other and they are just trying to get past what is such a horrible situation.
We all mourn in different ways and even though death is inevitable we still are shocked and find ourselves having to pick up the pieces when it happens close to us. There is no real manual to prepare you for being a parent and there isn’t one for handling death either. You just do the best you can. Some people cry and some people withdraw. Some are stoic and some need the support of others. One of the best scenes in the movie is right at the end where plans are spoken about and the significance of those plans to a relationship that needs to move forward. It’s a powerful but quiet moment that will be understood by anyone who has lost someone really close to them.
All the actors in this movie are great (including an amazing performance from Diane Wiest), but I would also be remiss to not mention the director John Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell has directed two previous films that I think are both great, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (which is probably the best musical ever made) and Shortbus. With Rabbit Hole, Mitchell seems to be completing a trilogy of acceptance. All his films thus far have had people that are dealing with different situations and how they come to terms with who they are or the situations their lives have taken. Hedwig and Shortbus both have very exaggerated and imaginative scenes in them but still have ability to feel contained. Rabbit Hole is much more subdued. It doesn’t have to be flashy to make the point.
Rabbit Hole is a beautiful film and worth your time if you can handle the subject matter.