A stirring meditation on grief gives way to some unexpectedly light hearted moments, in the impeccably acted drama Rabbit Hole.
Movies which revolve around the death of a child are usually not the type worth recommending, yet none come as honest, vibrant, or witty as this.
Based on the play by David-Lindsay Abaire (who also provides the screenplay), Rabbit Hole focuses on Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), a married couple who lost their infant son 8 months prior in a tragic accident.
Both are still grieving, yet in contrasting ways. Howie is open with his despair, while Becca puts on a facade of indifference and anger.
One scene set in a group therapy session for bereaved parents features Becca biting the head off a Christian couple, whose insistence that God needed another angel is promptly shot down, Becca countering that something so high and mighty should not need dead children to make winged creatures. Needless to say, she does not return for future counselling.
It is moments like that which makes Rabbit Hole such a perplexing watch. The authenticity in its range of human emotions and interactions makes for engrossing, challenging and often awkward viewing, yet is filled with as much light as there is darkness.
Such restraint and sensitivity is surprising, considering director John Cameron Mitchell’s last feature was the controversial hipster porno Shortbus. Here he takes to Abaire’s words and expertly translates both its tragic and comedic elements to the screen.
But it is the performances that make Rabbit Hole such as a great movie. Eckhart has built a reputation as a sturdy leading man, and here he gets to flex his acting muscles with an impeccably contained portrayal of a father and husband longing for love and filled with rage, impressively not going for the Oscar bait scene when asked to let loose with anger and exercising control during scenes of heated emotion.
Kidman compliments Eckhart with a performance filled with defiant sorrow, tapping into that well of emotions which is her calling card, playing sassy, sad, and angry (often in the one scene).
The best moments are those which feature these wounded characters confronting their pain and ask: Where do we go? How do we get there? And most importantly, will this ever go away?
An exchange between Kidman and Dianne Wiest, who portrays the atheist Becca’s devout (and often tipsy) Catholic mother, answers those questions with a touching honesty, that hope springs from tragedy, and that light will always follow the darkness. A message to be cherished.