Anyone expecting a happy, bunny-filled film will sorely be disappointed with Rabbit Hole – after all, the likes of Hop were never going to get Oscar nominations were they? For people looking for a painstaking exploration of the lingering hole left behind by the loss of a loved one, however, will have their search quenched by director John Cameron Mitchell’s adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s moving play.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star as the couple whose lives are torn apart after their son is killed in a car crash. Becca (Kidman)’s grief is tangible and wholly realistic. Instead of elongated shots of Becca looking wistfully at what remains of her son Danny’s memory, we are met with a broken woman trying to regain some normailty in her now shattered life. With her life completely changed – her workplace vastly altered in her eight month absence and her best friend avoiding her – Becca, understandably, loses the loose grip she holds on her new normality, and is forced to confront the lingering presence of Danny, when she learns of her sister’s pregnancy.
From the off there are continual subtle references to their son’s death – Becca’s composting being a poignant example – but it is not a subject actively spoken about for much of the film. Instead we watch as Kidman and Eckhart try and rebuild a life torn away from them in a house that still centres so forcefully around Danny. Torment is skilfully etched on Kidman’s face throughout and, although both try to move forward past their anguish, it is clear it still consumes them.
As it slowly threatens to tear their marriage apart, we watch as Becca begins to stalk a school child who, we discover, is much more than a supplicate for their lost son. Finding solace in their meeting, Becca is met with an outlet that lets her cope with her grief. Eckhart’s Howie, however, perseveres with the loss group that Becca leaves, forming a friendship with the pot-weilding Sandra Oh. Although Eckhart’s role is more subdued than that of Kidman’s his appearance as the devastated father is nonetheless affecting as he tries to hold on to the tatters of their marriage as well as the memories of his son his wife seems to actively erase. Slowly discovering that their individual coping is destroying each other they are greeted with an unexpected ultimatum; learn to cope or let the loss split them apart.
For all of its despair, the film is not wholly depressing. Many critics have branded it as being hilarious, but we’re inclined to disagree (unless you think watching Kidman ball her eyes out in her car at the sight of teenagers getting ready for prom is laugh-a-minute stuff). It does, however, deal with its subject movingly and isn’t afraid to admit people try to live normal lives after experiencing such tragedy, and the effects are, sometimes, wittily humorous. Branding God as being ‘a sadistic prick’, Becca’s religious notions offer most of the light-hearted respite but her retorts nonetheless obviously come from a brittle woman forced to cope with unbearable pain. Tensions are furthered by her mother (Dianne Wiest)’s attempts to console her but again Becca’s reactions bring a humanity to the film that is often overlooked in similar pieces.
The burden of loss is present throughout but, thankfully, it doesn’t consume the film. These are ordinary people trying to come to terms with a devastating event, not actors trying to win Oscars (despite the film’s nominations). A powerful piece, Rabbit Hole breathes new life into the exploration of loss.
Best performance: Nicole Kidman.