Dir.  John Cameron Mitchell. USA. 2010.

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“In this world of change naught which comes stays and naught which goes is lost” - Anne Sophie Swetchine.

When someone dies unexpectedly, the news is always shocking and saddening, especially for those who know the individual personally. When a young child dies, however, the tragedy of the event for the family is beyond anyone's capacity to even imagine. Based on a script by David Lindsay-Abaire from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole depicts the grief of a young couple, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) after their four-year old son Danny is killed by a teenage driver when he runs into the street chasing his dog. 

Though Becca and Howie are materially comfortable and live in an upper class suburban home, they are not spared from tragedy, an equal-opportunity antagonist that does not care about economic circumstances. The film begins eight months after Danny's death as the grieving parents are struggling to create some degree of a new normalcy. Despite their earnest efforts, however, it is a precipitous mountain to climb. Each copes with their loss differently but both are overwhelmed by the seeming meaninglessness of the tragedy. God must be a “sadistic prick”, bemoans Becca. Howie buries himself at work while, at home in his own quiet space, he constantly replays a video of Danny that he captured on his cell phone. Becca spends time working in her garden, baking, and spending time with her younger sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) who has become pregnant by an itinerant musician. 

Becca and Howie agree to attend a group therapy but the group dynamics are a shock to Becca. She calls a group member, Gaby (Sandra Oh), a “professional wallower” when she tells her that she has been attending the sessions for eight years. When another participant says that God took their daughter because he needed another angel, Becca angrily asks why a supposedly omnipotent God could not have simply created an angel if he needed one. After she refuses to attend any more sessions, Becca and Howie begin to drift even further apart, each finding an external outlet to channel their hurt. 

Howie smokes marijuana with Gaby whose husband has just left her but their relationship ends when Howie tells her that he still loves his wife. In her need to keep Danny close to her, Becca spends time with Jason (Miles Teller), the teenage boy who was behind the wheel when Danny was killed. Trying to make some sense of the tragedy, they talk about the possibility of parallel universes, but the sadness of what might have been is etched on Becca's face. She also struggles with her perception of her mother's (Dianne Weist) “insensitivity” when she compares Danny's death to the death of her thirty year-old son, (Becca's brother) who was a heroin addict. In a moving scene, her mother says from the depth of her heart, “….but he was still my son”.  Deeply felt is the sense that the cause of the death of a child is pallid compared to the actual reality of the death.

The parent's relationship threatens to come further apart when Howie blames his wife for wanting to remove any trace of Danny from the house after she begins to get rid of Danny's clothes and toys and accuses Becca of erasing the video of Danny that he kept on his cell phone. Rabbit Hole is a poignant and tastefully made film that rejects audience manipulation and melodrama. Miles Teller as the awkward, remorseful Jason is one of the standout performers in a superb cast that includes Oscar-worthy work by Kidman and Dianne Weist. The director keeps emotions under control, perhaps more than is necessary, however, and the film's unwillingness to take risks somewhat dilutes its power. 

Whatever it's flaws, Rabbit Hole is an affecting look at two deeply wounded individuals fighting a long and difficult battle to stay afloat and begin life anew. When Becca asks of Howie, “What next?” he says that we can go to the toy store and buy the game Candyland for their niece. After a moment of silence, Becca asks, “Then what?” There is no answer but there is a hint of hope. Ultimately, perhaps all there is to do may be, in John Ruskin's phrase, “to watch the corn grow, and the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over ploughshare or spade; to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray and, in the words of Elizabeth Lesser, “to relax into the mystery of not knowing. And then to come into a peaceful knowing - a faithful wisdom that surpasses control and certainty.”


Howard Schumann

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