'Becca (Nicole Kidman) is going through the motions. She's doing everything expected of her and dutifully. The planting of new flowers in the garden, the making of stringent recipes of comfort food, the grief support group. All those motherly instincts and nothing to mother, and everything—absolutely everything—reminds her of the void in her life. Her child is dead, a victim of a car-pedestrian accident. Her sister (Tammy Blanchard) is pregnant, her mother (Dianne Wiest) keeps bringing up her own dead child—Becca's brother, friends with kids avoid her as if death were communicable, the flowers get crushed, the pans go empty. Life goes on, horribly.
Husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart, all clenched jaw and knotted body language) can't let go, sitting up every night endlessly watching a phone-video of little Danny. This frustrates 'Becca. So do the "professional wallowers" of the support group. She's avoiding grief, while Howie and the others are embracing it, and both sides are going too far. She starts to find ways of relieving herself of Danny's things, each one precious to Howie. They start to splinter, the pressures of the void hammering them from both sides.
Life goes on, horribly.
Audiences have been avoiding Rabbit hole like those parents avoid Becca, the subject matter presuming to be a downer. More's the pity as there is enough humor in the cracks of the angst to make it worth seeing and nod appreciatively at the simulations of life and death and the grief that comes between. Director John Cameron Mitchell stays out of the way, mostly, merely observing the struggles from sympathetic angles, while not making a big thing of the POV—making him a far subtler director than, say, Tom Hooper of The King's Speech. The performances are pitch-perfect along the scale of emotional expression, from buried thought to screaming match, with Kidman sublimating technique for organic feeling to Wiest's haunted portrait of mother love. You pull for these people as they learn to live with death, even if they only get a "C" average.
It would be unfair to say too much of the plot other than the set-up, but it touches briefly on comics and concepts of parallel universes and alternate realities—an alternate form of Heaven and the possibility that somehow, somewhere, things are different and that the cosmic dice might roll a different way. Possibilities erode the concept of the concrete reality, and sometimes the best way out of a trap is to imagine the way out, rather than accept that there isn't.
A downer? Maybe. But I found something heartening in a film that suggests that the only way to fill the void of death is with larger doses of life. And that the holes those voids leave can only be healed—not so much in reality—but, in another dimension, the warrens of our soul.
Rabbit Hole is a Matinee.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011