9 February 2011


I never did get around to reviewing Blue Valentine, did I? If anybody's wondering, I thought it was very good, but it wasn't as affecting as expected. I'll go into it in greater depth to coincide with the eventual DVD release, but I noticed this omission because Blue Valentine is a film that a lot of people seem to be comparing to Rabbit Hole.

Based on his own play, writer David Lindsay-Abaire tells the story of Becca and Howie, whose four year old son was killed in a traffic accident eight months prior. Having exhausted the traditional channels of dealing with grief, Becca still finds herself in a deep state of anguish, and the couple's repression is damaging their marriage. After growing sick of bereavement groups, she lets her husband continue going to those sessions alone while she tries to find solace in more unusual places.

The comparisons to Blue Valentine do the film no justice. Although I think both are very good, Rabbit Hole is clearly a very different beast. The false expectation built up by these tenuous comparisons meant that the film was constantly subverting my expectations, as I expected it to take a left turn into tragic misery at any moment. For instance, when we're told that Howie's son died after being hit by a car and then see how little time he spends looking at the road when he's driving, you might have a certain expectation of where the film's going. But it doesn't go there.

Indeed, it actually trusts an audience to connect the dots and find an emotional truth in the events on-scree, rather than do anything silly like show a flashback of the accident to open the film. A mutual trust is established between the audience and the narrative as it unfolds, and it's most satisfying to watch. On the whole, the tone is actually decidedly more upbeat than expected, considering that it's a story about moving on from the death of a child. It's not that it's a funny film, although it's not above a couple of nice little comedy moments here and there, but it just has an optimism and a good humour that distinguishes this from Blue Valentine in so many ways that people might as well be comparing the film to A Clockwork Orange.

Moreover, Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are worlds apart from the performances given by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. They are of a similar calibre, and both Kidman and Williams deserve their respective Oscar nods in the Best Actress category, even if they're both likely to lose out to Natalie Portman. But at the same time, Kidman and Eckhart powerfully play their desolation out in the context of characters carrying on with their everyday lives. Eckhart's Howie might appear to suffer less, but that's because the central conflict of the film begins with Kidman, as Becca, deciding that enough is enough, and beginning to properly seek catharsis instead of wallowing in sadness and resentment forever.

The only major criticism I would have about the film, and about this approach, is the underlying cynicism about those traditional means of bereavement counselling. In the context of focusing on Becca and Howie, it works. When you grieve, your loss is the centre of your work, and so it's easy to sympathise with their frustration in the early scenes, in which another pair of bereaved parents talk about how their child's death was God's plan. But at the same time, certain developments in the film seem to imply that doing things conventionally can only lead to rack and ruin- I might agree on the God thing from an atheistic standpoint, but it's not to say that I begrudge anyone who actually finds peace through that channel.

In the later stages of the film, Becca sits down with Howie to talk about their future, even if only so far as to say what they're doing that afternoon. Such moments mark Rabbit Hole as a surprisingly warm and upbeat introspective piece on death and bereavement. Far more melancholic films have been made- much longer films in which characters do wallow in misery for the duration. It's a tale of empowerment insofar as it's all about Becca seeking to resume control over her own life, and trying to hold together her connection with her husband at the same time. It's also deeply absorbing, and really nothing like the weepie that some have touted.

Rabbit Hole is now playing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Rabbit Hole, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

No comments: