Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rabbit Hole.

Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell, 2010)

It’s usually not the policy of the blog to feud with other blogs, especially when they’re written by friends (of the blog). But he started it, so: check out Power to the Humans for their impassioned and well-reasoned take on my Marley & Me post. And then check out how I burned him in the comments. I just hope our blogs can be friends (of the blogs) after the dust settles. Please contact feudoftheblogs@gmail.com with any and all press inquiries.

Today’s post features a guest take from known Michigander, cardigan-wearer, and friend of the blog AP Carroll. It is the first of hopefully a bunch of posts on Oscar-nominated films that are currently in theaters. The blog is nothing if not topical.

Category: Sad movie about dealing with the death of a child. This is one of those really sad things that it’s hard to joke about. I mean, I did really rip into The Lovely Bones, but that girl was fourteen, and the kid in this movie was four. And this movie is pretty much entirely about coming to terms with his death, whereas The Lovely Bones was pretty much entirely a piece of shit. I really don’t want to dwell on this anymore for the moment, for fear of saying something awful.

Let’s instead note that Rabbit Hole is a sad movie based on a play. It’s pretty much a fact that all the important plays in history have been terribly sad. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear. Like I said, all of ‘em. The play on which this film was based was written by David Lindsay-Abaire (another thing about these sad plays: they’re often written by people with three names, because having three names gives a person a real sense of dramatic gravity: George Bernard Shaw, John Patrick Shanley, Sam Fox-Hartin, etc), and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007. Other recent winners of this award include August: Osage County, about a dysfunctional, incestuous Midwestern family, Ruined, about the “plight of women in the civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo,” and Next to Normal, a rock musical about a woman with bipolar disorder. Oof. Basically I’m just saying that Taste My Sad could have existed at any pre-cinema time in history, stretching back to ancient Greece. Oedipus Rex: sad play about doing it with your own mother.

My familiarity with this issue: (I’m so so sorry in advance for where I'm about to go with this.) I have never lost any children. In any sense of that term. (Ughhh.) I’ve discussed my time as a nerd camp counselor on the blog before, and oh my goodness was I scared of losing kids then, at the zoo or in the museum or what have you. I had nightmares about angry parents and lawsuits and Amber alerts. That entire summer, I was constantly dumbfounded by the fact that an actual company, with liabilities and profits and bottom lines and obligations to parents, had deemed me capable of looking after and imparting knowledge to actual children. Had the company (let alone the parents) seen the way I viciously defeated and taunted these children on the basketball court while playing Knockout, or observed the time I told a girl “congratulations” when she told me she had to go to the bathroom (in my defense, I really didn’t care that she had to go to the bathroom), I have a feeling that I wouldn’t have made it to the museum or the zoo in the first place. But everyone was safe and alive at the end of the summer. I counted that as a personal triumph.

More specifically about this movie: I saw an excellent production of the play on which this film was based a few years ago. So I know what happens and all that, although I don’t remember it perfectly. And of course there may be some differences between the film adaptation and the play. FOTB AP Carroll ably portrayed the role of Howie, played in the film by Aaron “Harvey Dent” Eckhart. His thoughts on the film are presented below.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Becca and Howie Corbett are a happily married couple whose perfect world is forever changed when their young son, Danny, is killed by a car. Becca, an executive-turned-stay-at-home mother, tries to redefine her existence in a surreal landscape of well-meaning family and friends. Painful, poignant, and often funny, Becca's experiences lead her to find solace in a mysterious relationship with a troubled young comic-book artist, Jason - the teenage driver of the car that killed Danny. Becca's fixation with Jason pulls her away from memories of Danny, while Howie immerses himself in the past, seeking refuge in outsiders who offer him something Becca is unable to give.”

What AP thought of the movie: Let me begin by noting that it's an honor to appear on Taste My Sad. As an aspiring writer myself, I have to thank John for exposing me to absolutely no one who I don't already know. [Editor’s Note: …] Also before I begin, I have to clear the air. It's true that Mr. Eckhart did not seek my advice when preparing for the role. It can be hard to fill someone's shoes when you're playing a character they've perfected. Case in point: George Clooney didn't ask Sinatra for advice when he was Danny Ocean. While that might be counterintuitive, it's also brave, and commendable. Now, I'll get to it: after watching the film, I have one bit of advice for those who might decide to go see it. 

Don't bother. 

Just do something else, or if you're already at the theater and just reading this, then buy a ticket for another film (and put your IPhone away). The thing is, you don't need to see it. Why? Because as an accurate, and moving, and highly relatable tale of grief, it's a waste of your time. 

I'm going out on a limb to say I bet most of you readers have lost someone. Not necessarily a child (OK, probably not a child) but still, someone. And ya know what: you already know what it's like to experience the inexhaustible grief of knowing someone you loved is no longer around. For those of you who haven't (lucky ducks), well, you will (for now). If that's the case, why rush it? 

The truth is that the film is pretty self-defeating. It beautifully and subtly makes the point that mourning is different for everyone. Even if you've lost a child, your spouse will probably be going through something wildly different than you are. While you're smoking pot with a floozy and racking up views of your family videos stored conveniently on your iPhone (spoiler alert), your wife will be at home flirting with your child's killer (exaggeration alert). So watching Aaron Eckhart experience loss does you no good, because like him (you will think to yourself) you're going through your own quiet despair, which is nothing like his. This movie might claim to be fictional, but it's also very authentic. It doesn't challenge the notion of grief, or say THIS is what it's like to lose someone, and THIS is how to make it stop hurting, but instead acknowledges that your mourning is your own. 

My favorite moment of the film (aside from a very brief cameo by Gotham DA Harvey Dent) [Editor’s Note: RACHELLLLLLL], and a moment that also occurs in the play, is a conversation Becca (Nicole Kidman) has with her mother (the lady from Edward Scissorhands) [Editor’s Note: Dianne Wiest, two-time Oscar winner] wherein Becca asks if the pain ever goes away. Peg Boggs informs her that it does not. She gives her daughter some hope, in that she describes how (like a jawbreaker or the dignity of a fan of the show Glee), it shrinks until its something that fits in your pocket. You might always have to carry it with you, but it's something you can occasionally ignore. And besides, it's all you really have left from the person who's gone.

Speaking of things in the play versus in the movie (like that segue?), this is a very skillfully adapted piece. Seriously, this was adapted better than Precious (though not as well as Twilight). [Editor’s Note: #getout.] The play takes place entirely within the home of Howie and Becca. The director, or whoever, must have realized that for a movie that might be a little boring, so they decided to mix it up and transplant much of the scenes to other locations and show some things which couldn't otherwise be shown. Most of these changes make a lot of sense, and fit right in with the story. It does have a downside because in the play, the audience is left to decide for themselves what the truth is to what is described offstage. I won't give too much away, but in the film, it becomes very clear exactly who does what with who when their spouse isn't around. This weakens the story somewhat, because as the mid-90s understood, sometimes choosing your own version of a story is more pleasing. 

What doesn't change is the ending. It's just as understated and soft as what you would find onstage. It reminds us all (except for you damn Lucky Ducks) that while our grief might threaten to consume us whole, the only way to survive it is to go on. All the while, though nobody shares your loss exactly, they do share it generally. Without anything better, that's good enough. 

If you haven't figured out by now that I think this is a fantastic film and I need you to go see it, then you don't know me very well (#emotionalcripplewhousessarcasmto talkaboutmoviesaboutdeath). Ignore what I said before. Go see this movie, and learn nothing about loss, but watch it beautifully portrayed.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Having not dealt with a major loss since childhood, it was obviously very difficult to relate to the central conflict in the film. So instead I thought about my relationship with Nicole Kidman. I feel like I’m not alone in saying that she has rubbed me the wrong way for like decades now. I have seen her in several movies – Bewitched, The Interpreter, Cold Mountain, Eyes Wide Shut, and Batman Forever – and she’s pretty much bugged me in all of them. (Except Eyes Wide Shut. Hey now.) I think she frequently comes off, both in her movies and on Access Hollywood, as fake and unlikable, especially when she tries to be cute and frothy, like in Bewitched. And if I’m really being honest here, to borrow a line from the mom of the blog (who has frequently used this line to dismiss such performers as Harvey Keitel and Paul Simon), “I don’t like [her] face.” I feel like it takes a great deal of concentration and effort for her to move her facial muscles, and that is weird to me. But I must say that she won me over completely in this movie. She’s completely authentic and real, even in the facial region, and I totally related to her character throughout the movie.

How I felt after the movie ended: Well I agree with basically everything AP said, so much so that I was too lazy to write my own section about my thoughts on the movie let his thoughts stand for mine. I wholeheartedly agree that the film’s authenticity is its strongest point. The characters are conceived and acted perfectly; there’s no one in the movie who is even remotely a “bad” person, no one who you could point to and identify as the “antagonist.” That’s almost certainly how these things actually work in real life. It’s an incredibly impressive movie to watch, on every level. And it really made me think about a lot of things that I don't usually think about, even since I started writing this blog.

AP sarcastically argued that we needn't bother to see this movie, but it's a view that I think most people would actually agree with (assuming that the majority of people in the world will not actually go to see this movie, which I believe is a fair assumption). It's something that is frequently asked of me when I tell people that I write this blog: why I'm subjecting myself to movies like this. And I’d be lying to you if I said that I would have seen the play if I didn’t have friends involved with the production, or that I would have seen the movie if I weren’t writing this blog. But it is absolutely worth seeing. The movie forces us to think about how we would deal with certain unthinkable things, or how we could have dealt with them differently in the past. Yes, it will almost certainly evoke painful memories. And while that is certainly uncomfortable, I don’t think it’s unnecessary.

AP noted that the movie brilliantly shows how each of us grieve in our own way. I would add that it further explores just how difficult it is to do that nowadays. Recent reports that I just Googled indicate that the annual revenues of the self-help industry in the United States are in the “billions of dollars” range. The people who write these books (many of whom are cynical hucksters, of course) ostensibly believe that there is a standardized formula that exists for how to do any number of things – lose weight, conduct relationships, raise children, and yes, grieve – and that this formula can be replicated on anyone and everyone. I’m sure these books actually do help people on occasion, but the urge that we have, as Americans and as humans, to make things superficially easier at the expense of actual deep personal growth has led to this overarching cookie-cutter approach to (what should be) individual life experiences.

Furthermore (and this is a purely anecdotal observation), there is an almost fascistic tendency among suburban, upper-middle class adults to believe that there is a Way That You Do Things (particularly when it comes to raising children), and that all the barriers of social etiquette and minding your own business fly out the window when you see someone deviate from this Way. The speed with which people offer unsolicited parenting advice is indicative of something deeper: this person has deviated from the way you are supposed to raise your children, and that cannot be tolerated. 

People do it in a gentler way when it comes to grieving, but they still do it. In the movie, Becca and Howie attend a parents’ support group, and when Becca ridicules another parent because of her belief in God, the other people in the parents’ support group stare daggers at her not just because she’s being rude, but because she’s deviating from the way that you are supposed to grieve. There is an unspoken, self-righteous confidence inherent in the existence of this support group that is unbearably oppressive to Becca, and so she stops going, and is judged for it. And all of these people have good intentions. They’re only trying to help by communicating what works for them. But sometimes that is just as unhelpful to a person as not calling them for eight months because you don't know what to say. That's really what Rabbit Hole illustrates so well: that sometimes there's nothing you can do, even when it's with people that you love unconditionally. A simple point in theory, but so complex in practice.

At the end of the day though, I won’t blame you if you don’t see it. (Or if you stopped reading about 1,000 words ago.) Go look at some pictures of Nicole Kidman’s Botox-ed face, and laugh. Or cry. Either is acceptable. And then get on with your life.

1 comment:

  1. I have experienced loss. The loss of ten minutes readings this tripe.