Grief is given a hefty workout in Rabbit Hole, a searing drama that charts the parallel paths a married couple take after the death of their only child. It’s an unfair tragedy when a parent outlives their child, exemplified by the film being set nine months after four-year-old Danny’s death; you only get nine months to be excited about the imminent birth of a child, and yet the grieving never ends. Becca (Nicole Kidman, The Hours) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) know they’ll never experience another day of their lives that isn’t impacted by memories of Danny’s death, but they do what they can in such a pressing situation.
Howie attends counselling groups, but Becca finds their pontificating worthless. He eventually finds comfort in the sympathetic ear of another childless parent (Sandra Oh, Grey’s Anatomy). Becca meanwhile spends her time gardening and baking because it gives her “something to do”. She starts a secret friendship with a melancholy teenager (Miles Teller), seeking solace from her conversations with the boy. The sudden pregnancy of Becca’s sister (Tammy Blanchard, Bella) throws a wrench in each of their healing processes, whether they admit or not.
Even if the screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, feels too much like a ‘Greatest Hits of Grief’ compilation, then it still manages to work due to the perceptive ideas it brings forth and the surprisingly tart one-liners that dot the film’s landscape. John Cameron Mitchell is well known for the theatrical exuberance of Shortbus (2006) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), but here he pulls back and instead works his own artistic flourishes is smaller, less obvious ways.
And what can be said about Nicole Kidman? Proving yet again why she is the actor of her generation, giving a brilliant portrayal of a woman whose idea of mourning is to appear as if she’s not mourning at all. Becca’s quick wit and even quicker moods switch from moment to moment as she continues to find a coping mechanism that works for her, the way she thinks the counselling group helps Howie (which they don’t). She would win the Oscar if it weren’t for Black Swan. Furthermore, Eckhart is sublime, as is Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway) as Becca’s mother Nat and Teller is surely a name to look out for in the future after his performance here.
Rabbit Hole may sound bleak, and it surely is at times, but its refreshingly unhistrionic take on the subject coupled with Kidman’s mammoth performance make it a rewarding experience.
Rabbit Hole is released in Australia February 17th
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Giancarlo Esposito and Jon Tenney
Images provided by Roadshow Publicity