Testing marriage

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Rabbit Hole (M). Director: John Cameron Mithcell. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Wiest, Sandra Oh, Miles Teller. 91 minutes

Rabbit Hole contains a most apt analogy for grief; in particular, of a parent's grief for a lost child.

It never goes away, explains aging matriarch Nat (Weist). But the weight of it changes. It becomes so that you can crawl out from underneath it, and carry it around like a brick in your pocket. Sometimes, you forget about it, temporarily. Then one day you put your hand in your pocket, and you remember: 'Oh yeah. That.' It's still heavy, but it's bearable. Familiar.

For the most part, Rabbit Hole is a reflective account of the earlier stages of bereavement, when grief is still a monolith. It's likely that such hulking obelisk grief can only be fully appraised by those who have experienced it. But Rabbit Hole does a fine job of exploring through domestic drama the obelisk's chapped and spindle-cracked surface, and of evoking a sense of its imposing weight.

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The film allows the viewer to share intimate space with Becca (Kidman) and her husband Howie (Eckhart) who, less than a year ago, lost their son Danny beneath the wheels of a passing car on their suburban street. The obelisk sits where the boy once did, at the heart of the family and their cavernous home, displacing affection and oppressing the parents.

Becca's and Howie's methods of coping contrast and clash. Becca attempts to chip away at the obelisk by removing reminders of their son from sight — family photos, grubby fingerprints, the family pet — as if obscuring memory can obscure grief. Howie, on the other hand, pores over an old iPhone video, trying to resurrect the boy through memory. These opposing methods cause tension and conflict.

Becca and Howie attend a support group for parents who have lost children. Here they encounter Gaby (Oh) and her husband, eight-year veterans of the group, and are astonished by the reality of the longevity of grief, and of the road to recovery that stretches interminably before them.

During the session, Becca is appalled by the insufficiency of religious platitudes; many viewers will sympathise with this, though less so with her insensitivity to another couple, for whom these platitudes constitute an attempt to understand and to imbue meaning upon tragedy. To Howie's chagrin, Becca decides that the group is not for her.

Her closedness and Howie's openness to the group's method reflect their contrasting natures. Becca feigns stoicism, though her writhing emotions are revealed in the fabulous contortions of Kidman's plasticine face. Howie's emotions are unbridled and barely tempered; they emerge as a lunging stallion roar. Communication and intimacy suffer.

Separated by the obelisk, Howie and Becca seek solace individually. Howie bonds with Gaby over a hash pipe; their budding closeness provides a test for his love and faithfulness to his wife. Becca, meanwhile, connects with Jason (Teller), the teenage driver of the car that killed Danny. This is potentially destructive, but opens the prospect of the gift and receipt of confessions and forgiveness.

Grief's weight changes, but never leaves, says Nat — Becca's mother, whose grief for the death of her own, adult son years previous gives her some authority. Director Mitchell, known for his frank considerations of sexuality and gender in his films Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, imbues Rabbit Hole's reflections on the permanence and changeability of grief with honesty and authenticity.

Ultimately, the best he can offer his characters and audience is hope. That's not an insignificant gift. 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail.

Topic tags: Rabbit Hole, John Cameron Mithcell, Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Wiest, Sandra Oh



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I really enjoyed this article and am looking forward to seeing it.
Jane Waller | 18 February 2011


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