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The Independent Critic

Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney, Miles Teller
John Cameron Mitchell
David Lindsay-Abaire
Rated PG-13
92 Mins.
Audio Commentary with the Director, Writer, and Director of Photography
• Deleted Scenes
• Theatrical Trailer

 "Rabbit Hole" Review 
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I cried.

No, actually I sobbed. Uncontrollably. There are times when being a film critic is for all practical purposes irrelevant, a time when one's humanity is all that truly matters and when any notion of true critical objectivity it tossed out the window.

Having myself experienced the tragic loss of a child, it is impossible for me to be objective about Rabbit Hole, and I would be dishonest to not acknowledge that this review isn't so much about Rabbit Hole as a film as it is my own experience of the film. This doesn't mean that I am rendered incapable of critical observations concerning the film, but it does mean that every observation is, at the very minimum, influenced by the fact that Rabbit Hole is a film that I felt very, very deeply at the core of my being.

Eight months ago, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) were an affluent New York couple with a delightful son and a seemingly idyllic life.

Then, the accident.

What "exactly" occurred is revealed only in fragments, pieces of memory that escape into the forefront of Becca and Howie's psyche' as they have now spent eight months attempting to survive their loss, together only in the concrete sense of where they both lay their heads. Becca, who had given up her job at Sotheby's when her son was born, is trapped deep within a cycle of righteous rage and emotional paralysis that threatens to swallow her up. She is quite literally incapable of any degree of intimacy with Howie, instead dissolving herself into a complex sea of guilt, rage and disconnect. She forges an unlikely and eerie relationship with the mostly blame-free teenage driver (Miles Teller) who was driving the vehicle that killed her child, while rejecting both her husband and her mother (Dianne Wiest). Despite the expressed rage of her husband, Becca seemingly attempts to remove from her environment all the tangible reminders of the life she lived just eight months ago.

Howie, on the surface, appears to be at least making baby steps towards moving through the grieving process. At the very least, Howie is able to function in his workplace, express his emotions and regularly attends a grief support group. While Howie at least seems to function somewhat normally, when he is home behind closed doors he cannot stop reliving the memories of his child and his former life. Howie is living his life as a rerun, constantly replaying videos and, unlike his wife, constantly clinging to any tangible reminder of his son.

You may be tempted at this point to shrug your shoulders and sigh "Sounds intense. Why would I want to see such a sad story?"

Indeed, Rabbit Hole is a sad story. David Lindsay-Abaire has crafted the film's script based upon his own Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, and Rabbit Hole is one of the few films to successfully make the transition from stage to screen fully intact. While Rabbit Hole is filled to the brim with sadness, it is when Becca and Howie exhale their desperate attempts at life that the film really comes to life. Rabbit Hole may be centered around a tragic event, yet it is truly about the winding, exhausting, unfathomable and enraging journey towards light that follows such an unspeakable tragedy.

How can a human being simultaneously love someone and let go? How can I justify feeling anything when this person I was charged with protecting can now feel nothing?

The questions go on and on and on. They fill the screen, providing between the lines meaning as we listen and watch and feel Becca and Howie exist from moment to moment. When Becca's sister (Tammy Blanchard) becomes pregnant, the entire screen becomes enveloped in the sense of anticipation and anxiety and tension that begins to fill every second and every spoken word.

Nicole Kidman is a revelation as Becca, unquestionably serving up her finest performance with tremendous courage and transparency. This is not a place one would expect the gifted Kidman to journey no matter her history for tackling challenging material. Becca is more than simply a challenging role, this is a journey through the most intimate and raw human emotions and Kidman has simply never surrendered to a role like she does so here without ever delivering a false note.

Eckhart is nearly her match as the more expressive yet equally mournful Howie, though he does ring a touch false in one climactic and rage-filled scene between he and Kidman that lays bare the widening divide between husband and wife. Yet, Eckhart also has an arguably more challenging task given that Howie is more expressive of the full range of grief and Eckhart transports himself beautifully between range, sadness, resignation and even moments of dark and twisted humor.

Dianne Wiest, who used to be quite the regular when Oscar nominations were announced, will likely find herself in the awards race once again with her touching, deeply felt turn as Nat, Becca's mother. Miles Teller, as the young teenager for whom this accident may have forever sealed his self-identity, gives an understated yet rather remarkable performance that also warrants awards consideration.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Rabbit Hole is that it's directed by John Cameron Mitchell, previously known for more alternative fare such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus. Mitchell avoids anything resembling showiness, implicitly trusting his material and his cast to tell this story and ever so gently guiding the film with a quiet yet firm hand. While Rabbit Hole is an intimate production, it never feels staged and, in fact, Mitchell beautifully captures the universality of this grief experience while never losing the film's intimacy.

If you have ever lost a child or are currently in the throes of the grieving process, Rabbit Hole is a challenging yet absolutely resonant view that is best viewed with an understanding companion to allow post-viewing debriefing and, if needed, a bit of deescalation. Yet, it is seldom that a drama comes along that is this magnificently rich, beautifully scripted and powerfully acted. Rabbit Hole may be one of the most challenging, emotionally demanding films of 2010, but it is also one of the most rewarding.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic