Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rabbit Hole - Aftermath of Loss

'Rabbit Hole' takes us down a path where most parents would dread to tread with the weight of their worst nightmare. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, based on the pulitzer prize winning play of the same name by David Lindsay-Abaire, we face the world of a seemingly normal well off suburban couple, Becca and Howie, played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. Except that it is not. Eight months ago, they had faced the worst tragedy imaginable to any parent, the loss of their four year old son in an accident. This is the story of how parents can maybe hope to get on with life after unimaginable loss.

Every individual deals with the process of grieving differently. Howie spends his evenings watching videos on his cell phone, of their little boy. He joins group therapy sessions with his reluctant wife. She, in fact, quits immediately, but for him its a way to cope with loss. There he finds a sympathetic ear in Gaby (Sandra Oh), a fellow mourner whose marriage has fallen victim to similar tragedy. They occasionally smoke pot in the car and try for at least a while, to forget the pain.

Becca finds therapy self righteous. 'If God needed another angel, why didn't he just make one...after all he is God' she quips when another couple tries to make sense of their own loss. In fact more then Howie, it is her character which is in a state of flux. She tries to appear normal, be happy about hearing of the pregnancy of her sister. She plans on giving her son's old clothes to her, which is obviously an uncomfortable moment for her family. She tries to erase memories. Her matter of fact manner hides pain and when pain of such intensity lacks an outlet, the grieving process never truly takes off.

She has a fellow mourner in her mother (Dianne Wiest) who had lost her adult son to a drug overdose and can well see the toll that tragedy is taking on Becca. When Becca chances upon the teenager (Miles Teller,) whose car had hit their son running out of the house chasing the family dog, she tries to reach out and make a connection. All this leads to a collage of moments and emotions where the characters try to figure out how to keep moving. As Becca's mother points out in one of the high points of the movie, the pain never really goes away. However in time, it becomes a rock we carry around in our pockets, sometimes even forget about it...but it always remains and we remember it and keep it, because it is the only thing left of our child.

Being mother to a small child myself, I was wary of seeing the movie. Coming out of it, I see it as the right way to deal with such a topic. While the grief is palpable, the movie also retains the humor of the characters. It is often funny, touching, insightful and always subtle. The director and more importantly the writer, knew the dangers of falling into the pitfalls of this genre and avoid every trick. We are spared of the actual incident, the shocked heartbreak of the parents. When we meet Becca and Howie, they are beginning to come out of the numb state that often follows such tragedies and are searching for ways to cope with it. The teenager is not untouched either. Though he did nothing wrong and it was one of those senseless tragedies, he carries a burden with him. What if he had not turned on that street? Was he over the speed limit by a digit or two? In each other, Becca and the boy find an unlikely outlet to their grief.

Nicole Kidman is one of the finest actors of her generation. In spite of the big name and glamour she has in Hollywood, Nicole has managed to find those small projects where grief and despair run undercurrent. The porcelain face combined with a stony demeanor is the perfect palette for a dignified, stoic personality. There are no hysterics. What we get is the chill of pain. She embodies Becca perfectly and the buildup of her grief and its final release is so effective. Watch her outburst in the grocery store against a mother denying her child a candy. Or when she sees the teenagers heading to the prom and knows that will never be for her son. Likewise, Aaron Eckhart is good as the man who grieves but cannot relate to the bottling up of his wife's feelings. He wants to move on and even though in appearance it would seem Becca is ready, he knows she is not. A word for Dianne Wiest, Becca's mom. Her eyes speak of the compassion, understanding and sadness she feels for her daughter's loss.

The rabbit hole that Alice fell in showed her an alternate reality. Here the teenager is crafting a comic book by that name which shows one as well. Becca wonders "could there be another me somewhere, happy". Its a comfort certainly, knowing there is another us somewhere, untouched by the weight of a pain we just have to learn to bear. How easy it would be to just escape into it. As things stand, here and now is the burden we have to get through.

Available on DVD
Nominated for an Oscar - 'Best Actress in a Leading role'
Originally released in 2010

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