Monday, March 7, 2011


Finally! We can now watch movies without worrying about whether the cinematography was good enough for Oscar gold or if the lead actress was better or worse than one Ms. Portman.

Rabbit Hole turned out to be a hugely underrated movie despite powerful performances by the cast and a deeply sensitive portrayal of grief. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play parents who are trying to come to terms with the loss of their 4 year old son who dies in a tragic car accident. Not only must they deal with the sadness of the loss of their son, but also with the hoards of friends and family who want to make their show of support.

It may have ostensibly been about the two parents, but the real story is about society's reaction to grief. Some expect the grieving people keep it together, others find public displays of grief embarrassing and still others worry about what sort of conversation to have with them. And that's a much tougher story to tell, because this movie could have easily lapsed into a soppy tear jerker about what a darling little boy the child, Danny was and have us all weep to home video clips of him riding a tricycle (set to a touching piano ballad of course). Instead, we never meet Danny; we only see his father's face as he watches said home videos on his phone, late in the night. We only see his mother resolutely stuffing his clothes into a Goodwill dropbox, because she desperately wants to stop being sad, wants to stop being reminded of his death every single waking moment.

The director toed that line between keeping us invested in the couple and showing all their faults in glaring detail. We just ended up loving them for it more. At no point did I think, "Hmm, they just aren't sad enough," or "Wow, okay, that's a bit too much grief, get your act together, people." Not only are they terribly sad, but they're both secretly blaming themselves for his death. If only I'd locked the gate, if only I didn't step inside to take the phone call, if only I'd tied up the dog... it's a miserable exercise with zero benefit, and yet, we all do it.

And then there are the family and friends who want to help, who want to make sure they've done everything required by protocol for people who suffered a tragedy. You have the "we will only speak to you in a bedside voice and look at you with pity" people, the "we will hang around always in the hope that we may become the shoulder you want to cry on" type, the "we just don't know how to deal with someone's grief so we will avoid you in the hope that it will go away" type and of course, the "we will talk about a loved one we lost, apparently to help you deal with your grief" type. Dianne West is superb as Kidman's slightly drunk, mostly absent mother who lost her son many years ago to drug abuse. The arguments between her and Kidman are one of the highlights of the movie.

Yes, there are the mandatory potshots taken against support groups and the apparently irrational god-needed-my-child explanations, but it wasn't mean spirited at all. It's just that saying, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away" just isn't enough anymore. And yes, there was the predictable structuring of the movie into the 5 stages of grief, but at no point did it feel like the plot had been forced into that structure; it flowed very naturally.

When is it okay for a parent to forget their child? When is it okay for them to be "normal" again? To actually be interested in the mundane doings of their neighbours' children? All irritatingly unanswerable questions, but in the meanwhile, while some may find comfort in the idea that God wanted their child, others find it comforting to know that it is very possible that in a parallel universe their child never died and they never had to experience the ultimate sorrow of losing him. Whatever works, you know?

I personally find comfort in the idea that in a parallel universe, George Clooney and I are married and he's a woodcutter with a penchant for flannel shirts.

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