The loss of a child. There is probably no worse pain for a parent to have to endure, especially if the child is taken at a young age. A flood of intense emotions — confusion, anger, hate, fear and guilt — can tear apart the strongest individual and the stablest of marriages. It is wreaking havoc on Becca and Howie. Based on a play of the same name by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is as close to this horrible situation as you’d want to get. The material itself is very well written and presented (albeit, slightly clichéd), but it is the very real acting that solidifies it and forces us to watch even when we don’t want to anymore.
Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are on very different trajectories since the death of their four year-old son eight months ago. To cope, Becca pushes everyone away (including her husband) and wants to eliminate Danny’s memory — she removes his hand drawn pictures from the refrigerator, gives away his clothing and toys, and ultimately wants to move from their picture perfect house since she sees his fingerprints everywhere. Howie can’t forget — he watches film footage in the middle of the night, insists on bringing the dog that was “responsible” for Danny’s death back home, and embraces the notion of entering into a support group.
As Rabbit Hole moves along, their void increases. Becca seeks solace in Jason (Miles Teller), the teenage boy who accidentally killed her son. Howie finds his comfort in the arms of support group alum Gaby (Sandra Oh). As viewers, we wish for them to hug, cry in each other’s arms and find their way from this terrible place. If only it were so easy.
Kidman, who has earned several Best Actress nominations already for this role, is solid as the grieving mother, making more than up for her recent string of poor movie choices. She tackles the role like a wounded mama grizzly bear, determined to present a powerful exterior to those who wish to help her while knowing full well she is dying inside. In one believable instant she is lashing out at her mother (Dianne Wiest) for her poor choice of consoling words and in another real moment seeking her guidance and comfort. She is so thoroughly emotionally lost it makes you uncomfortable to watch.
And even though Eckhart is upstaged by his co-star, he plays well out of his comfort zone too. His character so desperately wants affection that we see his internal struggles as he contemplates the temptations of another. It is nothing short of incredibly sad to see him make choices that go against every fiber of his being. And yet at the same time we can’t help but applaud him for doing what he does.
Supporters Dianne Wiest and Tammy Blanchard provide most of the film’s tension breaks with equal and praiseworthy gusto. There is a discernible weak spot in Rabbit Hole and it rests with Miles Teller. As the boy who was ultimately responsible, I just didn’t pick up on his sincerity or his acknowledgement of the magnitude of the situation he found himself in. Having him pencil a comic book about alternate realities is hardly enough to show how he was deeply affected.
In spite of what I felt was a serious miscue, John Cameron Mitchell still delivers a very powerful and moving picture. Becca and Howie Corbett and the heart wrenching situation they are in is real. You just can’t help but wish they — and it — weren’t so much so.