‘Good grief’ may be one of the most common expressions in the English language, yet there is no grief that is good. And reviewing the movie Rabbit Hole, delving as it does into the uncompromising ordeal of grief, may be the hardest one to write of all.
Because no human being escapes the inevitable tragic loss of loved ones in their lives. And Rabbit Hole, like the best of movies that serve not just as screen images but mirrors as well into the souls and minds of audiences, takes viewers on a journey of impossible parental heartbreak. And also difficult survival but resolve, following the death of a child.
In no way Alice In Wonderland, but sentenced to emotional incarceration down a dreaded rabbit hole of her own, Nicole Kidman is Becca, a traumatized suburban mom in deep freeze psychologically, after her four year old son and only child is hit by a car while dashing into the street. In contrast, Becca’s husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) is focused instead on hopefully moving on, and reassembling their shattered lives and now alienated, sexless marriage. But Becca remains withdrawn, distracting herself from crippling sadness with an escape into household chores and gardening.
Even Howie’s bid to help Becca free herself from chronic despair by convincing her to attend group counseling sessions with other grieving parents, backfires when she verbally attacks participants grasping at closure through religion. And what is to Becca, embrace of an incomprehensibly punishing God.
Unable to avoid facing the impasse in their marriage, each finds strange solace with others, Becca with a neighborhood teen and Howie getting stoned in the parking lot with a longtime grief group member (Sandra Oh) and self-described ‘professional wallower’ for nearly a decade. There are also tender when not tempestuous interludes between Becca and her mother, Nat (Dianne Wiest), who lost her own adult son and Becca’s brother to drug addiction. But Becca lashes out whenever Nat attempts to empathize with her daughter by expressing her own grief from losing a child. Because for Becca, no sorrow can compete with her own.
Eventually there is a fragile acceptance of some slim hope to simply continue to exist, as Becca acknowledges the pain of others. Especially her own mother, who imparts the wisdom that grief never goes away, but rather becomes different. And the enormous weight of the loss of your child transforms instead into something less overwhelming but always there, ‘that you carry around, like a brick in your pocket.’
Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole is directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig And The Angry Inch). Mitchell drew inspiration from the traumatic loss of his own brother as a child. And the raw truth and heartfelt sensibility of Rabbit Hole – unlike most films where death is a merely useful dramatic tool or emotionally exploitative device – could not be more luminous.
Or, as expressed in an ultimately grasped awareness by these broken yet tentatively on the mend characters: ‘There are versions of us floating around out there, and these are just the sad versions of us. But somewhere out there, I’m having a good time.’