Director: John Cameron Mitchell
The opening scene of Rabbit Hole sees Becca (Nicole Kidman) hauling a bag of compost across her lawn. If only that sack of dirt were the only thing weighing her down. The ghosts of the past haunt Rabbit Hole, a heartfelt adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play (which was adapted for the screen by the playwright himself). Becca and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are trying (and failing) to move on from the death of their young son some eight months previously. After dragging her compost, Becca’s next-door neighbour pops by with an invite to dinner, which she declines. Reticence towards interaction is often a part of grief, which would explain Becca’s ability to inject awkwardness into any situation; her relationships with family and friends range from barely amicable to frosty. She and Howie attend group bereavement couselling, which Howie feels might help but Becca thinks is full of “God freaks”. Her feelings are not helped by her younger, newly-pregnant sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) or her sweet-but-morbid mother Nat (Dianne Wiest).
This material is a sobering choice for director John Cameron Mitchell. His last film, the energetically explicit Shortbus, dealt with characters whose problems with their sex lives were indicative of their deeper troubles. In Rabbit Hole, Becca and Howie’s problems are defined by their (decidedly less explicit) connections. Howie socializes with work colleagues and befriends a similarly bereaved mother (Sandra Oh) in the counselling group. However, his relationship with his wife is clearly under strain. Eckhart shows many sides of this character, but always keeps him grounded and understandable in his frustrations. Becca’s necessity to interact with someone who understands her pain leads her to meet with Jason (Miles Teller), the driver of the car that killed Becca and Howie’s son. Their scenes together are some of the most memorable in the film, with Mitchell showing beautiful restraint throughout. There’s no need for flash; the inherent truth of the scenes speaks for itself. Becca’s apparent frostiness intuitively makes Kidman ideal casting for the role. It also allows her to display a greater variety of emotion than her ‘ice maiden’ image would have us believe.
Rabbit Hole does not wallow in its characters’ misery; it seems to brighten up when the leads do so. It is an honest and tender depiction of lingering grief, powered by grounded performances and an unfussy directorial commitment to the story. Sentimentality clouds our better judgement; thankfully, Rabbit Hole is sobering viewing, but never sentimental.