Arts and Culture

'Rabbit Hole'

An intense close-up of parental grief and rage. Interesting choice for Christmas Eve.

By Steve Burgess 24 Dec 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film and culture every other Friday for The Tyee.

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Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart acting sad in 'Rabbit Hole.'

Merry Jewish Christmas! Time again for the annual tradition of eating Chinese food and catching a movie on Dec. 25, a practice initiated by bored Jewish families and since adopted by all sorts of Christmas dodgers seeking to take advantage of the only businesses reliably open on the big holiday. (Local tip: the excellent ramen shop Motomachi Shokudo on Denman is also open Christmas and New Year's Day).

This season's movie release calendar has a distinctly Jewish Christmas look to it, which is to say it is missing Jesus, Tim Allen or Vince Vaughn. So far no harping about the true fundamentalist meaning of the season, or wacky stand-ins for St. Nick who get their fat butts stuck in the chimney. Thanks be to Rudolph for that. On the downside, the menu offers some downers. The latest Harry Potter is pretty grim. And just in time for Christmas comes Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. I'm familiar with the concept of counter programming. But releasing this movie on Christmas Eve is a bit like bringing a baked ham to a bar mitzvah. Christmas can be a depressing time of year for some people, and at this movie the ushers will be taking away your belt and shoelaces.

Eckhart and Kidman are Howie and Becka, grieving parents who have just lost their son Danny in a car accident. They struggle to come to grips with the loss of their child and the loss of their old relationship. Becka's wild sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), gets pregnant. Becka and Howie meet another grieving couple, Gaby and Rick (Sandra Oh and Jon Tenney), at a therapy group and sparks develop between Howie and Gaby. Meanwhile Becka develops a strange friendship with Jason (Miles Teller), a teenage comic book artist who happens to be the driver who killed her son.

That's it, pretty much. Rabbit Hole is an intense close-up of parental grief and rage. Full stop. Very occasionally the movie offers a bit of black humour, as when Eckhart demonstrates why a grieving dad should probably stay out of the way when a realtor is trying to sell his house. Dianne Wiest is great as Becka's slightly wacked-out mom, who starts rambling on about the Kennedy family after drinking too much wine at a birthday party.

Brace yourself

There is much to admire about Rabbit Hole. Honest depictions of grief are rare in movies, where the loss of a loved one is often either a transparent attempt to jerk a few tears or to clear the track for a new romance. There are some good performances, although Kidman's cold, repressed grief is perhaps not that big a stretch.

But Rabbit Hole feels claustrophobic in more ways than one. It has advanced little from its roots as a stage play by David Lindsay-Abaire. And while tackling difficult subject matter, the movie does little with it. We meet Howie and Becka only as grieving parents, never seeing the family relationship. Intellectually we know that such parents must be devastated but it remains an intellectual conclusion. Making an emotional connection would involve bonding with Howie and Becka, and they aren't particularly interesting. A movie like Shadowlands (1993 version or 1985 British original) offered a richer and more complex portrait of human love and grief. Rabbit Hole remains an admirable attempt that is unlikely to appeal to many beyond those unfortunate enough to have personal experience with the subject matter.

As for the festive release date, well, that's not the fault of the filmmakers. But be warned: spending Christmas Day down the Rabbit Hole could leave you face down in the holiday punch.  [Tyee]

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