John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole is a heartbreaking film of loss that shows how difficult and long the road to recovery and redemption can be.
Rabbit Hole is the story of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart). They are a couple that lost their son when he chased his dog out into the road and was hit by a car. Now they are in the aftermath of the loss, trying to find a way to continue with life and find some way to feel something more than the overwhelming weight of loss.
There is a delicate tone to this movie. It would be easy to beat the audience over the head with the misery of loss, but Mitchell doesn’t do that. He doesn’t show Becca and Howie crying their eyes out as they walk around the house. Instead, he shows how big their house is, how empty it is, and, most haunting, how quiet it is. He shows that their son’s drawings are still hanging on the fridge. What this does is allow the audience to feel their loss rather than be told it. It’s beyond show, don’t tell. It is feel, don’t watch.
Nicole Kidman as Becca is an impressive performance to watch. I can’t recall the last time I have seen a more cold hearted bitch on screen. However, what is impressive is not Kidman’s ability to be cold but to show that there is something beneath that, even when she is sitting in a support group mocking the members ways of coping. Rather than push you away, this coldness pulls you in, as you want to know why Becca is like this. And when this information is given, Becca grows, but it is not a grandiose transition. It is a subtle shift that feels very sincere and honest.
Aaron Eckhart is a knockout in this movie. As Howie, he is handling his grief in the more traditional ways that we are accustomed to: he wants to go to the support group, he wants to talk about what happened, he wants to find a way to move on and make things nice again. The power of Eckhart’s performance comes from the little subtleties. As he watches a video on his iPhone of his son, there is sorrow in his eyes but there is also joy. Joy because he is watching his son whom he treasures the memory of. It’s these kind of layers that make Eckhart something special to watch in this film. He is a man at war with himself. He doesn’t want to sweep his son underneath the rug like a secret but he wants to move on with his life. He struggles to figure out how to reconcile these feelings or even if he can.
The cinematography of this film seems to be indicative of the film as a whole, which is something I have seen rarely achieved. The entire color palette of the movie, including costuming, is that of whites, pale blues, and grays. It is a palette that could feel clinical, bleak, oppressive, and depressing. Instead, it feels delicate and hopefully beautiful. It is no small feat that director of photography Frank G. DeMarco was able to accomplish this.
Anton Sanko’s score shares many of the same qualities as the cinematography. It is a very minimalist score, playing heavily on stringed instruments, both those plucked or played with a bow. While woodwinds and piano are also brought in to support the strings, the score never feels orchestral. That is to say it never feels grandiose. Rather it feels intimate. Perhaps, the best way to describe the score is respectful. It is respectful of what the characters are going through and doesn’t want to intrude too much. It doesn’t need to tell the audience how the characters are feeling, they can see that. What the score helps to do is let the audience feel what the characters are feeling. This is feel, don’t watch, remember?
The pacing is very well handled in this film. With subject matter this intense it would be easy to wallow in pity and despair, but the film never does that. The characters never really seem to be stagnating. They are always moving towards something, even if they are unsure what that is. Because if they don’t, if they do wallow and stagnate, then they fall apart and they cannot do that. Yet the movie never feels rushed, it takes its time getting from place to place, but always makes sure to be moving.
John Cameron Mitchell’s third film is one that is very assured. There is an incredible amount of subtlety and nuance to the film, which implies a lot of trust in the audience. Trust that the audience will feel the emotions as deeply as the characters. Trust that the audience will learn that the road to redemption and acceptance is a long one that can’t be mapped, but it can be traveled and doesn’t have to be traveled alone.