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Rabbit Hole

January 16, 2011

Rabbit Hole

One of the greatest tragedies is for a parent to lose a child. We so value children, and invest them with such hope and expectation for the future, that to have all of that suddenly cut off is beyond devastating. It’s so disturbing that we who aren’t forced to deal with it rarely take more than the briefest glimpse in passing. Rabbit Hole takes one of those rare longer looks at one particular family.

Becca and Howie Corbett (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) lost their son Danny eight months ago, and since then it’s like their lives have stopped. They avoid their former friends, generally check out from the rest of the world, and curl up into themselves. But with both of them turning inwards, their life together looks to be the next casualty.

Howie immerses himself in the past, spending every night watching a video of Danny captured on his iPhone over and over again. He tries desperately to hold on any vestige of what’s been lost, even trying to convince Becca to try again to have another child. But he also manages to go off to work and maintain a couple friendships.

Becca isn’t quite so lucky. She’d quit her job, and her life revolved around being a mother. Everything in the house — including the house itself — is a constant reminder of Danny. She takes his paintings from the fridge; packs his clothes up to Goodwill; sends his dog Taz to stay with her mother, Nat (Dianne Wiest). And nothing she does is ever enough, as she continues to drown inside herself.

In a well-meaning attempt to make some sort of progress, Howie has them going to a support group for bereaved parents. Through the group, we get to see some other aspects of the grieving process: bargaining for meaning through religion; lashing out in anger; numbing themselves with drugs or alcochol. One couple has been in the group for over eight years, floating motionless in their doldrums.

Becca doesn’t see any value in the group, and it’s not certain whether Howie is more interested in the group or in Gaby (Sandra Oh), who — though she has miseries of her own — at least doesn’t share the same ones he carries. For her part, Becca strikes out on an attempt to find some closure with the person who accidentally caused Danny’s death. Neither one is really looking for anyone else so much as they’re casting about for something to grab.

But for all their searching, we get the clear impression that the one thing they haven’t done is really talked to each other. What they need is to sit down and find out how each of them can help provide the comfort the other one needs.

To be honest, in all likelihood I will never have to worry about the death of a child, but still the film’s treatment feels very true-to-life. Kidman and Eckhart both call forth very different portraits of grief, and Wiest is at her best relating Nat’s own long-scarred-over pain and recovery. But the real credit goes to David Lindsay-Abaire’s excellent screenplay, adapted from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It manages to take a horribly painful subject and handle it with both honesty and sensitivity. And with luck it may help someone else find a little of their own needed comfort.

Worth it: yes.
Bechdel test: pass.

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