Oscarbation: Falling Down a Rabbit Hole of Self-Pity

12/17/2010 10:58 AM |

Invisible thought bubble: My grief... is like... pie.
  • Invisible thought bubble: “My grief… is like… pie.”

Hey, it’s Mutual Oscarbation, our awards season feature in which Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart find out before what sorts of movies Academy members are smoking a bowl in the parking lot. This week they can’t stop feeling sad for themselves as they suffer through John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole.

STEWART:
Shit, Ben—these are some mutherfuckin’ white people, huh? I mean, like, the super-domesticated, bourgeois-extreme Westchester types: she gardens, he plays squash, she uses verbs like “accost.” Most of all, though—like classic whiteys—they don’t care about anyone or anything but themselves. And, unfortunately, neither does Rabbit Hole.

Really, man, this is some kind of porn for tragedy fetishists, a voyeuristic window unto grief. Right? So, Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman play this married couple whose four-year-old son was run over by a car eight months ago. And then they spend 92 minutes feeling a lot of emotions about it that they have trouble sharing with the people they love most, and so which go unspoken until they can be unspoken no more, bursting forth as yelling, crying, unfocused anger. I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to lose a small child, Ben, but I think that’s a big part of this movie’s problem. Rabbit Hole acknowledges that outsiders feel uncomfortable around a couple steeped in such loss, but doesn’t seem to realize it puts the audience at that kind of remove, too. Like some of the couple’s friends, I don’t really want to spend time with them. It’s awkward because I can’t even pretend to relate. All I can do is gawk like an asshole. And I’d rather not! (I don’t want to get too armchair psychologist here, but what is it that draws Adults to these sorts of stories? Is it pleasure from seeing lives worse off than our own? Sharing in real emotions from the emotionally empty, padded-seats-comfort of a theater?)

Think about last year’s Antichrist in contrast. It’s also about a couple struggling to cope with the death of a small child, but in Lars von Trier’s whackadoodle, he pits his grieving characters against nature, both internal and external, while exploring gender issues, horror movie conventions, and lots of other shit. My point is Antichrist is about a lot of things. Rabbit Hole centers on two navel-gazing protagonists who can’t think about anything but their own Feelings. It’s about one esoteric, alienating theme—the pain of loss. It’s really about nothing.

Just compare the movies’ two Death Of A Child sequences. At the beginning of Antichrist, an infant defenestrates himself in gorgeous B&W, to an exquisite Handel aria, while his parents make passionate love in exhibition-quality mise-en-scene. It’s absurdly aestheticized, but aggressively provocative, daring us to find beautiful something so horrible. Director Mitchell (adopting an Oscar-baiting directness at odds with his usually grating flamboyance) recreates the child’s death near the end, in a similarly heavily aestheticized manner. But there’s nothing provocative about it; he’s simply making the death of children pretty, because he believes pain is meaningful—and thus beautiful—in and of itself. It’s the movie’s worst moment.

So what’s Rabbit Hole‘s best? When Eckhart and grief-counseling pal Sandra Oh get blizz-azed before a group counseling session and can’t stop giggling as a man describes he and his wife’s grief over the death of their daughter from leukemia. Seriously, Rabbit Hole: get over yourself.

SUTTON:
“Grating flamboyance”?! Pretty sure that makes you a homophobe, Henry. I get what you’re trying to say though. Mitchell’s shedding of his trademark “flamboyance” (which I happen to appreciate, no matter how grating it gets) was just another indicator of Rabbit Hole‘s total capitulation to low-grade awards season propriety. Throw in art direction courtesy Martha Stewart Living, performances with over-emotional pseudo-extremes from A-list actors, and Pulitzer-prized source material by self-adapting playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, and you’ve got a winner, right? After all, suburban malaise tends to be good Oscar bait with the Academy. Let’s hope they don’t fall for this one.

I can see how Rabbit Hole would fare better on stage, where it takes place entirely within the Corbetts’ house, turning their palace of privilege into an inescapable and increasingly claustrophobic prison of grief. But given room to roam on screen that grief expands endlessly, consuming the film’s whole upper-middle class world. Your Antichrist allusion reminded me of another excellent guiltily sexy grieving parents pic: Don’t Look Now. There, when a couple’s young daughter dies on their idyllic estate, they actually deal with their feelings of guilt, loss and self-pity, and eventually grow closer like real, emotionally adroit adults. Then grief, an undying flicker of their past in a new city seemingly full of possibility, catches up with them. My point being that for a film so embedded in the experience of its protagonists and invested in the promise of ups-and-downs performed with awards-worthy tears, shouts, epiphanies and resolutions, Rabbit Hole remains obstinately on the surface of the deep emotional wells it means to tap.

Another great thing about Antichrist and Don’t Look Now that Rabbit Hole is sorely lacking? A smoking hot sex scene. Beyond the issue of Becca’s (Kidman) enduring frigidity even eight months after the fact—come on, doing it like healthy married adults doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working on a replacement child, ya know—both she and Howie (Eckhart) seem at times to be entertaining possible affairs. He nearly beds grief group buddy Oh, while his wife starts stalking the high school senior (Miles Teller) who killed their kid. Wouldn’t that, or anything at all surprising, interesting or adventurous, have been really hot, Henry? Or just interesting. Or at least less awful than Rabbit Hole‘s shallow, contrived tunnel-vision.

Categories Baited: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Nicole Kidman), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Aaron Eckhart) Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Dianne Wiest), Best Adapted Screenplay (David Lindsay-Abaire), Best Score (Anton Sanko).

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