Couple riven by grief, riveting to watch

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star as parents struggling to cope with the death of their son in an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star as parents struggling to cope with the death of their son in an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
Posted: December 24, 2010

There are moments early in the domestic vignette Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a couple estranged by that which shall not be spoken, when they seem like cousins of George and Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Wrenching, poignant, and quietly healing, John Cameron Mitchell's adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning play soon reveals what has come between the tightly wound Becca (Kidman) and the unraveling Howie (Eckhart).

They have lost a child. Rather than bring them together, mourning isolates them. Becca is angry and rigid, a fist slamming the world. Howie is grief-stricken and slack, wanting to be scraped up from the floor. He will not be her punching bag. She will not be his warm embrace. They will not comfort each other. She is inconsolable; he wants to be consoled. Their silence is deafening.

And their dynamic is riveting. Employing minimalist means for maximum emotional impact, Kidman and Eckhart are superlative. As Mitchell frames them, they might illustrate Newton's Law of Emotion: Every action of hers has an equal and opposite reaction in him.

See Becca, busy in the basement folding clothes belonging to her late son. She wants to pack up his effects and move on. Howie wants to stay put in the home that feels to Becca like a mausoleum. Howie benefits from and takes seriously a grief support group that for Becca is a farce. His default emotion is solicitousness; hers is snappishness. Disconnected from each other, they each seek connection elsewhere: Howie from a surrogate wife, Becca from a surrogate son.

Though his subject is heartbreak, Mitchell's destination is acceptance. His purpose leavens the emotional heaviness, makes it bearable. So does Becca's lacerating anger, which Kidman plays for black humor. It is the actress' most engaged and emotionally layered work and a triumph for all involved.

While Rabbit Hole, the title of which refers to a graphic novel created by one of the characters, may not be a cup of holiday cheer, it is a most rewarding journey from the dark into the light.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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