“Why didn’t he just make another angel?”
Everyone copes with tragedy differently. Some may go to group therapy sessions and slowly peel away at their grief while others do the same around them; some bottle it all up as though they are going through the pain alone, eventually seeing the pent up anger released all at once to an undeserved receipt of whomever is in the crossfire; and others might even attempt to talk with those involved in the event, whether victims or killers, to reconcile guilt, revenge, or give forgiveness. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire touches upon all these while telling the story of Becca and Howie eight months after the tragic death of their 4-year old son running into the street after his dog. Based upon his own play, Rabbit Hole seems to be a bit of an aberration in his oeuvre—a Tony-nominated work and Best Actress Tony winner, (for Cynthia Nixon)—alongside scripts for children’s fare Robots and Inkheart and the book for Shrek the Musical. However, he gets all the emotions perfectly in a script that drips with agonizing sorrow while director John Cameron Mitchell bolsters his own career with a steady hand, subtle nuance, and phenomenal performances by his cast.
This story could have gone in so many clichéd directions, and in fact almost seems as though it will. Becca (Nicole Kidman) is struggling with the ghost of her son Danny every waking hour, trapped in the house after giving up her Sotheby’s job once having him. Unable to deal with the isolation and hard memories, she refuses to be touched sexually by her husband, has exiled their dog to her mother’s so as not to be reminded of his role in the death, and won’t accept concepts of God to help justify the heavy weight on her heart nor comparisons made by her mother (Dianne Wiest) who lost Becca’s brother to drug addiction at 30. There are no answers for her and whenever someone does try to help—besides her best friend who hasn’t even called since the accident—she shuts them down with snidely vicious retorts, alienating her from therapy, her family, and the man she loves. She won’t place blame, knowing deep down that it was no one’s fault, not even the young man at the wheel of the car. Complete forgiveness is the only chance she has at living with the pain, but her self-destructive nature might drive everyone away before she has a chance to open up.
Howie (Aaron Eckhart), on the other hand, deals with his loss publicly. Accepting of the fact Danny is gone, his goal is to lessen the burden through conversation and recollection, unafraid of the boy’s ghost. Group therapy works as an outlet to know he isn’t alone—especially with a wife who has shut down—and the happy memories shine above the hurt through paintings on the fridge, a home video on his iPhone, and the fingerprint smudges still on doors knobs in the house. Desperately wanting closure to move forward, but never forget, he tries so hard to engage Becca in conversations about the future, maybe even the idea to have another child. But her inability to live on despite the remnants left behind causes her to turn cold towards Howie, emotionless as she erases the boy from her consciousness by removing him from the house, and even putting the home up for sale to start fresh somewhere else. Everything he wants—to be able to honor his son through love—is subverted by her attempts to forget, driving them farther apart and he into the good graces of Sandra Oh’s Gaby, an eight year veteran of therapy herself.
The simple fact that these two parents grieve on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum is what makes Rabbit Hole so powerful. They both put on their masks and hide behind plans of coping while in fact being scared to face the truth. Everyone around them can see what’s happening and choose to keep back so as not to add fuel to the explosive fire building. Tammy Blanchard’s Izzy fears letting her sister know of an unplanned pregnancy with her new boyfriend Auggie (Giancarlo Esposito) in case it causes her to spiral into depression with preparations for a new baby; Wiest’s Nat, a mother with a spotty track record of good decisions, tries to help console Becca and be the matriarch she wasn’t in the past, but is constantly shot down as belittling the tragedy when attempting to relate to her son’s passing; and the absent friend is the elephant in the room, maybe causing more trouble in her silence than if she risked saying or doing the wrong thing by offering the kindness she is afraid to share. Becca pushes everyone away as Howie searches for someone to bring closer, but through all the strife, they never stop loving each other.
Mitchell treats the material with the respect it deserves, keeping emotions pure through genuine performances mirroring the script’s own convincing voice. Much like his previous film, Shortbus, his success is in showing accurate portrayals of relationships, never sacrificing truth by excising the dark, volatile moments inherent in life. I have to single out Eckhart and Miles Teller, the high school senior guilty of vehicular manslaughter, despite the two female leads getting a lot of deserved. Teller shows his internal struggle and pain with subtle precision, dealing with the tragedy as a victim carrying the burden of what happened forever, and Eckhart excels in a role devoid of his usual typecast fast-talking prick, holding his own against his Kidman’s renaissance. Wiest is heartbreaking as a wrongly marginalized mother, verbally assaulted for being maternal, but Kidman steals the show. It has been so long since she’s shown her natural born talent and I can’t think of a better way to resurface. Powerful in her internalizations, she is also a monster once the aggression breaks loose. Couple the brilliantly staged husband and wife screaming session at midpoint with the film’s final exchange to see how good Eckhart and Kidman truly are as well as to catch one of the year’s most authentic looks into the ups and downs of love.
 Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) in RABBIT HOLE. Photo credit: JoJo Whilden
 Dianne Wiest stars as ‘Nat’ in RABBIT HOLE. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
 Miles Teller stars as Jason and Nicole Kidman stars as Becca Corbett in Lionsgate Films’ Rabbit Hole (2011)