John Cameron Mitchell’s films explore lives struggling with the results of cataclysmic events both personal and external. His debut, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a screen adaptation of his hit, off-Broadway musical, finds a German transsexual bitter, lovelorn and lost in America after being dumped first by the American GI who brought her to America after convincing her to have a sex-change operation and second by a youth who stole her heart and music to become a Rock & Roll star. Mitchell’s sophomore film, the controversial Shortbus, examines a group of New Yorkers searching for love and connections in the faint shadow of 9/11, complete with explicit sex. His third film mines similar but much more emotionally volatile territory.
Adapted from a stage play by David Lindsay-Abaire, who also penned the script, Rabbit Hole follows a couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) eight months after the tragic death of their 4-year-old son
. The grief threatens to destroy their marriage. Becca (Kidman) compartmentalizes the pain, coldly moving forward in a manner that confuses and hurts Howie (Eckhart), her mother (Dianne Wiest) and her newly pregnant sister. Grief counseling fails. Becca and Howie are soon isolated under one roof, together but mourning alone. They find comfort with others — Becca with the teen responsible for their son’s death and Howie with a member of their support group — but reconciling the past into a new life together proves harder than they ever imagined.
Mitchell doesn’t sentimentalize or gloss the events that befall the couple. The breakdowns, confrontations, rationalizations and more are raw and heart wrenching to observe. Kidman received an Oscar nomination for her performance, and it was deserved. Her portrayal of a mother dealing with something that no parent should ever endure is among cinema’s best.
Rabbit Hole is not a complete downer, however. Touching, bittersweet and very funny moments push through the anguish, reminding that life goes on even in the face of incredible tragedy. Grade: A