Friday, December 17, 2010

Nicole Kidman's grieving mom in "Rabbit Hole" hits close to home

Last night while I was watching Rabbit Hole, I couldn't stop thinking about my mom. Like Nicole Kidman's Becca, the bereaved parent in the taut, 90-minute drama, my mother has had to bury a child. I've always heard that there is no greater pain, and after watching the film, I understand why a little better. As close as my mother and I were when I was growing up, she and I never really talked about my sister, who died before I was born. Watching the film made me want to reach out to my mom somehow, but like Becca's friend who never called to offer any kind of consolation, I didn't really know what to say.

Rabbit Hole reminds me of In the Bedroom, another contemplation on loss, because its simple staging and small-as-life performances make you feel as if you're witnessing a real family's private pain. But while Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson's Bedroom characters' son was a grown man murdered by the jealous ex of his older lover, the son of Kidman and Aaron Eckhart's characters was a toddler struck by a car when he ran out into the street after the family dog. 

The film begins eight months after Danny's death, and the movie doesn't automatically reveal exactly what has happened, which adds another dimension to the early interactions onscreen. Why is Becca being so cold to her neighbor? Why do she and her sister (Tammy Blanchard) and mom (Dianne Weist, whose character also has lost a son, but in a completely different way) seem like such intimate strangers? And why does Becca appear to be almost repulsed by a husband as fine as Aaron Eckhart.

What impressed me most about Kidman's understated performance is that when Becca lashes out, she's rarely histrionic. Her barbs and observations are so rational, so calmly delivered and devastatingly on-target that when she finally snaps in the supermarket with a total stranger, it's the film's most shocking scene. There are hints that Becca might not have been a particularly nice person even before her son's death -- though certainly not as full-on bitch as Mary Tyler Moore's grieving mom in Ordinary People or Debra Winger's in Rachel Getting Married. Still, I found myself rooting for her throughout the entire film.

Eckhart's Howie initially comes across as the one who's dealing with the situation in the healthiest way, but bit by bit, we learn that the opposite might, in fact, be true. His trajectory is as interesting as Becca's and perhaps more vivid, though it plays out in less screen time. Meanwhile, although Becca's unexpected friendship with the teen who was driving the car that killed her son reveals another interesting layer of her personality, her level of haunted varies only slightly from start to finish.

In the end, Rabbit Hole offers no easy answers, no neat wrap-up. And I'm still not sure what to say to my mom.
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