" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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When it comes to grief, everybody is on their own schedule.

The Texture of Grief

Kidman shows us what grief looks like
Kidman shows us what grief looks like

Becca and Howie (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) recently lost their son in a car accident. It’s been a few months since the accident. Howie goes to work; Becca stays home and runs on the treadmill. She gardens, cooks, and avoids the neighbors. When they go out, it is to attend group therapy. Life has a pace but not much texture anymore.

Becca’s sister (Tammy Blanchard) is having a baby and Becca’s uneasy mix of jealousy and the desire to help strains their relationship.

Becca and Howie’s love life is nonexistent. He tries to romance her and she gets angry. “I was just trying to make things nice,” he says. “You can’t,” she says, “things aren’t nice!”

At different times, they want to preserve all of their child’s stuff, give it away, save it in a box, and throw it away forever. They feel the same about the dog (sent to live with her mother) and the house — they want to get put the memories behind them, yet they don’t want to discard their son.

Not a Story but Characters

Rabbit Hole is a characterization more than a story. For what it is, it’s not bad. Kidman is excellent as the central character — no surprise there. But I found her hard to relate to. Grief has driven her character too far; she’s a step over the edge, and I can’t connect with her. I can sympathize, but I can’t empathize.

I think her husband would agree. In fact, I think that cuts to the heart of the drama — that sometimes you simply can’t help someone you love. Aaron Eckhart’s Howie handles his loss “better” — he is better able to interact with their circle of friends. He stays in group therapy longer than Becca does (she can’t stand “all that God talk” from the other members). He seems to be waiting for Becca to emerge from the other side, and his greatest failing is that he doesn’t have the patience she needs. He eventually takes solace in the company of another grieving parent, Gabby, played by Sandra Oh.

Diane Wiest plays Becca’s mother, and she’s excellent in an interesting role. At first she comes across as callous and impatient. We dislike her almost as much as Becca does. But screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire slowly reveals details about her life that make you rethink your view. She too knows loss and even has some moving words about what it’s like. She describes the pain of grief as a brick in your pocket. Eventually you can forget you have it, but then you reach in for something else and there it is. “It’s what you have instead of your son.”

Keep Your Distance

Rabbit Hole keeps its distance and shows you what grief looks like. It doesn’t bring you along through the stages of grief. It shows you the mistakes people make in dealing with others’ loss. It shows you what helps — or rather, what doesn’t help. Ultimately, it doesn’t have any answers except that, as Gabby says, “everyone’s on their own schedule.”

Rabbit Hole is good for anyone who has had this kind of loss. You can learn a lot about the emotional process by watching someone else go through it. It’s a valuable movie for that, and I appreciated it, intellectually.

But the deliberately emotionally distanced grieving of a mother makes Rabbit Hole a hard sell.

Our festival advice: Give it a chance.