“Rabbit Hole,” the new film starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest, is about what happens when the natural order of things is disrupted. Just as summer always follows spring and two plus two always equals four, some things are immutable. The sad premise that lies at the base of “Rabbit Hole,” however, is a natural law that unfortunately isn’t as absolute as the others. What happens to parents when they outlive their children?
Howie and Becca (Eckhart and Kidman) are a couple trying to deal with the death of their four-year-old son Danny. They are at different stages of their grief, but they share a couple of things; a terrible sense of loss and an inability to know how to deal with it. On the surface he wants to move on but at night secretly watches videos of the toddler. She is angry at the world, a bubbling cauldron of resentment and hurt that could boil over at any time. Healing comes slowly, and from some unexpected sources, leading up to a climax that is quiet and inconclusive yet starkly effective.
“Rabbit Hole” is the kind of film Nicole Kidman needs to make to remind us why we liked her in the first place. After nondescript performances in big budget stiffs like “Bewitched” and “The Golden Compass” it is a relief to see her sink her teeth into the role of the devastated mother. She avoids the clichés and melodrama a lesser actor might have brought to the role and delivers a masterfully subtle examination of grief and loss. The iciness that sometimes creeps into her work melts away here as she reveals her vulnerabilities.
Kidman leads the cast but fine performances abound. Eckhart connects (and disconnects when appropriate) with Kidman while Wiest hands in a beautifully modulated performance as a woman who has known much sadness in her life but has moved on. Each character in the film is flawed, yet in their own way sympathetic.
Up until this point director John Cameron Mitchell—of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus” fame—hasn’t been known for his restraint, but with “Rabbit Hole” he takes a melodramatic premise and reins it in until all that’s left is real human emotion. Highly recommended.