05 September 2015

Rabbit Hole: a film about grief

I saw the film Rabbit Hole (directed by John Cameron Mitchel in 2010) while my parents were both alive, alert and very active members of their family and community. Now my parents both died this year, I wanted to review the film with new eyes.

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) lost their pre-school aged son less than a year ago, from a needless, senseless accident. Their son was chasing a dog who ran onto the road in front of the house and was hit by a passing car. There was no fault.

I personally would not have persisted with the support group, had I been in their appalling situation. The group was not supportive; indeed it was insensitively religious and very repetitive in their own, individual pain. But I suppose the Corbetts had to do something with their horrible lives.

Becca’s working family tried very hard to be supportive, but they were even less helpful than the support group. To have lost a son in both generations of the family seems more than just bad luck - it seemed like a family in permanent crisis. Only once did Becca’s mother (Dianne Wiest) make any headway with her daughter; she explained the management of grief and of normal life over a very long, 11 year period. Perhaps the clearing of Danny’s cupboards represented the first step en route to “managing” the crisis.

Becca and Howie

Becca practically stalked the adolescent whose car was responsible for Danny’s death, not to berate him but to find some understanding. I did not understand her relationship with Jason (Miles Teller), nor did I enjoy the interactions, but I suppose a grieving parent will do anything to talk about their deceased child. Jason was stunningly patient – more than one would expect from an adolescent whose world would normally consist of passing exams and hanging out with girls. Nor did I understand the reference to Parallel Universes, scientist fathers and rabbit holes.... and probably Becca didn’t either. Finally I did not understand the frequent appearance of cartoony collage art.

Perhaps in retaliation, Howie considered an affair with Gaby (Sandra Oh), the longest standing mourner in the support group. Gaby had returned to something approaching normal life, many years after her own child had died. Gaby’s husband, presumably, had not.

TheVine was put slightly offside by the film's visual blandness, as if to visually represent the suffocating expectations of upper middle class life. The expression “terminally tasteful” was telling, since there is absolutely nothing tasteful about grief.

But I disagree with TheVine. The fact that a family lived elegantly in a lovely home on the lake did not make the viewer insensitive to their plight. Becca and Howie had not had sex for almost a year, and for that alone, their pain was palpable. The raging anger by Howie and the resentful silences by Becca were EXACTLY what I would have expected. Both of them had meltdowns, but mostly they preserved a brittle stability, at least on the surface.

Two other film blogs made interesting comments. Cinema Autopsy valued the soft, sometimes washed out light that gave the film a melancholic glow that was oddly comforting, despite the great sadness that it elicited. E-Film Blog didn’t expect the film to provide any answers; to even try would have been pretentious. But the questions were still vital.

Seven months after my beloved mother's death and one month after my beloved father's death, I am finding the mourning period to be filled with despair. There is self-blame of course but there is also resentment about the other family members' behaviour and rage about the doctor and hospital's behaviour. A world that seemed perfectly predictable and stable has now become a world of a lost past and a fearful future.


Andrew said...

I am a loss to find any comforting words. Anger by people who are left behind when someone dies is only something I learnt about in recent years.

Film Fan said...

If we thought that Nicole Kidman had been a lightweight actress, this film proved she had great depth and sensitivity.

Hels said...


anger is the most wasted of all the stages of mourning. It is exhaustive, consuming, repetitive and achieves nothing.

But the other stages of mourning (denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance) also looked a bit shoddy in the film Rabbit Hole. Nothing worked.

Hels said...

Film Fan

true. I saw Moulin Rouge, The Hours and Australia, and thought Rabbit Hole was one of her her most challenging roles. We have certainly produced some super actors and actresses :)

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, This film seems a bit on the depressing side. There is no way to make sense of a tragic death, and I am not sure of the value of recreating that kind of sorrow and distress in the viewer.

Dina said...

One of the things we studied in Death and Mourning was that formalised rituals do help. A bit. Whether it is religious objects that are displayed at the funeral service and in the home, 7 days sitting near the ground or a solemn family meal all together. As long as it is shared with loved ones.

Hels said...


There is no way to make sense of death *nod*.. in particular that of a perfectly healthy happy child who hasn't lived a life yet. I don't know how the parents survive and would be contemplating suicide if it happened to me :(

But it was important for the writer of the play (David Lindsay-Abair) and the director of the film (John Cameron Mitchel) to analyse the parents' survival process, their marital relationship and their connections to the rest of their families.

Hels said...


the death and mourning rituals, developed over thousands of years, really do seem to stabilise the survivors somewhat. And they give family and friends the tools and words to support the chief mourners.

But you are sooo correct with the expression "as long as it is shared with loved ones". Death brings out the best in the people providing the support, but it also brings out the (sometimes long simmering) hostilities.