Rabbit Hole is the sort of film which does not benefit from having an interesting synopsis. The plot for John Cameron Mitchell’s film is simple, even plebeian on some days: a couple deals with the death of their four-year old son who was in an accident eight months prior. Its Pulitzer Prize background and the presence of Nicole Kidman and Dianne Wiest were my main reasons for the anxiousness I had, although there was that nagging feeling that such a story had nothing new to add to the already crowded cinematic fabric of “after-death-there’s-life” films. And perhaps, on the basest of levels there is little that’s noticeably innovative that’s added to the classic paradigm of the grieving couple. But, there’s something to be said about (good) adaptation of plays. Theatre, unlike film, has a necessity to be structured and the best adaptations of plays are often flawlessly controlled (A Streetcar Named Desire, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Lion in Winter) without seeing unnatural and David Lindsay-Abaire’s decision to adapt his own piece (like Tennessee did with Streetcar) without opening it up too much or trying – heedlessly – to make it cinematic gives Rabbit Hole a three-dimensionality that I’ve found lacking in even some of the more successful films I’ve seen this year.
It’s the pace of the film that’s most striking as something out of theatre, in a good way. It’s the sort of graceful slow burn that you might discern in a Tennessee Williams play (without the Southern accents, and the histrionics). We’re never given the full picture, at least not immediately, but John Cameron Mitchell’s direction is so sensible that none of the reveals in the film are garish or jarring. Film (or theatre for that matter) is not life and there's something slightly hunorous that every action in the film - no matter how slight - leads to something else. But it's that sort of order that makes it so laudable. Lindsay-Abaire has an awareness of what is natural, there’s a single scene in the film that’s marked with raised voices or anything close to melodrama and it’s placement in the middle of the drama is wise, we meet the couple in the most bland of ways and we leave them just as placidly. Bekah and Howie don’t spend their days being tawdry or mourning indiscriminately, it’s why in a way I’m happy that Nicole Kidman is getting ANY recognition for her performance. Even when Bekah’s in the background of shots she’s still reacting – rolling her eyes, or mouthing unspoken words. Its opening might not be the most striking, but from that first shot of Kidman – words unspoken tending to a garden – we’re immediately interested and anxious about this woman who keeps everything close to her chest, unlike Eckhart’s Howie who’s unfortunately turned into the film’s unsung hero. He spends so much time deceiving us into believing that he’s taking a back seat, but the film’s ending – all at once painful and hopeful works beautifully, especially because Eckhart does so much with his role.