Due to hit UK cinemas on 4 February, Rabbit Hole is a vivid tale of grief and hope. Here, we trace the story of its transition from Pulitzer-winning play to the big screen
Movies about grief often come enveloped in gaudy sentimentality and hokey Hollywood wisdom that does little to examine the intricacies of human experience. Rabbit Hole, the new film starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as parents struggling to cope with the loss of their young son, manages the rare feat of avoiding these pitfalls.
As the movie starts, we see Becca (Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Eckhart) going about the daily lives of a wealthy and successful New York couple. But beneath the veneer of normality, both are searching with increasing desperation for a way to overcome their grief. Each is engaged in their own blind, Alice in Wonderland-style plunge down the rabbit hole of bereavement; journeys which might prove their salvation but could just as easily pull them apart.
Slowly, we discover that the teenage boy whom Becca follows each day may be uniquely positioned to provide a form of solace, while a woman Howie meets at a support group for bereaved parents offers a different, equally off-beat, path forward. These are fascinating glimpses of difficult choices which feel remarkably genuine thanks to the warmth and depth that the two leads bring to their characters.
Kidman, who produced the film, says she was instantly drawn to the material. “I believed in the subject matter,” she says. “And I like to champion stories that are hard to get made. I was just really captivated by this couple who share an extraordinary, deep tragedy and yet they react in such very different ways.”
Kidman and her Blossom Films partner Per Saari were determined to achieve the full involvement of David Lindsay-Abaire, who adapted the film’s screenplay from his own Pulitzer prize-winning play. “Right away, Per told me they [Blossom Films] wanted me to feel the same sense of ownership as I had with the play,” says Lindsay-Abaire. “They were true to their word, and not a single line of what I wrote was changed.
“Ultimately, everyone who came on to the project – [director] John Cameron Mitchell and the truly amazing cast – contributed so much to it. I was indebted to them but I always felt like I was in there, too, and that was a real gift.”
Director Mitchell is best known for his offbeat comedy Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the controversial drama Shortbus. “I’ve always been most attracted to stories about people trying to connect, trying not to be alone, and to characters who are chipping away at their walls,” he says. “I loved that it’s a story not only about loss but about the loss of communication that comes with it. I found myself alternately weeping and laughing my way through it.”
The supporting cast for Rabbit Hole features the double Oscar-winning Dianne Wiest as Becca’s mother Nat. The always superb Sandra Oh (Sideways) is excellent as another grieving parent, while newcomer Miles Teller plays the teenager Kidman begins to follow.
Hollywood often deals with grief and bereavement via images of white light, hints of the afterlife and the suggestion that a higher power has a plan for all of us. Rabbit Hole takes no such easy route, instead focusing on the baby steps towards resolution which are all that most of us are capable of.
This is a film full of flavoursome twists and turns, never moving in the obvious direction. It’s a credit to the cast and crew that the experience is an enlightening one: just as Alice’s own adventure into the murky earth eventually yielded joy, so the audience for Rabbit Hole will find themselves drawing pleasure from what might, in less skilful hands, have been the darkest of territory.
Rabbit Hole will be showing in UK cinemas from 4 February.