A couple months ago I suddenly began to receive warnings about an upcoming movie entitled “Rabbit Hole.” “I know you love the movies,” people would say, “but you’re going to want to skip the new one with Nicole Kidman. Don’t ask me what it’s about – just trust me – you aren’t going to want to watch it!” The reason people felt the need to warn me is because “Rabbit Hole,” starring Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, is an adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2005 play about a young couple whose only child dies suddenly and tragically. This obviously hits close to home, so I understand why people wanted to warn me about it. Nonetheless, as the film’s release grew closer, I felt a weird need – a duty even – to see it.
The worries people had about my seeing “Rabbit Hole” were largely unfounded because this film isn’t a weepy. It isn’t concerned with making you fall in love with Kidman and Eckhart’s deceased son or in dramatizing the emotionally wrenching immediate aftermath of his passing. Instead, the film starts eight months later, when the fireworks are over for the most part and all that is left are two people struggling to adjust to a previously unfathomable life.
A big part of the movie deals with Kidman and Eckhart’s attempt to avoid becoming one of the many couples who divorce after losing a child. I’ve written about the challenges Heather and I have had moving forward and how it is difficult to share an experience that each partner experiences in such a personal way. The film grasps this as the characters played by Kidman and Eckhart grieve in very different ways – Eckhart surrounds himself with reminders of his son such as the boy’s dog, drawings, and clothes, while Kidman expunges all traces of the boy from her life. In this regard Eckhart seems to be coping better, but Kidman seems better adjusted in other ways such as when it comes to the teen who accidentally hit and killed their son. Kidman is empathetic and understands it wasn’t the teen’s fault while Eckhart goes into a rage upon merely seeing the teen. Clearly, there is no rhyme or reason to how each of us will grieve, and the film depicts this well.
Nicole Kidman’s character has been called unlikeable by many critics for scenes such as when she slaps a mom at the store or takes offense to the suggestion that God takes children because he needs more angels. That is an interpretation, I think, that will be common among people who have not lost a child. From my eyes, however, I see a women who lashes out only after enduring an endless barrage of painful reminders from the outside world. Her pregnant sister, for example, is totally clueless as to how her pregnancy could be painful for Kidman, her best friend has abandoned her because the situation “freaks” her out, old acquaintances who are unaware of her loss ask her about her son, and all she sees everywhere are mothers and their children. These painful moments (and countless others) make life draining and exhausting, and those who have lost a child understand that when Kidman lashes out it is only after dying thousands of tiny deaths, day after day.
Kidman and Eckhart do eventually discover a way to move on, and part of doing this entails accepting that, if they want to continue to live among the “normal” world, they have to pretend to be less broken than they are. This part resonated with me because the time that we who have lost a child are “allowed” to grieve is limited if we want to continue to be part of society. While people are sad for our loss, the hard truth is that no one wants to be around someone whose presence is a constant reminder of how cruel the world can be. “Rabbit Hole” understands that to be welcomed by friends, family, and society we who have lost a child must hide our pain while smiling and pretending to be happy. We must hide from the rest of society just how horrific life can be if we want to remain part of it.
In the end I deemed “Rabbit Hole” to be a good film that accurately portrays what it is to be a member of this “club.” That, however, may be it’s undoing. It likely will be a hard film for people to connect to – the non-grievers will have trouble truly understanding the characters, and even those in “the club” may feel disconnected because grief is just so personal. To make it any other way, however, would have been to strike a false note.