Coping. When tragedy strikes, it's all we can do. And when that tragedy is the death of a child, coping becomes an arduous, lifelong process. There's no textbook way to do it, and the methods we employ might seem strange to others, but if they ease the pain and soothe the soul, who can argue against them? Nevertheless, marriages often become strained, familial relationships are tested, and individual spirits are put through the wringer. And there's no guarantee it will ever get any easier.
'Rabbit Hole,' director John Cameron Mitchell's adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, explores this nightmare scenario with honesty, perception, and a touch of welcome humor. Let's face it, this is not a pleasant subject, and for those of us with our own kids, it's one we don't want to get too close to, or even think about; it's that distressing and disturbing. But if you look past the surface and beyond the synopsis, you'll find an enriching and thought-provoking picture that refuses to wallow in pain. Instead, it examines how two people try to climb out of a seemingly bottomless abyss and begin to gather and mend the pieces of their shattered lives. While not uplifting in the traditional sense, 'Rabbit Hole' is at least hopeful and also admirable in the forthright way it tackles a devastating issue.
On the surface, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) seem like a golden couple - attractive, well off, in love - yet we soon learn they are dealing with a tragedy of monumental proportions. Their only child, a son, aged 4, died in an accident several months prior, and the event has, of course, turned their lives upside down. In their struggle to withstand, adjust to, and handle the loss, they each retreat inward, clinging to memories or attempting to eradicate them, losing intimacy, and finding separate ways of healing, escaping, and moving on.
They try group therapy, which the bitter, brittle Becca finds laughable. Yet Howie seems to gain comfort from the interaction, and connects with a member (Sandra Oh) whose husband also has abandoned the meetings. Meanwhile, Becca feels a driving need to forge a relationship with the teenage boy (Miles Teller) responsible for her son's death, and struggles to maintain ties with her flighty mother (Dianne Wiest) and share in the joy of her younger sister's pregnancy. Tensions continually mount, but easing the stress proves increasingly difficult, and as Becca and Howie drift further apart, the prospect of a unified future looks increasingly bleak.
It's easy to see how 'Rabbit Hole' would work well on the stage, as the bulk of the action is centered around intimate discussions and heated exchanges, yet Mitchell does an excellent job of physically opening up the play and expanding its confined emotional canvas without sacrificing the sense of inner turmoil that fuels the drama's engine. Maintaining composure takes Herculean effort from the characters and we constantly feel that debilitating weight as they labor to partake in normal activities and function in a world that's oblivious to their festering wound. And while it would be easy to adopt an overly sentimental tone, Mitchell takes a more detached, analytical approach that allows us to look at the characters objectively, without too much emotional bias.
'Rabbit Hole' tackles a difficult subject well, but it's also an actor's film, and the performances rank among the best of 2010. Kidman earned a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for her uncompromising portrayal of a woman whom we understand, but don't always like. Becca is a jumble of contradictions, just as any grieving mother would be, and Kidman embodies all of them with tremendous insight and sensitivity. It's a natural, complex performance that, despite the heartbreaking narrative, is a joy to watch. Eckhart files some of his best work, too, as the more emotionally wrought, frustrated father, who misses his son terribly and seeks a closer bond with his wife, but can't find a way to reach her.
When choosing a piece of "entertainment," consumers often pass over films like 'Rabbit Hole,' and such aversion is understandable. Movies about death and grief are always challenging, but if you're a drama fan who appreciates searing examinations of character and excellent acting, then you'll find 'Rabbit Hole' to be an often fascinating and ultimately worthwhile experience. It may not be the most memorable film of the year, but it sticks with you, and makes you appreciate what you have.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Rabbit Hole' comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case. Video codec is 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC and audio is English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Upon insertion of the disc, several previews play automatically before the full-motion menu with music pops up.
'Rabbit Hole' was shot digitally, which lends the film an appropriate coolness that reflects the on-screen tensions. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer exudes a nice sheen that shows off the actors and locations well, but never detracts from the natural style adopted by the director. Colors and contrast are somewhat muted, lending a faint drabness to the picture that, again, accurately mirrors the characters' respective outlooks. Clarity is quite good, however, with close-ups exhibiting plenty of fine detail, as do textures and background elements. Exterior scenes supply a bit more dimension than interiors, which look fairly flat. Black levels possess good weight, and fleshtones, from Kidman's creamy alabaster skin to Eckhart's more rugged complexion, stay stable and true throughout.
The transfer remains solid technically, too, with no banding, pixelation, or noise disrupting the flow. A few soft shots creep in now and then, but not often enough to merit concern. All in all, this is a solid, non-intrusive effort that keeps us concentrated on the story at hand, but doesn't possess any eye-popping moments. And that's how it should be.
A DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track for this type of quiet, introspective film seems excessive, but I won't look a gift horse in the mouth. The sound is quite clear and crisp, free of distortion and other imperfections, and enjoys fine dynamic range. Some atmospherics bleed into the rears occasionally, but their effect is weak at best. A little front-channel separation adds interest, and the music tunes and score possess good fidelity and tonal depth, but don't expect any soaring highs or weighty lows. Dialogue, the film's most critical component, is always well prioritized and simple to comprehend, even when uttered softly.
I'd like to say more about this track, but the film just doesn't supply enough sonic energy to meet its high-end capabilities. The content is well reproduced, but fairly pedestrian. End of story.
Just a few extras are included. An intimate film of this sort doesn't demand massive supplements, and what we have here is certainly sufficient.
There's no blueprint for grief, and the perceptive, affecting 'Rabbit Hole' shows how a troubled couple navigates the unfamiliar, often treacherous terrain. A bravura performance from Nicole Kidman highlights this well-made film, which tackles a tricky subject with warmth, honesty, and a little humor. Video and audio are quite good, but supplements are thin. This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but those who take the journey with the characters will be amply rewarded.