Losing a child is painful in the real world, but in the sphere of cinema, it’s hardly breaking new ground. In order to communicate the emotional trauma of such an event, movies have to take the material in different and unexpected directions. “Rabbit Hole” is a success story, presenting the story of husband and wife affected by the preventable death of their four-year-old son in entirely different ways. John Cameron Mitchell takes the great theatrical aspects of David Lindsey-Abaire’s Pulitizer Prize-winning play and reminds us the power that great dialogue can have while also using the great resources of film to supplement the already incredibly powerful film.
Nearing the one-year anniversary of their son Danny’s passing, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are still reeling. Caught in the unenviable conundrum of choosing to mourn or move on, each find a different way to cope with the void in their lives. Becca tries to find life by acting like the hole isn’t there, removing the traces of Danny that remind her that he is gone. She finds solace, strangely, through talking with the teenager that hit her son. Becca also has to deal with the pregnancy of her irresponsible sister (Tammy Blanchard), which only complicates her volatile emotional state, and the intervention of her mother (Dianne Wiest), eager to offer advice after going through the loss of a son in her own right.
Howie, on the other hand, tries to hang on to the fading memories of his son, particularly by watching a video of Danny on his phone. Rather than try to adjust to life without his son, he advocates starting a new life altogether. He pitches selling their house and having another child, neither of which are received well by his wife. Howie has faith in the traditional methods of dealing with grief, holding onto the belief that the group therapy sessions can work long after Becca gives up on them. When those who look to religion to solve their problems finally drive her away from the group for good, he strikes up a friendship with an eight-year veteran (Sandra Oh) still looking to make peace with the loss of her child.
We didn’t really enter 2010 with a huge frontrunner, but when “Rabbit Hole” was cast back in spring 2009, it sure looked like one. With Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart tackling an intensely dramatic Pulitzer Prize-winning play, how could it not be an instant contender?
The movie flew under the radar for quite some time until it reemerged with a bang on the festival circuit, making a premiere in Toronto that got critics talking and buzzing. In mere minutes, Nicole Kidman was sure-fire Best Actress nominee, and the trailer let everyone else know that this is a performance to make the Oscar voters giddy. (For a hilarious take on Kidman and the trailer, see Stuart Heritage’s post for The Guardian.)
Kidman hasn’t exactly fared too well since her 2002 Best Actress win for The Hours, suffering unfortunate role after unfortunate role in the typical post-winner fashion. Over the past fifteen years, only two winners in this category have been nominated again (Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand) and one has won again (Hilary Swank). I think the Academy would love to recognize her again and show that an actress can maintain poise after winning their prize. It also helps that the role won a Tony for Cynthia Nixon. However, unless she gets serious traction from critics groups, I doubt she could be a real threat to win given the deserving factor of Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and potentially even Natalie Portman.
But beyond Kidman, what are the movie’s chances? Her spouse is played by Aaron Eckhart, a fantastic actor deserving of some Academy recognition. He has been getting good marks for his role as a grieving father from people in high places. Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly writes:
“[Eckhart] shines in the film’s comedic and dramatic moments, showing range I’ve never seen before. And he gets to rant and rave a bit more than Kidman does, which doesn’t hurt with the Academy. He’s delivered sturdy work for years (“In the Company of Men,” “Nurse Betty,” “Thank You for Smoking”), and I’d love to see him score his first career nomination. And fortunately, the supporting actor field isn’t nearly as dense.”
I’m a huge Eckhart fan, particularly of his underrated and overshadowed work in “The Dark Knight” and especially his fast-talking tobacco lobbyist in “Thank You For Smoking,” which I thought was the best leading performance for any male in 2006. He could easily find a place in the Best Supporting actor category, which has some pack leaders but no top dog yet. He would be fighting out competitive players like Geoffrey Rush, Andrew Garfield, and Mark Ruffalo, but he has enough prestige to do it. Plus film adaptations of plays usually score acting nominations with a fair amount of ease – just look at “Doubt,” which collected four in 2008.
I have also heard lots of love for Dianne Wiest, who plays Kidman’s mother. She’s a two-time winner of Best Supporting Actress, and something tells me that the Academy isn’t quite ready to put her in the same category as Jack Nicholson in the parthenon of actors great enough to win three Oscars. Nonetheless, in this complete ragtag band of actress in the supporting category this year, we have to consider any possibility. She’s clearly a favorite, 62 years old, and apparently turns in quite a performance. According to Katey Rich of Cinema Blend, “Dianne Wiest delivers a monologue about grief that is all the more stunning for how simply and succinctly she presents it.”
Although the movie may become more of an acting showcase, let’s not forget that this play won a Pulitzer Prize, so it has to be considered in Best Adapted Screenplay. “Doubt,” written for the screen by the same man who brought it to the stage, managed to score a nomination in 2008 for being a nearly carbon copy. According to the film’s director, David Lindsey-Abaire, who will be adapting the movie from his play, will be staging a “complete cinematic reimagining of the material.” If it manages to enchant on a different level, the movie could easily net a nomination.
What about Best Director? John Cameron Mitchell has never taken on a directorial venture anything like this. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus” were both for indie, off the beaten path niche audiences; “Rabbit Hole” is a venture into serious Academy territory. It would take a lot to get him onto a list that is bound to include names like David Fincher, The Coen Brothers, and Danny Boyle. Mitchell wouldn’t be the first outsider to make the cut, but it seems like a longshot at best.
And I’d say if Kidman keeps up the strong buzz throughout the season, “Rabbit Hole” is a serious Best Picture contender. According to Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere, “A few people applauded at the end of [the] press screening. I haven’t heard any clapping at all at any TIFF press screenings so far, so this probably means something.” It will clearly have support from the actors, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it get a SAG Ensemble nod (along with I’ll assume “The Social Network,” “True Grit,” “The Fighter,” and “The Kids Are All Right”). The critics seem to really like it, and their support always helps.
The deciding factor could be the audience. Are they going to fall head-over-heels for a depressing adult drama about a couple grieving the loss of their young son? Not exactly light and uplifting, eh? But “Precious” got a nomination, as have many movies considered too dark for the average moviegoer. “Rabbit Hole” is definitely in the hunt, but it’s no sure bet at the present time.
BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress (Kidman), Best Supporting Actor (Eckhart), Best Supporting Actress (Wiest), Best Adapted Screenplay
OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director