The premise of Rabbit Hole can be summed up in one sentence: a married couple grapples with their grief eight months after their young son, Danny, is killed in a car accident. John Cameron Mitchell's drama is heavy to say the least, but versatile performances from Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as the couple in question make the film heartbreaking in an engaging way, rather than overwrought and emotionally manipulative.
On the surface, Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart) seem like a picture-perfect couple. When the movie opens, housewife Becca is making dinner in their gorgeous kitchen as good-natured Howie arrives home wearing a suit and a smile. Within a few minutes, we realize that Becca and Howie are just putting on an act, and though the spouses are doing their best to get back into an old routine, the film's message is clear: when you've lost a loved one, you can't ever go back. But how do you move forward?
To find out why this film is worth watching, just keep reading.
Becca is trying to cope by slowly putting away Danny's belongings and suggesting that she and Howie sell their gorgeous house: to her, their sprawling Victorian home is suddenly one huge, lonely reminder of the family they've lost. Howie on the other hand, chooses to preserve Danny's memory by watching old videos and trying to put his life back together the way it was. Kidman and Eckhart are able to add many layers to their characters because both Becca and Howie are experiencing stages of grief and mood swings that can change with any unexpected catalyst; Becca is irate when Howie suggests they try for another child; Howie falls apart when he realizes that an old video of Danny has been deleted from his phone. They each have good days and bad days, and it's refreshing that neither spouse is the victim or villain in the relationship.
One of their biggest battles is determining how to grieve separately without growing apart. Becca can't stomach the weekly support group that Howie attends and instead seeks solace in meeting with the teenager who was driving the car that took Danny's life. As they handle the same situation in their own ways, their relationship is put to the ultimate test, which makes Rabbit Hole a story about the bonds of love and marriage more than about the death of a child.
Kidman and Eckhart give their all to the film; their portrayal of two adults at the lowest low of their lives is all-encompassing. Even in her happier moments, Kidman never loses Becca's profound sense of sadness, or the emotions that she can't help but keep right at the surface. Eckhart's Howie is likable, but even he loses his temper at the drop of the hat. In one particularly affecting scene, Howie and Becca finally release their feelings of anger and resentment towards each other in a screaming argument. Here we see just how talented Eckhart and Kidman are: Their performances are filled to the brim with raw, gritty emotion.
Rabbit Hole is a simple film with complex characters. It's the performances you come to see, and Kidman and Eckhart give everything they have and leave it all on the screen.