Rabbit Hole is an excellent actor's showcase for Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, who play middle-class, suburbanites consumed by grief. Their 4-year-old son was killed by a car after running into the street outside their home. The story comes from a Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abair (who also penned the screenplay) and the combination of his perceptive words and the excellent actors who speak them lifts this melodrama out of the ordinary and into the realm of deeply profound.
It's 8 months after the fact and neither Becca (Kidman) nor Howie (Eckhart) have put the pieces back together. Weekly group therapy sessions only aggravate Becca further - too much "God-talk.". Consequently, she spends the course of the film looking for her own way to cope with her despair, not resolve it, but cope with it. Abair's excellent screenplay suggests that there are certain tragedies in life that are beyond resolution. Becca's mother, Nat (Dianne Wiest) lost Becca's younger brother to a drug overdose and compares her grief to a brick in her pocket that may get lighter, but it never goes away.
Kidman does some of the finest acting of her career as the tortured Becca. Children's faces seem to flood her eye-line in grocery stores and parks, on school buses, and everywhere else she seems to look. Even her bratty sister gets pregnant from another woman's boyfriend. Becca's pain reaches a pinnacle. The house she shares with husband Howie becomes a prison, symbolic of her son's perpetual absence: his toys, pictures and clothes everywhere. She sees his fingerprints on the walls and his drawings remain up on the refrigerator as a constant reminder of what was and is now gone forever. She's suffocated by his memory, but unable to let go of him.
In a gasp for any sort of understanding, Becca finds herself going straight to the source - the driver on that fateful day. In this case, he isn't a drunk stewing in the slammer or some middle-aged buffoon who fell asleep at the wheel, but a sweet and artistic high school kid named Jason, who happened to be driving down the wrong street at the wrong time. He's equally traumatized and the two have occasional park rendezvous to converse on the everyday.
The strength of Rabbit Hole is the way it avoids easy answers and simple solutions. This level of grief can only be understood by people who've experienced it and Abair makes no attempt to rationalize or resolve it with copout sentimentality. Moreover, the way the script examines despair from different perspectives is especially astute. Nat looks to god. Eckhart has never been better as Howie, who deals with his anguish by clinging to the memories with a firm grip. He keeps a camera phone video of his son playing and watches it alone in the dark. The story gets a bit contrived when he cozies up to a fellow support group member, Gaby (Sandra Oh), but the film barely scrapes this tired cliche and finishes on a melancholic and strong note.
The direction by John Cameron Mitchell is stagey, but accommodating for the top-notch performances of Kidman, Eckhart, and Wiest. One scene depicting an argument between man and wife over their feelings of insurmountable guilt, shakes the theater with the passion on display. Rabbit Hole is an exquisitely written and acted film about a personal hell that's all too real in the world. The spoken words are fabricated by Abair, but they echo true through the voices of these world-class performers.