Rabbit Hole seems to know that the tragedy at its center – the death of a child – is so devastating no emotional inflation is necessary. If only more dramas understood this. True, it makes for a muted moviegoing experience – this doesn’t pummel the tears out of you – yet by the end the story’s pain and consolation feel all the more true.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a married couple still teetering on the brink of collapse eight months after losing their young son. They’re both in denial, but in vastly different ways. She’s single-mindedly determined to prove she’s moved on by erasing any evidence of their son, while he’s overcompensating as the good, caring husband so that he won’t have to confront his own pain.
Kidman delivers another shrill, distant performance, one that fits the part and her persona so well she’s been awarded with a Best Actress nod. But it’s Eckhart, as usual, who is the unsung hero. You can see Kidman trembling in every scene, while Eckhart somehow lets you know that this damaged father is trembling beneath his stalwart facade.
Director John Cameron Mitchell avoids exploitation at all costs. Instead, he finds moments that are subtly devastating, such as the sight of Kidman staring into the black abyss of the Goodwill container into which she’s thrown her son’s clothes. In most melodramas, the tears come at the direction of the composer’s baton. Watching Rabbit Hole, they flow naturally, exactly when you feel they should.