Dir. John Cameron Mitchell
(2010, PG-13, 91 min)
★ ★ ★ ½

Rabbit Hole is the kind of film that’s simply good without calling our attention to how it’s good. I was not focused on technique or style; I was absorbed by story and character. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and directed by John Cameron Mitchell with tenderness that avoids sliding into mawkishness, it tells the story of Becca and Howie (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart), a suburban married couple whose four-year-old son is killed in a car accident. Parents reeling from tragedy have been the theme of excellent films in recent years. To name a few: Snow Angels, Rachel Getting Married, and the great Secret Sunshine, which is currently in limited release. This film is worthy of their company.

Becca was a high-powered executive at a New York City auction house, but left to raise their son. Now, eight months after the car accident that took his life, with neither a career nor the day-to-day business of motherhood to occupy her, she stays isolated in their house. She rejects group therapy, pushes away her friends, and rebuffs the advances of her husband. She has cocooned herself in grief; no one can understand how she feels, she seems to believe, not her husband and not even her mother (Dianne Wiest), who lost a son of her own, Becca’s brother, to a heroin overdose eleven years earlier.

Aaron Eckhart, as Howie

The change in Becca and Howie’s marriage is like a dance: she leads and he follows. There are subtly observed moments where Howie seems to swallow his own feelings to accommodate hers, leading to occasional explosions of resentment; their marriage reminded me of the couple in Revolutionary Road, but shown with greater warmth. (That’s not a criticism of the previous film, only as a contrast of approaches.) Kidman and Eckhart capture the turmoil beneath their characters’ laboriously maintained calm in powerful performances; Kidman is a likely Oscar nominee for Best Actress, but Eckhart, strangely, has been frozen out of any discussion for Best Actor.

Unable to cope together, they retreat to separate corners to grieve on their own: Howie by smoking pot with a bereaved mother (Sandra Oh), and Becca by seeking out Jason, the teenage driver of the car that killed her son. Both storylines are humane without becoming overwrought, especially the latter, which benefits from a strong performance by Miles Teller as Jason, who seems to be an average teenager in every sense but that he stumbled into tragedy. They play particular roles for each other: Becca gives him a means to expiate his guilt, and Jason gives her an outlet for her nurturing, someone she can simultaneously mourn with and mother. It leads to a heartbreaking scene where Becca watches him as he leaves for his prom; despite his grief he’s still a teenage boy doing typical teenage-boy things, and she’s left alone again in her despair.

Jason is an artist. He’s written a comic book about parallel dimensions that gives the film its title. He insists it’s not about his family, and we believe him, because it seems to be about Becca’s family. In the most memorable drawing he shows two parents and their child in various states, the results of different circumstances, different decisions, and different outcomes across realities. Maybe in some of them Becca and Howie remain the happy parents of a growing son, and one day they’ll see him off to his own prom. But not in this one.