Experienced filmmaker John Krokidas makes an impressive directorial debut with "Kill Your Darlings", a searing tale of passions found, passions dashed, and the moth-to-flame effect of powerful personality.
"Kill Your Darlings" is a gritty yet lyrical account of the events which drew together four brilliant minds, tore them asunder through murder, conceived one of the most influential movements of the 20th century, and went on to inspire some of America’s most celebrated literature.
Columbia University 1944: aspiring poet Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) engages a professor during class, piquing the interest of irresistibly charismatic classmate Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). Taking Allen under his wing, Lucien introduces Allan to the libertine literati of his community, which includes William Burroughs (Ben Foster), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), and older would-be inamorato David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall).
As the four younger men commence to brilliant (and often substance-induced) intellectual exploration and escapades of revolution and rage against the establishment, the dazzled Allen falls ever more under the spell of the captivating Lucien.
David warns him away, warns him that he does not really know Lucien, that Lucien will toy with him until the novelty wears off and then replace him with a new worshiper. But David himself is jealous of Lucien’s attention, and Allen dismisses his words; after all, Lucien claims to despise David as a washed up wannabe hanger-on (despite remaining in relationship to him on some unclear level). And Lucien’s word reigns supreme.
Until suddenly it doesn’t anymore. Until murder is involved, and all that the four have crafted, their New Vision, is in one night, and with one coverup, jeopardized entirely.
In its visceral passion, "Kill Your Darlings" carries forth in an excessive celebration of ambition, identity, friendship, boundary busting, counter-culture adventure, intellectual rebellion, and shaking one’s fists (to put it politely) at tradition and the status quo.
But underneath the revelry, a much more complicated tapestry is emerging: one of ambiguity and of question… and often of menace.
Lucien extols the philosophy that life is to be lived wide, and that its circle must be broken for the world to get wider. But does it widen the world, as he asserts, or just one’s world ~ or does it just plain break it? And the artist’s immortal razor’s edge: where does an altered state of consciousness unlock creativity, and where does it simply vomit useless self-glorification?
Is Lucien a leader, or a Pied Piper? And if the latter, whose doing is this ~ his own, or David’s? Who truly holds the power, and how is it being wielded? Is Lucien a Svengali, or a tormented boy? Is he user, victim, avenging angel, or all of the above? Is he borderline, or is he traumatized? And to those in his field of gravity, does it matter?
Allen struggles to reason it out amid processing his own newfound independence and emerging identity, and things start to get very complicated…
Regarding the killing, many worthy questions may be posed. I won’t spoil details here, but it’s worth considering afterward the unnerving nature of the relationship of the two involved. Utterly unconscionable is the defense, and equally unconscionable is the lack of appreciation of one party’s behavior leading up to the incident; today both are regarded as utterly egregious, but in 1944 they raised nary an eyebrow in the eyes of the law. The definition of the word “predator” has since then been properly righted (for thinking people, at any rate), and had it been so then, history may have taken a different course. But given the 1944 definition, a dispassionate mind could argue it was the only available “just” outcome.
Things do get complicated, and Krokidas does an excellent job of couching these ponderous subjects within the broad, wild strokes of youthful exuberance, sweeping us into Allen’s innocence, and into the wreckage of its loss. Kill your darlings. It’s one darned good piece of advice from that staid old establishment. It ain’t romantic, but boy, is it wise.
The performances overall will satisfy. Radcliffe just gets better and better, and Dane DeHaan will receive the most attention no doubt. Intense and attractive as Lucien in every sense of that word (the aforementioned flame), he’s clearly angling to assume the mantle of Leonardo DiCaprio v2.0.
It’s quite amusing to watch Lucien Carr modeling himself after the poet Arthur Rimbaud, even as DeHaan himself emulates the performance of DiCaprio in that very same role. Art imitating life, or perhaps two spot-on performances and no wonder Carr idolized Rimbaud, or perhaps a bit of both. Film buffs will get a kick out the comparison.
If "Kill Your Darlings" has a flaw, it’s that it chooses not to provide newcomers with its true, larger context from the outset. It assumes recognition of Ginsberg ("Howl"), Kerouac ("On the Road"), and Burroughs ("Naked Lunch"), which is a [depressingly] dangerous assumption in today’s world. The film stands on its own as a compelling interpersonal tale, but some ~ arguably much ~ of its power is left by the wayside. Were a newcomer to be alerted as to what we’re witnessing, "Kill Your Darlings" could truly dazzle, but the near-afterthought epilogue amounting to “oh by the way, these guys launched the Beat Generation” dilutes the film’s impact, and thus it garners four stars from me instead of five.
That said, "Kill Your Darlings" is powerful human drama of the first order, and exceedingly well worth the time of literary types, history buffs, and character study junkies alike.
(PS ~ For a scrumptious pairing, queue up "Howl" starring James Franco as Ginsberg; it’s a superb docudrama recounting Ginsberg’s electrifying epic poem of the same name, and the obscenity trial it provoked given the norms of its day. It’ll add that last bit of punch to "Kill Your Darlings".)
Story: Columbia University 1944 occasions the friendship between several talented students, but it is their proximity to a murder that occasions their becoming the most influential poets of the 20th century and the founders of the Beat Generation.
Genre: Drama, Biography
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, John Cullum, David Rasche, Kyra Sedgwick
Directed by: John Krokidas
- Official Selection, Sundance Film Festival 2013
- Official Selection, Toronto International Film Festival 2013
- Nominee, Grand Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival 2013
- Nominee, Breakthrough Actor – Dane DeHaan, Gotham Awards, 2013
Running time: 104 minutes
Official site: http://sonyclassics.com/killyourdarlings/
Houston release date: November 15, 2013 at the Sundance Cinemas
Tickets: Check the Sundance website, Fandango, IMDb, or your local listings
Screened Nov 11th 2013 at the Landmark River Oaks Theater in Houston TX