“Rabbit Hole” (2010). Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney, Stephen Mailer. Director: John Cameron Mitchell. Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire. Play: David Lindsay-Abaire. www.rabbitholefilm.com/
Part of the process of coming to know ourselves involves learning to recognize (and honor) the multidimensional nature of our greater being. This requires us to acknowledge the aspects of our being that we like and know, as well as those that we don’t. While many of us readily embrace the “good” parts, we frequently avoid the “bad” ones and ignore or overlook the “unknown” elements. But since all of these aspects are part of our innate greater being, sooner or later we must come to terms with all of them, for better or worse. Exploring the qualities we’d rather shun or that we don’t know about might seem like a daunting, overwhelming prospect, but if we leave ourselves open to experiencing them genuinely and with the same fervor we give to the aspects we cherish, we just might find that they spawn curious transformations in us, a premise probed in the new drama, “Rabbit Hole.”
In the wake of their young son’s tragic death, an upscale Yonkers couple, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), struggles to understand their loss and their responses to it. They flail about emotionally, looking for answers that aren’t to be found in life’s little handbook. Should they feel sad? Angry? Guilty? Indifferent? And who’s at fault for the accident that claimed their son’s life—the teenage driver who struck and killed the child as he chased the dog he so adored into the street? The mother who left her child unattended momentarily to answer a ringing phone? Or is it the father who gave the child a dog to playfully pursue in the first place? When it comes to questions like this, there are no clear or easy answers.
Seeking the comfort and counsel of others doesn’t help much, either, as attempts at consolation often deteriorate into discussions that reopen old wounds or raise frustrating new challenges. Becca’s conversations with her mother, Nat (Dianne Wiest), for instance, frequently recall the death of the drug-addicted adult son she lost years earlier, a tragedy Becca is willing to acknowledge but unwilling to compare to her own loss. Attending support group meetings for grieving parents is another option, but even though Howie takes some comfort from these gatherings, they try Becca’s patience, especially when the sessions evoke discussions involving religion, a particularly sore subject for her. And, if all that weren’t enough, Becca and Howie must now wrestle with the revelation by Becca’s sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), that she’s pregnant, news that serves as a constant reminder of their departed child’s noticeable absence.
With their world falling apart and the couple growing ever more distant from one another, Becca and Howie investigate other avenues to relieve their unrelenting sadness. Howie continues with the support group on his own, developing a close friendship with fellow group member Gaby (Sandra Oh), a long-term attendee of the sessions whose husband recently left her. Becca, meanwhile, develops a bond with Jason (Miles Teller), the driver of the ill-fated vehicle that killed her son. He’s an aspiring graphic novel artist who’s created a work called The Rabbit Hole in which the protagonist explores the infinite probabilities made possible by quantum theory (and conscious creation) to resolve the dilemmas in his life, an adventure through which the story’s hero meets other versions of himself. Becca finds the budding author’s ideas intriguing, because they speak to her in ways that other, more conventional sources of solace can’t. But, as promising as these coping measures are, the question remains, will they be enough to help Becca and Howie resolve their feelings and heal their hearts?
Followers of conscious creation principles (and their related quantum physics concepts) know that we’re each more than just the “localized” or “indigenous” selves with whom we’re most familiar. They’re well aware of our intrinsic multidimensionality, with different aspects (or “fragments”) of our greater being busily exploring different (or parallel) probabilities of existence, some of which we might be able to envision (and draw inspiration from) and some of which are wholly unfathomable unless or until we interact with them directly. Some of those probable existences are pleasant, while others are not, and others still lie somewhere in between, thereby spanning the whole spectrum of reality capable of being experienced. And what’s the ultimate mission of these widely dispersed selves? To engage in different expressions of reality, doing “field work” about various aspects of existence and reporting their findings back to the greater being of which each is a part.
For those who are new to these concepts, it’s often hard to imagine that anyone would willingly want to experience probable existences that plumb the darker sides of life. The idea that anyone would freely sign up for a battery of unpleasantness seems implausible and counterintuitive. But, given that our greater selves ultimately seek to experience all that life has to offer, sooner or later we must also probe the negative sides of existence. Obviously that can be quite painful to endure, as Becca and Howie discover, but, in the end, it’s all part of the aforementioned metaphysical education process.
Ironically enough, such unpleasantness may play a significant role in helping us better understand the full scope of probable existences. Difficult conditions frequently prompt us to observe, “There must be a better way,” a notion that itself is often enough to open our minds to envision other, more palatable lines of reality. An awareness of such parallel paths of existence may suddenly seem much less far-fetched—perhaps even attainable.
Becca discovers this for herself in the film through readings of The Rabbit Hole and the book that inspired it, Parallel Universes, by author and quantum physicist Fred Alan Wolf. (Interestingly, the title of Jason’s graphic novel is reflected in the subtitle—“Down the Rabbit Hole”—of the DVD release of “What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?” (2004), the groundbreaking cinematic treatise on quantum physics and conscious creation in which Wolf serves as one of the featured experts.) These books open doors for Becca that she hadn’t previously considered, ultimately making it easier for her to cope with her circumstances, a lesson we could all stand to learn from.
Exploring the notion of probable existences might seem like an odd element in the narrative of a film like this. Who would have thought that such an arguably esoteric concept could legitimately occupy a place in a story of personal tragedy? However, that may just be the point behind its inclusion, for it helps to show the way out of seemingly overwhelming conditions when other means of coping don’t. In fact, if we were to apply this idea to the trials and tribulations of our own everyday experiences, we just might find that life can be considerably more manageable and fulfilling than we thought possible.
Admittedly, including a theme like this in the narrative of a story like this definitely took some courage, and I certainly applaud the nobility of this attempt at shedding light on an inventive approach to solving problems that seem to defy resolution. Unfortunately, the treatment this tactic receives in the screenplay is also the picture’s undoing, keeping an otherwise-promising movie from fully living up to its potential.
From this summary, it would appear that this theme occupies a dominant place in the film, but that’s not the case. To keep such an unconventional element from overpowering a narrative that’s essentially a story of personal tragedy (and a rather formulaic one at that), the writing downplays the metaphysical material, timidly working it into the script. By giving this aspect of the story such kid gloves treatment, its presentation almost seems like an intrusion or afterthought, and that’s unfortunate, given the crucial role it plays in helping Becca resolve her challenges. Instead, the screenplay focuses more on the conventional aspects of the story, turning the film into an often-predictable tearjerker. It loosely links a collection of “moments,” many of them clichéd, yielding an uneven mixture of pathos, comic relief and pregnant pauses, with smatterings of alternative philosophy thrown in along the way, often awkwardly or offhandedly.
The film’s acting is uneven, too. Despite her Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a drama, Kidman turns in a mixed performance that includes a number of scenes where she positively nails the material, along with others where she clearly knows she’s in front of the camera. Meanwhile, Teller’s portrayal of the guilt-ridden teen is so understated that he looks like he’s sleepwalking his way through it. Thankfully, Wiest, Blanchard, Oh and, most notably, Eckhart turn in some of the finest work of their careers, making the most out of their material (and often making it look better than it actually is).
Regrettably, “Rabbit Hole” comes up short of what it could have been. By mishandling the metaphysical subject matter as they did, the film’s creators missed a prime opportunity to both entertain and enlighten. One can only hope that there’s another version of this picture out there somewhere, down the rabbit hole of one of those other lines of probability, that makes up for this shortcoming.
Copyright © 2010-11, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved