Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kill Your Darlings

A sleeper that captures the shock behind a conforming era

     We saw Kill Your Darlings two weeks ago at The Esquire and it’s already gone, but I didn’t want it to be forgotten.  For fans of the Beat Writers (Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac), it’s highly recommended as a look at their student years at
Columbia University.  Though they become celebrated and notorious, the characters initially could be any potentially talented undergraduates hoping to prove their worth.  It shows that Daniel Radcliffe has the guts to take risks – the leading role, but not the best one – and that writer-director John Krokidas possesses the talent and patience to wait four years for a star to be able to appear.  

Ginsberg (Radcliffe) at Columbia
     Krokidas ran through a number of actors while waiting for Radcliffe to complete the Harry Potter marathon, but he ended up with the right ones.  Radcliffe holds the movie together as the young Ginsberg who’s both puckish and a mensch.  He looks and sounds like what I’d imagine in an eager, middle-class Jewish New Jersey teenager from the ‘40s.  He plays a number of male-on-male love scenes that become more nakedly graphic as the movie progresses.  Although the character flinches physically during a clumsy seduction, the actor does not. 

Dexter Observes Carr and Ginberg's Awkward Relationship
     However, the best part is Lucien Carr, played by Dane DeHaan with a silky, mercurial menace.  The basic crux of the plot is the developing relationship between Ginsberg and Carr.  It works with the basic duality of screwball comedy i.e. the bohemian liberating the square.  However, it’s also a same sex version of the film adaptations of Cabaret and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  In both, a wild-child party girl of questionable talent seduces and dumps a square guy (bisexual in the first, a heterosexual gigolo in the second).  The irony underlying both of those earlier movies was that the male characters and authorial representatives in the original books were gay.  Movies require physical romance to be commercial; books can succeed with emotional and philosophical romance.

     Carr was the muse for Ginsberg and Kerouac, though I wondered if he was dyslexic or possibly semi-literate because he never wrote himself.  It’s also a dark thriller about a love story gone desperately wrong between a reputed stalker and his ambiguous prey.  In viewing and writing about this later, Ginsberg comes into his own as an artist.

Jennifer Jason Leigh
     The cast is pretty amazing with David Cross and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ginsberg’s parents and looking like they really could be Radcliffe’s family.   Both Cross and Radcliffe move their necks and shoulders in subtly similar ways.  Jack Huston captures the scamp-like butch glamour of Kerouac and Elizabeth Olsen is a hoot as his common sense, put upon wife.  Olsen’s voice sounds older than time.  Ben Foster disappears into William S. Burroughs; he’s just as creepy as the actual Burroughs was during interviews and in My Own Private Idaho (1991).  

     “Kill your darlings” is a term that Ginsberg’s English Professor, played with relish by John Cullum, uses to instruct his students in reforming their writing.  Ginsberg ends up doing just that while writing about someone who actually kills his darling.  The Professor has to appear shocked; it’s later that the audience and Ginsberg understand how pleased he is by that piece of writing.  

No comments: