k i l l y o u r d a r l i n g s
6th December 2013
Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan
25th November 2013
Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan are luminous in Kill Your Darlings, an intoxicating first feature from John Krokadis about life and death amongst the Beat Generation in 1940’s New York.
1944 New York. A young Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe) is at home with his mentally unstable mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and poet father (David Cross) when he gets the letter from Columbia University that will change his life forever. Here he encounters the enigmatic, mesmerising, dangerous beauty that is Lucien Carr, (a magnetic turn by De Haan), who opens the door for Alan to step into a magical wonderland; both terrifying and exhilarating and what undoubtedly shaped Ginsberg as a poet. Carr introduces Ginsberg to Kerouac and Burroughs and the start of the legendary New Vision starts to form before our eyes. There is always a danger lurking around the edges of the larks and before long the darkness overtakes the light because of Carr’s actions the four find themselves trying to navigate some very choppy waters indeed.
This isn’t the first time the Beats have been immortalised on celluloid but it certainly is one of the more successful attempts. Krakadis manages to capture the youth and exhilaration unlike Walter Salles’ On The Road, which felt self-conscious and false despite some good performances. This is hugely helped by the casting of the four instigators, led by Radcliffe as Ginsberg – Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac, De Haan as Carr and Ben Foster as William S Burroughs. The chemistry between the four men is catching and exciting. It’s a world we want to be part of as they begin to form the ‘New Vision’ movement in literature. One can’t help but get excited by a first meeting with a young William S Burroughs especially when said meeting takes place in a bath with him inhaling nitrous oxide through a gas mask. These are four drug taking, heavy drinking, and confrontational young men. Krokidas’ is a standpoint of curiosity, we are intrigued by their antics but antics is exactly what they feel like as opposed to the beginnings of the biggest counter culture revolution in America. It is about life, love, death and coming of age. The title refers to the writer’s adage of killing your darlings - stripping away words you love to find the truth beneath but also to the real death of a true love that occurs. Carr inspired great love from those in his life but he was incapable of accepting this or reciprocate and the darkness in him eventually overcomes the light.
This is Ginsberg’s story. It is him we see transition from cloistered nice boy to a young man opening himself up to experiences that will eventually go on to allow him to create Howl. It’s not an easy part so how nice to see Radcliffe looking and acting in a role so far removed from Potter that for 104 minutes we forget the young wizard ever existed. Magic. We know Radcliffe is a brave actor, starring naked in stage in Equus and consistently choosing the roles on the outside, roles such as the Cripple of Innishman. Here as the innocent, gay Ginsberg who becomes infatuated with the dangerously seductive draw of Carr he shines, handling difficult scenes smoothly and giving us an intelligent, talented, beautiful young man that Alan was. It helps that Carr is played by DeHaan who is certainly destined for big things, he is that good. Carr could so easily have been a caricature, a boring, seen-it-all-before, spoilt little rich boy but in the hands of DeHaan we see the cracks beneath that beautiful façade and the turn becomes one of a tragi-hero of Shakespearean scope. Jack Huston has a small but memorable part as the charismatic Jack Kerouac and his scenes with the ever wonderful Elizabeth Olsen as his put upon wife, are great fun, even if they do feel slightly like a different movie altogether. Scenes of Kerouac listening to messages on the record player from his best friend in the war that throw in some needed gravitas and also a sense of having to live for now, Huston is excellent in these scenes. Also good to see Michael C Hall breaking out now that Dexter has finished, he is great as love-struck, doomed professor David Kammerer. Ben Foster gets the least to do as Burroughs but uses his time well and he makes for an intriguing tortured Burroughs already on the precipice of uncontrollable drug experimentation. Jennifer Jason Leigh again proves she is the one to call when you want a 40 something mother figure with mental issues. In fairness she is great in the role and her scenes with Radcliffe shine. David Cross plays Alan’s kindly poet father who doesn’t overreact when Alan misjudges the way his mother is being ‘treated’ by his father with the singular, one-sided vehemence that only a teenager can. Geek film fact: Cross also played Ginsberg in Todd Haynes I’m Not There.
Shot in 25 days and you can feel it – the frenetic pace of Kill Your Darlings means it never gets dull. Scenes where drugs are altering Alan’s mind are slowed down, replayed, sped up – and it works. Krokadis pulls off the trippy hedonism, presenting a view that drugs help creativity, or they certainly did in Alan’s case. Scenes of Alan furiously pounding away at the typewriter and other.. erm.. things and then giving birth to these magical words can’t help but suggest the drugs do, or did, work. We here at BS are certainly not going to argue with hedonism in any of it’s forms, suffice to say it’s a thin line kids, and more often than not the next day you’ll end up with writing that’s more like Jack Torrence than Jack Kerouac. The soundtrack has some resolutely modern edges with Bloc Party and Sigur Ross thrown in amongst the classical and period music. It works really well to make the film feel young and exhilarating– exactly how a film about the emergence of exciting young artists should feel.
Check out the trailer here.