Rabbit Hole is not the sort of movie that people generally pick as something to watch as it deals, in fairly unflinching terms, with an issue most people hope they'll never face: what happens to people after the loss of a child. It is, I think, a good thing then that Rabbit Hole has some big-name actors - Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest - who may attract people's attention to the film, because it is very much worth seeing.
Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart) Corbett are a married couple in pain due to the loss of their only child, Danny, who died eight months ago when he ran out into the street and got hit by a car. They're attempting to cope but not doing very well at it, and in fact their attempts to cope are driving them apart. Becca's way of coping is in trying to escape from her grief and from the memories, avoiding anything that reminds her of Danny, while Howie clings to his grief and to everything that does remind him of Danny. And if these strains were not enough, there are the additional strains of dealing with family and friends. Becca's mother, Nat (Wiest), trying to be helpful by sharing her own experience of loss of a son ends up alienating Becca who deeply resents the comparison. Becca's sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), who's rather immature and involved with a married man, reveals that she's pregnant, provoking more resentment from Becca. And Becca's best friend is avoiding her, simply because she has no idea what to say and Becca resents this and refuses to reach out.
Even when trying to work through their loss by attending a support group, Becca and Howie's difference still pull them apart. Becca can't stand the group and gets to the point where she lashes out at another couple's attempting to find solace in religion, while Howie feels that sharing the grief makes it better. A foreshadowing of the dangers of their differences is in another couple in the group, Kevin (Stephen Mailer) and Gabby (Sandra Oh), who've been coming to the group for eight years but who end up splitting up because Kevin wants to move on and Gaby, like Howie, can't let go.
One particularly interesting development in the film comes when Becca sees a high school student on a bus and ends up following the bus to see where he gets off. Why? Does he bear some resemblance to her son, does she see in him the young man he might have grown up to be? But as the film progresses, we learn that the student, Jason (Miles Teller) was the driver of the car that hit her son when he ran into the street. Becca ends up meeting with him and talking in the park, looking for what even she doesn't seem to know. But it ultimately leads her to a cathartic moment when she sees him going to his senior prom and breaks down in tears in her car, finally giving in to, and coming to terms with, her grief.
And Howie too comes to his cathartic moments, though more in stages. One blackly comic one is when he and Gaby (after her husband has left her) get stoned in her car before going in to the support group and end up giggling hysterically when another member of the group is trying to share. Another heart-breaking one comes when Becca and Howie put the house up for sale and Howie makes the ghastly mistake of trying to show a young couple the house, including his son's room, where he ends up having to tell them what happened to his son, immediately ruining any chance of their buying the house. But the final one comes where Howie is on the edge of beginning an affair with Gaby, but finds that, no matter what, he cannot bring himself to give up on Becca.
The performances by the actors are all excellent, but two in particular stand out. Nicole Kidman and Dianne Wiest both richly deserve Oscar nominations for their performances, showing how hard it is to deal with that kind of loss while at the same time showing how it is possible (though the film never makes it easy or simplistic) to find a way, and that there is no one-way-fits-all solution; that each individual has to find what works for them and that you have to accept that others have to find their own way. One of the best scenes, where Wiest truly shines, is where Becca and Nat finally make a connection on shared loss:
Becca: "Does it ever go away? "
Nat: "No, I don't think it does. Not for me, it hasn't - has gone on for eleven years. But it changes though."
Nat: "I don't know... the weight of it, I guess. At some point, it becomes bearable. It turns into something that you can crawl out from under and... carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you... you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and - there it is. Oh right, that. Which could be awful - not all the time. It's kinda..."
Nat: "not that you'd like it exactly, but it's what you've got instead of your son. So, you carry it around. And uh... it doesn't go away. Which is..."
Becca: "Which is what?"
Nat: "Fine, actually."
A hard film to watch at times, but very much a film worth seeing, both for the ways in which it deals with the stresses such a loss inflicts, and for the stand-out cast and fine performances. Highly recommended.