Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Kill Your Darlings [2013]

MPAA (R)  RedEyeChicago (3 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
RedEyeChicago (Matt Pais) review
RE.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Kill Your Darlings [2013] (directed and co-written by John Krokidas along with Austin Bunn) is the second of three films about Beat-Generation to come-out in the United States in a year's time. The other two films, On The Road [2012] and Big Sur [2013], have attempted to put those two beloved beat/"hippie" generation tomes by Jack Kerouac on the screen.

A FASCINATING QUESTION TO ASK WOULD BE WHY?  Why such an interest in the Beat Generation NOW?   My sense is that this renewed interest in that period is the result of a similarity of both the times -- the current film takes place during the closing stages of World War II and Kerouac's novel On The Road took place during the years immediately following that war, while today, we are winding down a decade of the War on Terror.  Readers here should remember also both Pearl Harbor that brought the U.S. into World War II and the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were experienced in the U.S. as shocking events that all but necessitated the massive military responses that followed.  However, wars do come to an end.  Those wounded by the war do come back.  And national priorities do change then as well, as the nation seeks to "decompress," treat the wounded, and return to normal.  There's a lot of pain described in these Beat-Generation / Post-WW II works that many folks today would recognize as something akin to societal "Post Traumatic Stress" and then as remarkably "close to us" now, certainly more comprehensible than say 20-30 years ago (pre-9/11 / War on Terror).  Then thematically, the similarities between the concerns of the Beat-Generation writers (restlessness/escape through drugs/sexuality including homosexuality, or just simply "hitting the road") and those of the general culture today are striking.  So the interest in the Beat-Generation today is IMHO not altogether surprising and perhaps even inevitable.

Okay, Kerouac's [IMDb] On the Road [film] is set in the late 1940s, and Big Sur [film] in the late 1950s.  Kill Your Darlings [2012] is centered on Kerouac's [IMDb] fellow Beat-Generation poet/friend/acquaintance Allen Ginsberg's [IMDb] freshman year at Colombia University in New York in 1943.  Hence it is set before the Kerouac's semi-autographical books.  For this reason the AVClub's reviewer A.A.Dowd amusingly called the film "Beat Generation: 1st Class" (in reference to the X-men "prequel" film released a few years back.  Have to give credit where credit is due ;-).

The film presents young Allen Ginsberg [IMDb] (played in the film by ex-"Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe) as leaving a fairly troubled home in New Jersey as enters Colombia U.  His mother (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is borderline schizophrenic.  His father, poet Louis Ginsberg (played by David Cross), turns out to be carrying on an affair.

When he gets to Colombia, he finds himself gravitating to basically misfits and trouble-makers.  To some extent given the time this should not be surprising: (1) WAR WAS GOING.  In 1943 pretty much ANY MALE of Ginsberg's age who could serve WAS SERVING in the war.  So among those who were not serving would have been a disproportionate number of problematic people: "misfits and troublemakers" and (2) WAR WAS GOING ON.  The regimentation that the waging of War almost necessarily requires, the (temporary) ascendancy of Order over Freedom, necessarily breads a seething resentment that finds expression in various anti-social behaviors -- both more "fight" (a perhaps greater sensitivity to perceived offenses) and more "flight" (though all kinds of escapist strategies -- sex, drugs, rock and roll (at that time, jazz)).  So it doesn't surprise me that the  rather young and still naive Ginsberg would find himself a perhaps abnormally large number of abnormally sensitive classmates "with issues" and perhaps enough of them to find a "critical mass" to "start a movement."

And this then is what appears to happen.  Congregating around a rather troubled (and perhaps not particularly talented outside of _recognizing talent in others_ and organizing) sophomore Lucien Carr (played by Dane DeHaan) is this group of misfits/outsiders which comes to include Ginsberg (Jewish from New Jersey), a young, blue collar Jack Kerouac (a transplant from French speaking Quebec with a brother "in the war" and not even a student at Colombia but someone who Lucien knew clearly could write), rich-kid William S. Burroughs [IMDb] (played by Ben Foster) who appeared to spend most of his time figuring out new ways to get high using commonly available chemicals and finally David Krammerer (played by Michael C. Hall) a former Lit Professor of a few universities of Carr's past, who lost everything, from his position to his marriage/family after falling in love with Carr.  By the time of the movie, Krammerer was reduced to working as a janitor somewhere in New York, just so that he could be "close to Carr."  And Carr would have Krammerer write his assignments for him ... in return for ... well ...

Eventually this group decides to "fight the Fascism" of the Literature Department at Colombia: "Why must poetry have to have rhyme and meter?" Ginsberg asks his sonnets professor.  "Well, first, imitation precedes creation, and second, your own father Louis Ginsberg does quite well keeping himself within the bounds of rhyme and meter" the professor responds.  "Well, that's because its _easier_ to write poetry by staying within the bounds."

What follows then is the founding of what RedEye Chicago reviewer Matt Pais called a "Live Poets Society" ;-) among those above mentioned "misfits" who later became the Beat movement.

A lot of self-destructive behavior follows as this group appears to reject the professor's slogan "imitation precedes creation" for the slogan of most modern revolutions "to create one must first destroy."  (Note: As the son of Czech immigrants well versed in the stories of the past often involving tanks and concentration camps, and as a Catholic priest and believer in the Second Vatican Council, I honestly reject both slogans.  To destroy the past is simply stupid and arguably evil.  But as Bl. John XXIII soon to be Saint John XXIII said in his calling for the Second Vatican Council: "We are not here to be curators of a museum but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life."  We can build and expand on the past rather than destroy it)

Still this movie is a very good and thought provoking one and I would recommend the film to college students and above (I don't see ANY reason why a minor would "need to see" this film).  Allen Ginsberg [IMDb] was both a Beat Generation Poet and a homosexual.  The film offers insight as to how/why he became both.

But I return to the point I just made: Ginsberg may have been right that it is "easy" to "remain within the lines."  However, it's also far easier to destroy something old than to build something (of value...) that is new.

Nevertheless as a thought-provoking piece, this is a VERY GOOD AND TIMELY FILM.  And also Good Job Harry Potter, good job, certainly a serious movie here.


An interesting article on the American writers of the Post-WW II era, paying special homage to the American Catholic hero/mystic of the time, Thomas Merton, would be: Three American Sophomores: the Restlessness of Thomas Merton, J. D. Salinger & Jack Kerouac

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