Kill Your Darlings

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Release: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Harry drops out of Hogwarts to start attending Columbia University — good idea?

Probably one of the easier observations anyone is going to make when referring to Kill Your Darlings, a film that tips its hat to the romantics who inspired a literary revolution both stylistically and philosophically, is the fact that it does indeed feature Daniel Radcliffe in one of the lead roles. The next largest elephant in the room has to be Dane DeHaan, whose impressive performance earlier in the year in The Place Beyond the Pines, an epic story spanning several generations of family, garnered him a great deal of praise very quickly. As it turns out, the attention was well-deserved. DeHaan is equally brilliant — if not more so — as he bolsters his career further in this film involving hipsters. . . .before hipsters were actually hipsters*.

Kill Your Darlings‘ tightly-knit plot sorts through the intricate relationships amongst the young poets Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe), Lucien Carr (DeHaan), Jack Keruoac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster), and how these relationships grew and evolved over the disquieting years in the wake of World War II. A singular event casts a shadow over the futures of these writers when the murder of an outsider, the older David Kammerer (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall), implicates Ginsberg, Carr and Burroughs during the ensuing police investigation in 1944.

The mention of hipsters that surfaced a little while ago is not really accurate. The writers who inspired what came to be known later as the Beat Generation — Ginsberg’s most famous piece, ‘Howl,’ Burrough’s ‘Naked Lunch’ and Karuoac’s ‘On the Road’ being the most notable examples of these times — intentionally went against the grain in an effort to expose the claustrophobic amour-propre of the time. No longer was poetry to suffer the restrictions of rhyme and meter, or anything else that was declared as traditional, societally-accepted forms of expressionism. ‘Hipster’ is a bit of a misnomer because the Beat Generation may be more naturely associated with the peace/hippie movements of the 60s and 70s.

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However, it was the attitudinal divergence that makes such a comparison to contemporary hipsters easy to make. Ginsberg, Burroughs and, in particular Carr, discounted traditional methods of storytelling and instead pushed for less restrictions in the constructions thereof, leaning more towards open, honest and potentially graphic interpretations of the human experience.

With hindsight, Radcliffe and DeHaan seem to be ideal actors to personify such ambitious types. While Ginsberg was certainly more of the quieter, more easily intimidated of the two, Carr had no issues whatsoever in flaunting publicly his disdain for the institutions that were. DeHaan plays this up terrifically, and we have a great deal of fun reveling in his casting-out of mainstream society. Radcliffe settles into his post-Potter role with grace as well, at once demonstrating the intense love he had for Lucien while at the same time revealing his own personal fragilities. Ginsberg went to college, leaving behind a mother (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who was mentally ill and a father with wandering eyes. He also found his new home at Columbia University extremely intimidating, a reality that Radcliffe acknowledges behind glasses exceptionally well.

In many ways, John Krokidas’ debut film recalls the passion of dare-to-live films like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, and October Sky. Its cast is possessed with those same feverish desires to escape and expand beyond the oppressive powers and circumstances that are already in place; the settings and locations are just as romantic and timeless. Desperate actions occur at the most inopportune of moments. But the thing that sets Krokidas’ work apart is a clever blend of the artistic and the lawful. The events that take place in these semi-turbulent times play out much like a murder-mystery, yet they bear all the trademarks of a romance piece. It’s an effective, lively blend of genres that makes for a quick hour and forty-five minutes of viewing.

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While the film ultimately doesn’t draw the most grandiose of conclusions from what transpires, it doesn’t necessarily have to. History has already been made and here, Krokidas is trying to recreate it using film as the medium. Clearly there are liberties to be taken along the way, and it’s unlikely that each and every aspect to Darlings is completely untainted by a director wanting to dramatize certain elements for entertainment’s sake, but the combination works deliciously well.

*(Speaking of hipsters, Chris please come back to us. Your plaid scarves, Canadian accent and thick, wire-framed glasses are missed dearly around here on the blogosphere.)

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Recommendation: Some are going to view this is as a stuffy film (if they’ve even heard of it), but I urge those people to give it a chance. It involves some delightful characters, simultaneously making great use of its young actors in Radcliffe and DeHaan, while respectfully paying tribute to some of America’s most transformative writers. This forthcoming comment is going to sound limiting, but if you enjoyed Robin Williams and his secretive Dead Poets Society, you will be guaranteed to fall in love with this as well. There’s a palpable joy and love in both narratives that is difficult to shake after watching.

Rated: R

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “Another lover hits the universe, the circle is broken.”