Sophia Ritchie ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
Daniel Radcliffe’s latest post-Potter foray into cinema is John Krokidas’ directorial debut, Kill Your Darlings. The film centers on the birth of the Beat poet movement in 1944 Greenwich Village and the death of David Kammerer, an event that would prove monumental in shaping the movement.
Radcliffe plays a young Allen Ginsberg, the famed poet who, at the movie’s start, is still just a baby-faced, sheltered Jersey boy. His mother is mentally ill and his father, a traditional poet played by David Cross, can’t handle her without Allen’s help. The movie begins with the idea that leaving for Columbia University, where Ginsberg has just been accepted, would be extremely damaging to the family dynamic. He goes anyway.
We, as the viewers, get to watch the innocent and flourishing poet enter into a world of decadence and delight while becoming part of a sort of poetic rebellion. We’re treated to a cast of characters we all recognize (Jack Huston as a brash and handsome Jack Kerouac, Ben Foster as a hilariously droll William Burroughs) and to seeing the culmination of beauty that supposedly inspired the Beats. It’s sort of a sports movie for poets: here is your team, populated by an eccentric cast of drunk writers, and your inspiring idea that poetry is a free art. Go write it. I walked out of the film feeling the way I imagine a football player would walking out of Rudy.
But just as the film is about the art, it is also about the real-life destruction of innocence. The central plotline is propelled by the 1940s, male replication of the manic-pixie-dream-girl, Lucien Carr, portrayed by enigmatic newcomer Dane DeHaan (who astounded in found-footage film Chronicle and angsty indie flick The Place Beyond the Pines). Carr is sly-faced and carefree, reciting lewd poetry and generally filling the movie with a sort of tainted, pixie-dusted sunshine that attracts Ginsberg (and the audience) like moths to a flame.
David Kammerer, played by Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, was apparently attracted to this flame as well. The story goes that Kammerer, obsessed with Carr, groomed him for the picking and eventually came on too strong, to the point where Carr had to defend himself by ending Kammerer’s life. The film explains this, but also explores the ideas of what really drove Carr to kill him versus what the other Beat poets saw.
There are most certainly points in the film where things feel overwrought, and the poetry comes on a bit too strong. Also, sometimes the dialogue is a little too hokey to stand up to the light bulbs-flashing, noir love story pacing and camerawork on screen. But ultimately, the cast delivers the story in a fairly believable way. The plot, well-paced and well-rounded, is consistently gripping. The details, camerawork, and soundtrack all contribute to creating a film that I feel should be required viewing for any writer.
Kill Your Darlings, with its historic edge, artful cinematic style, and ultimate joy in conveying the passion of the Beat era, is a finely crafted film that is worth the price of admission.