Film Review: Kill Your Darlings

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19 December 2013, Varsity Online Reviews Section

There has been a glut of Beat generation films recently: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl (2010) and Walter Salles’s On the Road (2012) were both caught up in the paraphernalia of smoke, drink, jazz, and manic energy of the Beats, but failed to capture their artistic vision. Kill Your Darlings momentarily allows itself to indulge in this dark glamour, but is by far superior in its visceral portrayal of its characters, and its stark depiction of the bloody birth of the Beat poets.

Kill Your Darlings documents the relationship between the young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), and his somewhat unhinged and dangerous classmate, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). All the main players of the Beat generation come into the fray to form Ginsberg’s artistic and sexual awakening, which is rudely interrupted by a ferocious act of violence which will at once bind together the Beats, only to pull them apart.

The film provides a fresh insight into the world of the Beat generation, and suffuses blood into a movement which is often portrayed to be devoid of reality, offering little more than a sham aesthetic. While the film is filled with frantic montage scenes in which the poets tear apart books and type in a drink-and-drug-induced frenzy as the soundtrack beats, bops and swings along with a constant ebb and throng, its true energy and vigour emerges through its cast who excel in bringing this movement to life, without resorting to bland stereotypes of their respective characters

The performances of DeHaan, and particularly Radcliffe, deserve considerable praise. DeHaan portrays the disturbed, but glamorous Carr with a quiet but fiery brilliance, creating an enigmatic and fascinating puzzle for the audience to resolve. Radcliffe’s performance of the infatuated young Ginsberg is both considered and intelligent: he manages to turn in a performance which creates a feeling of vulnerability and longing in such a way that is devastating to watch.

Where the film lapses a little is in its lack of a plot: the violent action of the film does not occur until quite near the end; although the tone is saturated with an anxious apprehension of what is to come, the film perhaps could have exploited those moments a little more. That said, the climax of the film is done expertly, and creates a certain chill.

Overall, Kill Your Darlings is an energetic, highly enjoyable film which presents an altogether different perspective on the formation of the Beat movement. The film is at times slow burning, but the performances of DeHaan and Radcliffe above all create an exciting film.

Image: WikiCommons

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