“Rabbit Hole” director John Cameron Mitchell – FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: The “Rabbit Hole” DVD sat atop my pile of For Your Consideration screeners for longer than I care to admit. Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” moved ahead of it on the list of required viewing. So did Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit,” and a repeat screening of “The Social Network.”
After all, I’m not an outdoorsman, so what chance do I have of getting pinned beneath a boulder? For that matter, I’m no ballerina, cowboy, or computer genius. Watching those films brought no fear.
But I am a parent. And so the idea of watching a film about a couple mourning the loss of their little boy was terrifying. Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally watched John Cameron Mitchell’s tender adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, only to realize it was the best film I’d seen this year.
“I’m interested in all aspects of life, and I was very moved by this story. It felt very universal,” Mitchell told me during a recent phone interview. He admitted that a death in his past – he lost his brother at a young age – also inspired him to attack the material, though he’s also quick to point out that he isn’t the obvious choice for a film like this.
“I’m more of a, let’s say, ‘hot’ director working with sort of ‘cooler’ and perhaps more restrained material than I’ve worked with as a filmmaker,” he said.
The Texas native has been working as an actor since the mid-1980s. But it was his career-defining turn as Hedwig in his own production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” that helped put Mitchell on the map. In his second directorial effort, “Shortbus,” he explored our nation’s sexual hungers and curiosities. Neither film seemed to prepare him for “Rabbit Hole.”
He found his access point into the material though our innate desire to share stories.
“We’re all going to experience loss in some way, at some time,” Mitchell said. “Religion and therapy are two ways of dealing with it. But more and more people use stories to create the set of tools they have to deal with life. I’m sure ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Wire’ or ‘The Sopranos’ have unexpectedly given people a way to think about their lives, even though the settings are so different from their own lives.”
But “Rabbit Hole” is, by no means, a bitter pill to swallow. In fact, in describing the tone of “Rabbit Hole,” Mitchell pointed at popular dramas from Hollywood’s past that managed to tackle tough material with honesty, compassion and unexpected levity.
“I hope ‘Rabbit Hole’ will be ‘Ordinary People’ of its generation, that thing that you are like, ‘Oh my God, that was so cleansing and I could think about loss in a different way than I have and be less afraid about it,’” he said. “It’s part of life. And this is about a couple who makes it through that loss. Most couples break up because of the loss. Eighty percent of most couples break up because of this type of loss. This is a film about that other 20 percent.”
One way that he fought to establish that lighter mood was through his film’s delicate, original music, composed by Anton Sanko.
“From the beginning I realized that the music should be a few instruments creating a lighter, lifting effect,” Mitchell said. “I told the composer that it should feel like a helium balloon sort of carrying the viewer – and the characters – a few inches off the ground. Not too high, but not so low that they are going to stumble into the abyss. Actually carrying them over the abyss to the other side.
“I didn’t want a score,” he continued. “Perhaps a Hollywood movie might have scored every emotional scene. They think of that as their insurance policy to let the audience know what to think! But when you’ve got someone like Dianne Wiest telling you what to think, you don’t need the Vienna Philharmonic. You just need as little as possible to try and cradle the viewer, to transition them into the next scene.”
Speaking of Wiest, she is but one member of Mitchell’s all-star ensemble who is receiving awards consideration – and deservedly so. To date, “Rabbit Hole” has earned a Golden Globe nomination (for Kidman), four Independent Spirit Awards nominations, two Satellite Award nominations and a SAG nom.
Mitchell, who was nominated back in the day for his work on “Hedwig,” says, “It’s still a thrill, but it’s less of that, “Oh my God!” You know? But I know it is necessary for the film.
“This is a quiet film in a noisy season, which makes it a little harder,” he continues. “It’s a restrained story that lets the audience kind of be a witness. It doesn’t pummel them with the story. Which might mean it will take more time to spread out to the masses. I think it’s going to be more of a word-of-mouth than a ram-down-your-throat type of thing.”
“Rabbit Hole” opened in limited release on Dec. 17. It will continue to expand through January.
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