"I've seen the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked."
Murder, poetry and creativity are the driving forces and themes of the fascinating new film Kill Your Darlings from first time director John Krokidas. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsberg and chronicles his freshman year at Columbia in 1943 where he goes on to meet Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. These men would go on to define the Beat movement and inspire Ginsberg to write Howl and his other major works.
Based on true events, Kill Your Darlings explores the obsessive relationship between Lucien Carr and David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) as well as Ginsberg's own obsession with Carr and the way Ginsberg comes to terms with his own homosexuality. I thought Radcliffe played a convincing Ginsberg and I love seeing him challenging himself as an actor by taking on these kinds of roles. Dane DeHaan was great as the clever and magnetic Lucien, but Ben Foster steals the film with a spot on embodiment of Burroughs.
Poetry and the way creativity is sparked and nurtured are showcased throughout the film. These men rebelled. Rebellion is at the heart of any creative movement from the Beats to Punk. They rip apart books to pull out the essence of the language. They plot to kill Ogden Nash, the most popular poet of the day, by making him obsolete in the wake of their new Vision. In Columbia's hallowed library, they replace the 1st edition copies of renowned literature like Beowulf with Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, Melville's Billy Budd and other restricted works that were locked away.
Poets from Keats to Shelley are quoted throughout the film and in a crucial scene Shelley's Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats is read in voice over. You hear it read by Kerouac's friend dying in a hospital bed from war injuries.
Oh, weep for Adonais--he is dead!
Wake, melancholy Mother, wake and weep!
Yet wherefore? Quench within their burning bed
Thy fiery tears, and let thy loud heart keep
Like his, a mute and uncomplaining sleep;
For he is gone, where all things wise and fair
Descend--oh, dream not that the amorous Deep
Will yet restore him to the vital air;
Death feeds on his mute voice, and laughs at our despair.
In addition to Ginsberg, Carr, Kerouac and Burroughs, there's a fifth character in this film. It sits off screen and out of reach, but appears at critical times to define these men and their lives. It is World War II. It is there when Carr and Kerouac make their ill fated decision to join the Merchant Marines. It is there via a radio broadcast proclaiming the end of battle when Ginsberg gets a letter from his professor telling him to keep writing.
See Kill Your Darlings and pick up Howl while you are at it.
Kill Your Darlings opens today in New York and Los Angeles. Click here for show times.