Director John Krokidas' Kill Your Darlings is a fascinating coming of age story that makes an unexpected contribution to the evolution of the film noir genre. Krokidas told a full house at the Paris theater in NYC that this labor of love took 10 years to reach the screen and thanked his college mate and co-writer Austin Bunn for going along with the idea of turning his play into this film. The images that followed once the room darkened were both revelatory and familiar.
The film's centerpiece and main character is the young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe). We tag along as he leaves a troubled home life in New Jersey circa 1943 and is thrust into a tantalizing social milieu as a freshman at Columbia University in New York City. While being introduced to his new surroundings he meets the complex and conflicted Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) who is a catalyst for many important life-changing events but also the cause of great deal of pain and confusion for Ginsberg.
Krokidas' characters are rich and fully formed, even the ones we don't spend a great deal of time with like Ginsberg's parents. Allen's father in the film (David Cross), a poet himself, gives a stunning performance, as does his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their ability to balance joy and pain, individuality and family, in scenes and that oscillate between characters being parented and parenting - is deeply moving. The plot is traversed with an ensemble cast of young men and women that do a superb job and their work together on screen presents like the finest of orchestras, music to the eyes.
The story mixes the history of the times, which includes the war, while focusing on the young poets and writers of the era during their attendance at college. The film however, is greater than the sum of its parts. The narrative space is deftly laid out in an early scene with the use of a subway map and takes us outside the walls of the Ivy League school traversing the music of "uptown" as well as the free living of "downtown" Manhattan. In a valiant attempt at creating their own "composite" culture - taking from and rejecting at the same time the past that is emblematic of the curricular standards at school, the group invents "The New Vision" as a way of making their mark in the world of writing and poetry. In the "show me - don't tell me" style of great filmmaking, the director turns this metaphor into physical play at a friend's house, the details of which I won't reveal here because you'll just have to see it for yourself.
Taken all together the film is about love and loss, about discovery and pain, about the visceral life that lurks behind the solitary nature of intellectual or artistic pursuits. While you may be tempted to see this as look into the past - it is actually about how futures are written with the letters of the present. It is about how emotional beings traverse the world in physical bodies and the pleasures and pain therein.
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