Sundance '13: 'Kill Your Darlings' is 'The Social Network' for The Beats
by Ethan Anderton
January 19, 2013
Just as the promising but eventually tumultuous friendship between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin played out in The Social Network, so does the erotic, tense and poetic relationship between Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings, the directorial debut from John Krokidas. But instead of the dawn of Facebook, this takes a provocative point in the college years of the infamous beatnik poet and focuses on how this affects his inspiration, spawns a Dead Poets Society sort of revelation, encourages dismissal of academic tradition help shape his literary mind. It's a story about obsession, identity and love.
Daniel Radcliffe puts back on some round spectacles, but trades in the lightning shaped scar for a perm as poet Allen Gisnberg, the Jewish, New York raised genius who would be at the forefront of the beatnik generation along with Jack Kerouac (who also comes into play later). Meanwhile, Dane DeHaan comes along as Ginsberg begins his formative years in college and shakes up his life, almost as much as Ginsberg's work would do in the literary world. It's within these two performances that the magic begins as the chemistry between Radcliffe and DeHaan is electric, and the latter even outshines the film's lead with a magnetic and intimidating presence that easily explains why such a leech of a student pretending to be brilliant catches the eye of Ginsberg at school.
The two lead performances are helped by phenomenal supporting turns by Michael C. Hall as David Kammerer, Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac and Ben Foster as William Burroughs. Hall is an outlier in this group as he finds himself ostracized by the group who comes up with the famed "New Vision," while the others find new and exciting ways to view the world, sometimes helped by liquor and drugs. It's in their bonding that the film really gains steam and finds more energy in montages of brainstorming sessions and projects that are likely beyond most viewers comprehension. However, it's never overwhelming.
In fact, while the film is certainly about Ginsberg's growth as a young writer, it's more about identity. Both Ginsberg and Carr struggle with being themselves, even when only with each other. The parallels with The Social Network come into play as Ginsberg begins to outgrow Carr, but it mixes up the story by playing up the romantic tension between them. But more struggles come from Ginsberg's ailing mother and Carr's reliance on Kammerer as a crutch. Really, the crux of the film comes in a voice over from Ginsberg, "Some things, once you’ve loved them, become yours forever. And if you try to let them go, they only circle back and return to you. They become part of who you are, or they destroy you.”
As a first time director, Krokidas proves he knows how to tell a story with style and has a penchant for stirring emotions. The film is driven by a story that is also relevant as homosexual still struggle to find a place in society where they are accepted. As a gay man himself, Krokidas makes sure to hit that point home without making it blunt and intrusive to the rest of the film. What also helps drive the film is a perfect soundtrack that uses songs from the time in history, but there's also certain musical cues that feel contemporary but are also in tune with the beatnik culture.
Kill Your Darlings is a stunning portrayal of one of the greatest literary minds in modern history when he was just little more than a young kid coming to terms with his sexuality and discovering himself in more ways than one. The film is sharp, eloquently written, finely edited and comes together as raw coming of age narrative. Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan deliver breakthrough performances on another level of their career while a supporting cast back them up with flying colors. John Krokidas has a bright future, and he just might have a New Vision of his own that audiences will be privy to over the next few years.
Ethan's Sundance Rating: 8 out of 10