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Kill Your Darlings - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Kill Your Darlings
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

Kill Your Darlings is a period piece that underscores how far we have come in the past seventy years when it comes to acceptance of homosexuality. What person under 40 even realizes today that a so-called "honor killing" was considered a justifiable defense for homicide? As in, a heterosexual man can kill a man, say it was in self-defense after being propositioned, and all but get off free for it. This basically later evolved into the "gay panic" defense that was used for decades after.

The story here is more complicated than that. The script is pointed about it: asked about his mentally ill mother, Allen Ginsberg says, "It's complicated." Lucien Carr replies, "I love complicated." Later, the characters repeat the same lines, only reversed.

First-time feature director (and co-writer) John Krokidas seems enamored with the complications. Much of this movie, about a group of young writer friends who went on to become some of the most iconic American writers of the twentieth century, is cerebral to the point of going over the lay person's head. Granted, these are all very smart people. Some evidently smart people made a movie about them. I didn't always understand what the hell they were talking about. Who in the twenty-first century can penetrate mid-twentieth century poetry anyway?

Luckily, that doesn't matter all that much. Although Kill Your Darlings is based on a true story, it's still a relatively conventional one: a group of friends get mixed up in a murder. Curiously, the central character is Ginsberg, played adequately by Daniel Radcliffe; the accused, Lucien Carr, is played by the excellent Dane DeHaan (Chronicle; The Place Beyond the Pines). Ginsberg, both Jewish and gay, gets pulled into Carr's charismatic and troublemaking orbit. Carr's sexuality is, well -- complicated. Probably he's gay, but haunted more by that fact than the others.

David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall, doing tormented quite well as always) is the older man so obsessed with Carr that he might be called a stalker, except Carr blithely takes advantage of him. Kammerer, working as a janitor at his school, writes all Carr's papers for him. Only once he befriends Ginsberg does Carr start trying to break away from Kammerer completely, which only ratchets up Kammerer's obsession.

Rounding out Carr and Ginsberg's group of friends are William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), but they never directly impact the conflicts between Carr, Kammerer and Ginsberg. The ideas, the inspirations, the influences on their writing -- here, that all passes through just these three. And they all have very complicated, dysfunctional relationships with each other. One could say that shame is the root of it all, and if these people all lived today, things quite probably would have turned out differently. Kammerer might actually still be an obsessive nutso (such people are not confined to any one sexuality), but he might have lived.

The concern here is not the fact itself that Kammerer died, but the motive for it. Carr asks Ginsberg for help in writing his defense, and Ginsberg has a choice to make. Carr is portrayed as a manipulative, spoiled brat who won't take responsibility for his actions. Ginsberg, for his part, runs the risk of taking Kammerer's place as the obsessor. It's all very compelling, if not always completely coherent; the rampant intellectualizing could have used some clarity. But it still offers plenty of food for thought, not least of which is the historical context. These characters all garner either sympathy or pity, by virtue of being victims of their era.

Dane DeHaan and Daniel Radcliffe have a complicated relationship in KILL YOUR DARLINGS.

Overall: B+
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