Five stages of grief, and 5,000 movies about them. For every "Ordinary People" or "In the Bedroom," there are dime-a-dozen duds like last year's "The Greatest" and Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones." But "Rabbit Hole" may be the most therapeutic of them all, in its focus on learning to put one foot in front of another again. But it's not just medicinal: It's great drama.
Certified with the Pulitzer Prize, David Lindsay-Abaire's 2005 play won a Tony Award for Cynthia Nixon. Now "Rabbit Hole" -- as adapted by Lindsay-Abaire and directed by John Cameron Mitchell -- gets the big-screen treatment, with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in the leads. Becca and Howie Corbett are, of course, not as functional as they first appear. In their well-appointed suburban home, the pair seem a half-step off in their banter, and perhaps their surroundings are a shade too dark and a bit too quiet.
Eight months earlier, Becca and Howie's 4-year-old son, Danny, chased his dog into the street, and suburban bliss turned into a seemingly unyielding emotional claustrophobia. The odds are against the Corbetts salvaging their marriage; though they have thus far endured, the halt on their sex life is a bad sign, and tensions have begun to win out over tolerance. Their different grieving processes have yet to mesh. Howie finds day-to-day comfort in his memories and a support group, while the perpetually touchy Becca rejects painful keepsakes and those who claim to know what she's feeling. Howie puts it succinctly: "Something's gotta change."
Defiantly on her own, Becca tentatively wanders avenues of potential comfort, revisiting her former workplace (could vocation be the answer?) and following -- and eventually engaging -- a teenage boy (Miles Teller) who has become the object of her fascination. In stark contrast to her husband's comfort in signs of their old life, Becca has banished the family dog that played a role in her son's death and suggests selling their house full of memories. Howie counters with the implicitly scary prospect of having another child, but Becca's not there yet, and perhaps never will be.
Only one thing is certain to Becca. God is not her answer, her spiritual faith having been permanently dashed by her misfortune, and she's prone to lashing out at those who find comfort in religion. An intriguing alternative comes from the teenager, who's reading, as "research," Fred Alan Wolf's book "Parallel Universes: The Search for Other Worlds" and writing his own science-fiction comic book. "Space is infinite, and everything's possible," he offers. "Assuming you believe in science." Perhaps faith in science might be the comfort Becca so sorely needs.
The film's impeccable emotional truth and delicate touches of black humor owe in equal part to screenwriter, director and stars. Kidman turns in one of her finest performances, and Eckhart shares more than one powerful duet with her. As Becca's mother -- who herself lost a son -- Dianne Wiest is quietly devastating, especially when mother and daughter finally talk straight about their grief.
Though the death of a child and potentially a marriage are unspeakably horrible, "Rabbit Hole" turns out to be improbably hopeful. After all, even Alice made her way back across the thresholds of the rabbit hole and the looking glass.