Kill Your Darlings (2013)
Release Date: November 8th, 2013 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Krokidas Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, John Cullum, Erin Darke
s if designed to lead up to Chuck Workman’s “American Masters” episode “The Source: The Story of the Beats and the Beat Generation,” John Krokidas’ keenly titled “Kill Your Darlings” traces the origins of three prominent poets just before World War II. Unlike the aforementioned documentary, which briefly had dramatizations by Dennis Hopper, Johnny Depp, and John Turturro, this new biopic is very much a movie. Mixing in romance, familial impasses, and even murder, it’s still designed to be “based on a true story,” though the artistic license is questionably unrestrained.
In 1943, young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) of Paterson New Jersey is accepted into Columbia University in New York. In Professor Stevens’ poetry class, Allen speaks out against tradition and form, praising Walt Whitman and his rule-breaking distaste for the “fascist” notions of meter and rhyme. He attracts the attention of Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a fellow creative insurgent who introduces the impressionable Ginsberg to writer William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and former teacher David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall). Infatuated with Carr’s attitude, they begin to form the blueprints for a new kind of progressive anarchical literature. When Lucien also recruits the influential and talented ex-merchant marine Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), Allen’s disorienting romantic relationship with Carr is poised to fall apart.
Despite the complicated relationships, the conflicts, the secrets, and the controversial, outmoded honor slaying defense routine, the film still manages to paint uninteresting depictions of three revolutionary writers. It’s as if a borderline inconsequential backstory led up to the maturation of artists whose professional lives would have been far more absorbing in cinematic representations. The audience isn’t allowed to gain a sense of who they would become (unless they’re already familiar with their history). Revealing influences that would typically be immoderate, including homosexuality in the ‘40s, attempted suicide, institutionalization for schizophrenia, and finally manslaughter, viewers only see rebellious or troubled youths struggling to survive adolescence – not the commencement of a radically different adoption of values, spawned from the contempt of traditional social and political systems.
In “Kill Your Darlings,” successful artists can only be manufactured through trauma, harrowing situations, and derangement of the senses. All three hopeful poets imbibe, smoke constantly, and experiment with drugs; real inspiration, it seems, must be orchestrated through hallucinogenic, out-of-body experiences. In an attempt to shatter expectations, whether good or bad, Ginsberg and his gang transform into rebels, outcasts, and pranksters. In the context of the picture, it never leads to artistry – merely psychologically metamorphic activities that either try the patience or spill into overly sexually graphic territory that will abrasively pull audiences out of the fictionalization.
There’s far too little of the poetic dialogue that cleverly alludes to Ginsberg’s later life, and entirely too much intrusive jazz music to denote the time period. The editing is also a bore, with its disoriented climax presented at the start, before doubling back to play catch-up. The casting, with its vast assortment of leftover but recognizable character actors (Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, Kyra Sedgwick, John Cullum), provides minimal amusement; but clearly its Daniel Radcliffe’s film as he continues to seek out increasingly edgier roles. For this project, however, he’s still the all too familiar bespectacled, timid intellect trying futilely to be anything else.
– Mike Massie