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Film

Film Review: Harry Potter Kills Darlings at the Phi Centre

Posted by Greg / November 14, 2013

Smiley faceKill your Darlings, John Krokidas's feature-length debut, takes a dreamy look at the Beats when they were but a circle of libertines formed around Lucien "Lou" Carr. The film features Burroughs and Kerouac and much of Manhattan's seedier corners, but it focuses on the relationship between Carr and Allen Ginsberg during their time at Columbia University. It is also bookended by Lou's claimed "honor slaying" of David Kammerer, an older writer and longtime friend of Burroughs who, obsessed and, to a degree, involved with the young Lucien, followed him from school to school to be with him. All of it stitched together, it's unclear whether it actually sticks.

In coming to terms with that, I started writing about this "The New Vision" era the film describes. And then I started writing about the murder, "honor slaying," and the LGBT struggle that is obviously close to Krokidas's heart, one he likes to see Ginsberg as a kind of patriot of. Then I tried writing about the boy's club idealism of the Beats--how the women in Darlings might as well be cardboard and what it means when one of the most "radical" literary movements of the post-WW2 era was still imprinted with an essentially sexist tradition. I started writing about a lot of things this movie brings up, but couldn't quite figure how well--or even if--it stuck together in one strand.

It's always a peculiarly frustrating sign when, trying to write about a movie I actually really did enjoy, all I keep coming up with are the bits and pieces I'd fashion differently--stuff to cut out and other stuff to flesh out. The real Beats are already a problematic circle-jerk, and so idolized it's hard to imagine any honest portrayal of them that doesn't seem the complete caricature or cliché. Burroughs here, for instance, seems the usual decadent nerd with a heart mostly of ice, while Kerouac just seems the reckless hooligan, even with a slew of poorly punctuated pages to show for it. Lou, on the other hand, is portrayed as an overrated sycophant and queen in denial, all pomp and pretension. He shows signs of a potentially brilliant mind, but lazy one--unwilling even to write his own papers, or, finally, his own murder deposition. Dane Dehaan rivets in the role, sizzles with dandyism and hotness, but still warrants a continual eye-roll.

Moreover, the film deals with these boys among boys with a certain insistent wistfulness. The camera work is soaking with those umber, burgundy and sepia hues we've come to expect from period and bookish dramas. Its characters are consistently ornamented in tweed and flannel--continually drawn in herringbone and accented by rich mahoganies around them. The whole thing seems rather devoid of any criticism of the boys we know will immortalized each other as the Beats. You can tell Krokidas has nothing but love for these writers, bloated with tenderness, even atop a bloody landmark in their history. He regales their ambition and debauchery; he skims over most of their shortcomings. Its earnest and careful, but all ends up looking like worship and indulgence, a hyperbole of nostalgia, and almost borders on fan fiction. Almost.

Daniel Radcliffe, Darlings Ginsberg, is the picture's saving grace. It revolves around him as he revolves around Lucien and what he reaps. Thankfully, he manages to ground it. He seems the one thoroughly vetted part of the writing here, and where his ensemble of fellers toot horns and lather arrogance, he just seems the bookish, earnest young thing trying to figure out the man he is--a reader trouncing along for a sign of the poet he becomes before our eyes.

Basically, Radcliffe gives us a person, one who isn't ashamed to point out Ogden Nash giddily, or to be gay, or to show love. Where the film's version of Carr may push for and inspire his blossoming with his wild pageantry, we get to watch Radcliffe's Ginsberg ultimately end up way braver on his own, bringing the truth required to embody who these young libertines aimed to become. When his literature professor quotes the film's Faulker crux, "In writing, you must kill your darlings," he scribbles it down dutifully and carries its meaning through for Krokidas, writing up his own darlings as we all know he would.

Sometimes a script just needs someone to carry it. We are fortunate Harry Potter believed in John Krokidas and was willing to show up for a bit of heavy lifting.

This review was written by David Bradford.

Discussion

13 Comments

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