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Film Review: 'Kill Your Darlings'

Janet Lee |
October 12, 2013 | 9:53 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Ben Foster as William Burroughs, Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr in "Kill Your Darlings" (Sony Pictures).
Ben Foster as William Burroughs, Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr in "Kill Your Darlings" (Sony Pictures).
“To be reborn, you have to die first,” Lucien Carr states in "Kill Your Darlings."

Throughout our lives, there are several beginnings and endings. The cycle of death and rebirth is a part of our existence that never fail to break us and make us.

In his first feature film as director, co-writer, and co-producer, John Krokidas presents the origins of the Beat Generation that brought together iconic writers Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac in “Kill Your Darlings.” Krokidas illustrates the chilling reality of how the things that you try to let go, only circle back and return to you.

READ MORE: Film Review: 'Runner Runner' 

Based on true events, the film follows Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), who leaves the confines of home to pursue his creative dreams at Columbia University where a literary revolution and murder changes the course of his and his colleagues' lives. When arriving, Allen expresses spite against his professor’s traditional approach of meter and rhyme in poetry.

“There can be no creation before imitation,” Professor Steeves (John Collum) states. Allen’s feelings coincide with classmate, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) who enraptures him with his charisma, good looks, and rebellious nature. 

Lucien introduces Allen to his avant-garde friends, William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), who rebel against the systematic rules in literary academia by immersing themselves in unconventional artistry through drugs, alcohol, sexuality, and criminality. They essentially come to embody Professor Steeves’ ideology, imitating the Renaissance to create a literary revolution—the New Vision. 

The relationship between Lucien and Allen grows intensely complex by the presence of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), an old friend who obsessively keeps Lucien under his wing and exposes Lucien’s vulnerabilities. Matters only worsen as Lucien tries to cut ties from him. A murder case involving members of the New Vision reveal Lucien’s predispositions and dark past that ultimately puts Allen in a position where he must choose to stay or walk away. 

Radcliffe, who takes on an ambitious role after Harry Potter, has the fuel to drive the story but not enough to evoke genuine emotion. His emotions and actions, particularly towards Lucien, are confusing at times. We struggle to decipher them, which hinders his character development.  

And perhaps it’s due to the fact that the film tries too hard to move us. Krokidas creates overdramatic scenes that often make the film feel cliché and fictitious. It threatens the characterization of the players. 

The film only manages to hold together by the grace of Lucian, in whom Krokidas does well in constructing a powerful, dangerous, and juxtaposing character. DeHaan gives an impressive performance, as a broken soul with dangerous charisma. The death and rebirth motif is especially prevalent in Lucian. “I’m only good at beginnings, ” he explains. He needs but never wants which amounts to broken endings. He possesses a lot of depth that makes him an intriguing character to watch. 

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Although the film does not do very well in execution, it holds universal themes and messages and an intriguing character that manages to connect with the audience.

“Kill Your Darlings” premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The film opens in select theaters on October 16th.  

Watch the trailer for “Kill Your Darlings” below. 

Reach Staff Reporter Janet Lee here. Follow her on Twitter



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