Film review: Kill Your Darlings

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Kill Your Darlings

Reviewed by Krista Tanuwibawa

Edited by Siobhan Hodge

Film: Kill Your Darlings
Director: John Krokidas
Running Time: 104 minutes
Year of Release: 2013
Language: English

Kill Your Darlings is a dark drama set in 1940s New York, exploring the birth of the Beat generation of modern poetry, the young literary minds behind it, and the controversial murder of David Kammerer. An intriguing recount of literary history, we witness the coming of age of the hero of the film, Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) through these dramatic events.

The story unravels itself slowly. Adopting Ginsberg’s rather innocent point of view as a freshman at Columbia University, we see an amusing metamorphosis of a bright, timid and sober teenager to a confidently non-conformist poet who is unhesitant to drink and smoke all kinds of unfamiliar substances. His youthful rebellion leads him to acquaint with a circle of creative writers: Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, William S. Borroughs and David Kammerer.  Gradually, we are exposed to the complex troubles facing Ginsberg’s new friends, particularly his wild and elusive new muse, “Lou” Carr (Dane DeHaan). In combination with Ginsberg’s repressed desires, the relationships between these men lead to some destructive consequences.

There are some brilliantly crafted scenes in this film, ranging from sensitively warm moments to action scenes that will shift you to the edge of your seat, while some others are painfully surreal and graphically confronting. The cinematography and visualisation was sharp, actors’ performances superb, and the score appropriately jazzy. But despite this, I felt a little disappointed. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t personally empathise with any of the characters, but I found it to be emotionally lacking and slow-moving. Furthermore, some of the subplots and character relationships felt underdeveloped and needed stronger resolution, particularly between Ginsberg and his dysfunctional parents.

John Krokidas only makes an adequate effort in illustrating a vulnerable young Ginsberg who would later continue to write his poetry and challenge traditional social and literary ideas. If you’re curious about the poets of the Beat generation or are already familiar with the characters involved, this film may be worth a watch. Otherwise, while it may be an entertaining 103 minutes, the film’s resolution falls short of the potential it sets itself.

Kill Your Darlings is screening at Luna Leederville from 5 December.