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Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings (2013)
dir. John Krokidas

Kill Your Darlings is a film that seeks to tell the fascinating story of the early Beat Generation, which consisted of several famous literary minds who dominated counterculture in the 1950s, including poet Allen Ginsberg (Howl and Other Poems) and authors Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and William S Burroughs (Naked Lunch).

It begins in the 1940s at Columbia University, when Ginsberg first comes in contact with the charismatic and entrancing Lucien Carr, and is instantly besotted with Carr’s wild nature and charm. Carr, in turn, introduces Ginsberg to the wild world of sex, drugs, and off-the-beaten-path poetry, along with William S Burroughs, a wealthy drug addict, and Jack Kerouac, an alcoholic ex-navy author who oozes machismo. These people, in turn, become Allen’s closest friends and fellow artists as they seek to defy the literary norms of their day and accomplish a sort of “poetic revolution”. This is all accompanied by a lot of smoldering eyes between Ginsberg and Carr, and also the slow reveal of Carr’s troubled backstory, including his former suicide attempt and the dysfunctional (and possibly abusive) relationship between he and his lover/stalker David Kammerer.

Sounds complicated in writing like that, but it isn’t at all.

What is complicated, though, is my feelings toward the film. I was vaguely familiar with the story going into the movie, so if you aren’t you might have had a different experience than me, but it really did sort of taint the ending for me. The historical details of what happened go like this: Lucien Carr was abandoned by his father as a small child and raised by a fairly absentee mother, until eventually he came to meet David Kammerer when he was 14 and Kammerer was 28, since Kammerer was his Boy Scout leader. Kammerer emotionally manipulated Carr, who’d never had a father figure and was also emotionally unstable himself, into a weird co-dependent relationship that Carr couldn’t escape. No matter where Lucien went, David followed and enticed him back into the relationship with whatever he wanted: presents, emotional payoff, even a trip to Mexico. This relationship, and Carr’s own mounting shame over it and self-blame, led to a suicide attempt that David saved him from. Lucien’s mother then sent him to New York, where David once again followed, only now things get interesting.

Now comes the part when Carr gets older and the dynamic becomes different, when he’s charismatic and brilliant and establishing relationships outside of David Kammerer, at just about the time that Kammerer’s mental health is really starting to unravel. When Carr tried to break off their relationship once more, Kammerer tried to murder Jack Kerouac’s cat in retaliation - throwing that in there to emphasize the “crazy unstable guy” thing.

Eventually this all led up to Lucien stabbing David multiple times in a park with a Boy Scout Knife, then dumping him in the Hudson River, where he drowned.

In the movie, though, and this is my biggest problem with it, Carr’s murder of David Kammerer is depicted as his anger and shame over his own sexuality leading him to kill his lover, which is then brushed aside as “straight guy defends his honor against rampant gay rapist/stalker” by the media and everyone else. Which is way, way an oversimplification of what happened. At one point. Ginsberg, who is wonderfully portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, remarks to Carr’s mother, who has just him about Kammerer’s abusive history,, “He didn’t have to stick with him, did he?” As in, he could have left any time. Just like, “women who are being abused can just leave, so it’s their fault.” Which is crap.

Now, I’m not saying that Carr was the innocent hetero kid who bravely defended his honor, that entire story was a crock of hooey cooked up to save Lucien from the electric chair. My understanding of what really happened was that he was a troubled but brilliant kid who was locked in an abusive relationship that went way, way bad. It just really rubbed me the wrong way, though, that the film brushed off all the abuse and manipulation involved in the really complicated relationship between Carr and Kammerer and just made it, “REPRESSED HOMOSEXUAL RAGE DAMN LOOK AT THAT POLITICAL POINT I JUST MADE”. It just completely glosses over all the messy stuff about the story.

As for the movie itself, I did like it. A lot. Like, I’m going to buy it on DVD a lot, which is a big compliment from me. Even though Daniel Radcliffe was the top-billed actor, this was Dane Dehaan’s movie, and he portrayed Lucien Carr expertly. The script was good, the story (save my dislike of the ending) was good, and overall, it was just a really, really good movie.