SPOILER ALERT for those not familiar with the history of the Beat Poets (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac & William Burroughs) and the story of the Lucien Carr murder of David Kammerer.
To be honest, the main reason I went to see Kill Your Darlings this weekend is because Arclight Hollywood was hosting a Q&A with actor Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines) afterwards, and being in the same room with him would officially put me one degree away from the Hollywood love of my life – Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, The Amazing Spider-Man).
I had seen a few of Dane’s previous movies and was always impressed by his powerful and dark performances. However, at the end of Darlings I was spellbound. The movie follows poet Allen Ginsberg (played by Daniel Radcliffe) during his freshman year at Columbia University – where he meets the rest of the beat poet generation, including the charismatic and troubled Lucien Carr (Dehaan). Together they set forth to ignite a literary revolution, but instead find themselves tangled in the web of Lucien’s identity crisis which leads to the murder of their friend and Lucien’s ex lover David Kammerer.
I had Googled the story before I went and I knew the details were horrible. The real Lucien Carr only spent two years in prison for the murder, though he stabbed David and weighed the body down with rocks before drowning him in the Hudson River. He was able to get less time because he convinced the court it was an honor killing. In 1944, if a heterosexual man kills a homosexual man making “unwanted advances” you serve a lesser time in prison. It’s disgusting and disturbing and in print there’s no sympathy for Lucien to be found.
As disturbed as I was by the circumstances of the story, Dehaan gave a performance that was haunting. I’ve been talking about the movie non-stop since I saw it. Starting with the title sequence (which you can see below) and the first time he says Allen, with his voice breaking like that, it chills to the bone. It’s only two syllables but you can hear the absolute terror in them. His life is over if Allen hands in that statement. Lucien will be forced not only to spend the rest of his life in prison but he’ll have to come to terms with who he really is – and the idea of that is so paralyzingly petrifying that he killed a man to stop it from happening.
I have absolutely no idea what it is like to be a closeted gay man, especially in the 1940s. But we are exploring fear this week on Intent, and this movie has made me think a lot about the power we give fear
. Lucien is the most extreme
example of what can happen if we let ourselves be controlled by fear. Even before the murder Lucien has to banish the things and people he loves most from his life because he’s scared of being honest with himself and the world (granted, coming out of the closet in 1944 was virtually impossible). But that is the great thing about movies, especially ones like this. They enable us to use the cinematic drama to examine ourselves – our flaws, our weaknesses and the state of our own human condition. Are we as deeply troubled as Lucien Carr? I very sincerely hope not, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from him and this story.
I’ve been asking myself since Saturday night what fear do I let control me? I’m afraid that as badly as I want to be a screenwriter that I don’t have the talent or the gumption to make it. I am afraid of being alone forever. I am afraid of being rejected or finding out the people I love and respect most honestly don’t like me. And these fears have a daily impact on my life. This weekend I spent more time playing Candy Crush Saga than I did working on my screenplay treatment outline. I absolutely refuse to fill out an OkCupid profile even though I’ve read a quarter of my generation now meets their significant other online. I sulked home alone eating chocolate chip cookies instead of going to a good friend’s improv show because the group didn’t invite me to join.
By themselves these seem like small meaningless choices. Confronting these fears that I harbor is the first step in making braver choices in my life. It’s the key to embracing the good things I have around me and going after the things I desire, after my passions and after dreams.
Take a moment today and think about the choices you’ve made in the past week. Which ones have you made out of fear and which ones have you made in spite of it? Pick one of the former and find a way to change it. I’ve made a pact with myself that there will be no Candy Crush Saga until I’ve outlined at least one scene or mapped a character for my movie. I’ve made a pact with myself to no longer be held back by fear.
Kill Your Darlings was released October 16.
Photo from Tumblr.