Death and Beat’s birth drive ‘Kill Your Darlings’

Los Angeles TimesFebruary 14, 2014 

Daniel Radcliffe, from left, Dane DeHaan and Elizabeth Olsen star in “Kill Your Darlings.”

SONY

Early on in “Kill Your Darlings,” 18-year-old Allen Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is on a freshman orientation tour of the Columbia University library when a fellow student jumps on a desk and begins quoting Henry Miller. Shouting provocative language from a banned book in a staid library is not just a singular act of rebellion, it’s a glimpse of the literary anarchy to come and a look at Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), Ginsberg’s first love.

It is also U.S. circa 1944 – homophobic, sexually repressed, obsessed with convention, and about to be shaken by the Beat generation. The intellectual outrage of Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs in seminal works such as “Howl,” “On the Road” and “Naked Lunch” will come later. The movie is all about before. The birth pangs of Beat.

Director John Krokidas’ “Kill Your Darlings,” co-written with Austin Bunn, zeros in on the transformative year when Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs first meet. A smoky, sultry haze of jazz, sex, drugs, debates and death all swirl around the charismatic Carr, portrayed by DeHaan.

The film has an indie-appropriate ensemble, beginning with Radcliffe as the Beat poet, in his post-“Harry Potter” push to diversify. Jack Huston, of that legendary Hollywood family, is the raw-boned brute Kerouac. Ben Foster steps in as Burroughs, mumbling a few dry observations, but mostly minding the drugs that would enslave him and unleash him, chronicled unforgettably in “Junkie,” his first novel.

The story is anchored by Ginsberg’s coming of age and coming out. A shy, studious teen, his relatively cloistered upbringing undergoes a seismic shift upon entering the chaotic world of college with all its liberations, libations and frustrations. There is a kinetic, tabloid energy driving the action as Ginsberg’s sexual and intellectual passions rise. Imagery and editing deconstruct a scene of Ginsberg and Carr deconstructing language, for example. A wall filling up with words cut from pages of books is a visual fugue that rocks.

As does Lucien Carr. He is the catalyst for most of what happened that year, including the brutal death of his older lover, David Kammerer. Michael C. Hall surrenders his serial killing “Dexter” to take on the man who deflowers Carr as a boy, then follows him to New York and fuels his downfall.

The film begins with Kammerer dead, Carr behind bars and Ginsberg having written an account of the night in question. Whether it is fact or fiction, Carr knows it will destroy him. Their exchange over Ginsberg’s words ends in a scream. It’s clearly more complicated than that, and the narrative thread spends its time untangling the various entanglements.

Carr is one you might not know, his name prominent in Ginsberg’s initial dedication of “Howl.” Carr demanded it be removed. This is the man the movie is really about. Arrogant, entitled, impossible to resist, Lucien was the lithe blond boy they all loved a little too much, including the filmmakers.

Kill Your Darlings

* * *

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cross

Director: John Krokidas

Running time: 1:44

Rated: R; sexual content, language, drug use and brief violence

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service