John Krokidas' film, Kill Your Darlings is a frenetic account of the relationship between Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr during Ginsberg's freshman year at Columbia. In addition to ultimately being an intense true-crime chronicle, Kill Your Darlings is also an overview of some of the greatest Beat writers, in the early days of their literary revolution.
Although I've been itching to see this film since hearing about it's release in 2013, I didn't really have any expectations. I was excited to see Daniel Radcliffe in a role outside of the Harry Potter franchise, but didn't have any preconceived notions about this particular film. After viewing it, I am pleasantly surprised at how great this film really is.
While doing some research, I found that not only did they shoot Kill Your Darlings in 24 days on the Columbia campus, but this is John Krokidas' first film. Nothing about Kill Your Darlings feels like a first film.
The film begins with a young Ginsberg being accepted into Columbia university. Ginsberg is eager to get out into the world and even more eager to escape the suffocating effects of his mentally unstable mother (played wonderfully by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and his moderately well-known poet father (played by David Cross). Young Ginsberg struggles with being an American Jew during WWII, the desperate need to fit in and the contrasting & at times, combative view points of his professors.
Ginsberg finally finds a friend in Lucien Carr (played by Dane Dehaan), a charismatic upper class student who has been expelled from more schools than you can count and who seemingly has a romantic relationship with a brilliant, yet tortured and perhaps obsessive David Kammerer (played by William C. Hall). As the film progresses, we see a previously straight-laced Ginsberg happily going down the highway of vice with Carr in the drivers seat. Ginsberg & Carr plan to start a revolution, beginning with a "new vision". Ginsberg, Carr & friends take mind-altering drugs & have near death experiences in an attempt to influence their writing. We also see the progression of sexual awakening and discovery in Ginsberg.
Kill Your Darlings is full of stand-out performances like Ben Foster as William S. Burroughs in all his Nitros Oxide-huffing & morphine-shooting glory and Jack Huston & Elizabeth Olsen as Jack Kerouac & Edie Parker. Dane Dehaan plays Carr in such a way that the viewer is in a constant state of feeling sorry for him and hating his guts. His obvious self-loathing makes him pitiable, but the viewer must ultimately decide if he's forgivable. Finally, even though Radcliffe spends the entire film in glasses, sweaters and slacks, I never once thought about his role in Harry Potter.
While several films in the last few years have portrayed the Beat generation as adventurers, free spirits and gin-soaked geniuses, this film definitely takes a different tone. While the film adequately denotes the tone of the world that the Beats were writing in and the fun they no doubt had while doing it, Kill Your Darlings never quite seems to buy into the hype and, at times, seems to ward against it.
If you are a lover of the beat writers, I encourage you to check this film out. I look forward to seeing more from Krokidas in the future because if Kill Your Darlings is any indication, he's a writer/director to watch.