I caught a screening of Kill Your Darlings last night as was surprised to find a film that had been written off by most of us who blog about the Oscars. The film received some good notices by critics but nowhere near enough to make it stand out amid the more buzzed about films this year. But it is a movie that should not be overlooked, no matter what the critics say.
The first thing you have to know about Kill Your Darlings is that it features a couple of standout performances – first among them, rising star Dane DeHaan is given a chance to really show what he is capable of as an actor. In a couple of years he will be the biggest thing in town. This was obvious from the short minutes he had in Spielberg’s Lincoln. Every so often an unknown comes along and you recognize that rare and necessary combination that will eventually launch them into the stratosphere. If you watch Kill Your Darlings, you will be knocked back by DeHaan. The film’s cinematographer luxuriated in DeHaane’s aqua blue eyes – the camera loves his face. But as you’ll see, it isn’t just about his looks. He embodies Lucien Carr, one of the many wild muses that inspired the Beat Poets, specifically the young Allen Ginsberg.
The same way Neal Cassady drives the passion of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, so did Lucien Carr drive Ginsberg’s early works as he worked to become one of America’s greatest poets. DeHaan is on fire as Carr, lit from within – fiercely sexual, blindingly beautiful – who could ever resist him. He matches the really brilliant dialogue throughout Kill Your Darlings. You will especially appreciate this screenplay if you appreciate poetry.
The second thing you should know about Kill Your Darlings is that the writer/director John Krokidas worked for nearly a decade writing this script with his collaborator Austin Bunn to reveal this mostly unknown chapter in the historical record of the Beats. For all of that work to have a dream project realized and for the critics to kind of just go: MEH, that might be a disheartening experience for Krokidas. I hope it isn’t. I hope that he continues to make films he feels so passionately about, and I hope he learns that the critics aren’t everything. Regular people out there will seek out this work and in some dark corners of the country it will blow the minds of young men and women just making their way in the world as they uncork the magical mystery tour of the Beat poets.
The third thing you should know about Kill Your Darlings is that its star, Daniel Radcliffe mostly undoes Harry Potter with an anal sex scene and tongue kissing DeHaan. You have to marvel at his artistic courage here. He appears as Ginsberg with not a trace of Harry Potter to be found. He’s grown up to be a fine and daring actor.
Finally, the lesson to be learned here is not to always trust the gatekeepers. If a film isn’t getting awards attention, or was discarded by the critics, that does not mean it isn’t worth your time. Think for yourself. You can only do that by braving untested waters. My reaction to this film after hearing zero buzz about it was that the critics got it wrong. I suspect Krokidas will prove them wrong one day with a body of work that reaches back to your Kill Your Darlings with an equal amount of awe.
Kill Your Darlings is a lovely, lyrical, strange and educational love story. Allen Ginsberg was discovering his own sexuality at a time when a straight man could get away with murder if he could prove a gay man came on to him and he got killed for it. Yet Ginsberg’s mind was ready to be blown and once it was uncorked, there was no stopping him.