In 1943, aspiring writer Allen Ginsberg metriculates at Columbia University and falls under the spell of fellow student Lucien Carr, falling into a web of drugs, ideals, and murder at the start of the Beat era.
Jack Krokidas, 2013
This film follows Allen (Daniel Radcliffe) from his home, with his poet father and mentally ill mother, to Columbia University, where he meets the mysterious and charismatic Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). Lucien introduces him to the wild world of Harlem, and his friends David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), William Burroughs (an unrecognisable Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). Led by Lucien, they decide to start a new revolution in writing that rejects tradition and embraces libertine ideals. Allen falls deeper in love with the wild Lucien, but he isn’t the only one, and soon enough the grand ideals of young men turn dark and ugly as Lucien’s mistreatment of the men around him comes back to haunt him.
One of the thoughts I had watching this film was that it was like watching a real life vampire film. Rather than feeding on blood, the beautiful and elusive Lucien feeds on men’s affections for him; he lures them in and drains them of their souls. He’s a sympathetic monster, but a monster nonetheless. Dane DeHaan is captivating in this film; for that matter, all the cast are good. Daniel Radcliffe balances boyish enthusiasm, manic talent, and unrequited lust as Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Huston is a brutish Jack Kerouac. Ben Foster particularly shines as William Burroughs, inhabiting the man and his suits so completely that I didn’t even know he was in the movie until the credits rolled. Their chemistry together ignites and sparks throughout, particuarly between Dan and Dane, who carry the movie ably. There’s just that sense of something bigger pulsing beneath the surface, untapped; the film builds the audience’s adoration and subsequent fear of Lucien in intriguing ways. The film is sensual, but surprisingly lacking in sex; the lines between friendship and love and obsession blur between the Beat men.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that this was John Krokidas’s first feature. There are some techniques that hit sour notes, feeling a little too artsy for the taut narrative. At times it looks beautiful, dazzling your senses and taking you down the rabbit hole, but to quote Ginsberg, you’re not in Wonderland. It’s an ugly story. It seems a little shallow to start with, making romantic heroes of these guys who are getting into dangerous territories; foolish boys playing with matches and then being surprised when they get burned. The music is wonderful, occasionally not period-appropriate but always thematically sound, and the soundtrack must be a blast. Some moments feel forced – we know this is the start of something that really was a movement, but it often comes off as boys at play, all surface and no depth to their ramblings. There are very few mentions of any of their actual work. Having done some reading since, I know that even the seedy world put on screen here isn’t an accurate reflection of just how disturbing a lot of things about these men and this time were – cultural appropriation, pedophilia, serious drug issues and mental illness are all problematic topics not even touched upon here. Also, far from passing the Bechdel test, the women in this film barely get a look-in (Lucien Carr was originally friends with Edie Parker, Kerouac’s girlfriend, who is played by Elizabeth Olsen in a thankless role). Still, it’s an interesting movie about a period I know very little of, and it’s enjoyable enough to watch these particular young actors at play.
Kill Your Darlings on IMDb