Sometimes it just takes some distance. It’s easy to idolize immortal influences, but it’s easy gloss over the more humanizing details. Even the lost souls don’t always perform to romanticize themselves. When it comes to The Beats, the wild and literary revolutionists, they’ll forever be remembered as those who indulged in the discomfort of their own skin. They wrote, toked and fucked their way into bohemian legacy. And while John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings, a new film about Allen Ginsberg’s origins, has plenty of issues, it at least slips the idea that those idols were something other than troubled geniuses.
Kill Your Darlings is the latest in a recent line of films about the poetic and enigmatic generation. Films like like Howl and On the Road portrayed their subjects (Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Ginsberg, et all) like gods, and they were far too anxious to do much of anything interesting aside from regurgitating the prose. Krokidas’ film focuses on one of the generation’s lowest moments instead of clinging on to a specific work, making it sound like a fresh new verse in many ways.
Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) has been accepted to Columbia, leaving his parents behind and becoming immediately uncomfortable by the rigid academia. Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a radical and flamboyant soul, introduces Ginsberg to the undercurrent and people who will join together in establishing a legendary counterculture. However, it also sets the stage for the murder of Carr’s lover, complicating an already complex chapter of Allen’s life.
There are many gestures that undermine the ultimate gravity of the film. It is his first feature length film, so it makes sense that Krokidas liberally uses techniques one could easily describe as gimmicky, but there’s an unforthcoming sense that the film would rather cosy up to a younger film going crowd, constantly throwing softball dialogue to get character details in any way possible. The most offensive maneuver for modern youths, however, is the choice of music. I would have assumed using jazz in a beat film would be a given, but you’re more often treated to TV on the Radio and other songs they currently use to sell sneakers.
Where Darlings scores it’s biggest points is not from a boldness of style, but with content. It’s incredibly charming to see rookie versions of Beats making mischief, but it’s also refreshing to see them humbled. There is a moment when Burroughs, (Ben Foster, doing one of the best Burroughs after countless takes), who’s usually depicted as a Cheshire Cat in cinema, is barked at by his father and he winces, something I can’t recall ever seeing.
For being confident enough to humble old legends, Kill Your Darlings succeeds. I only wish it had as much bravery in second-guessing its younger viewers, often thought to neglect anything harder to swallow than a pill.