Out with the old, and in with new. That is the mantra for “Kill Your Darlings,” John Krokidas’ writing and directing debut chronicling the turbulent college years of one of the Beat Movement’s most influential poets: Allen Ginsberg. Set in World War II era New York City, Krokidas and writing partner Austin Bunn craft a remarkable true story about love, friendship, and an unspeakably grisly murder. With powerful performances from Daniel Radcliff and Dane DeHaan, “Kill Your Darlings” manages to deal with some very heavy topics — suicide, homosexuality, and drug use — all while maintaining a narrative that appeals to the masses.
Krokidas’ flair for art of cinema is immediately evident. By choosing to open with a pivotal scene that comes much later in the film — Lucien Carr’s (Dane MeHaan) murder of his former lover David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) — dramatic tension is immediately on display. There is plenty left unanswered, but as a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliff) shouts at his best friend and fellow Columbia student, three jolting title cards spelling “Kill Your Darlings,” returns us six months earlier. This introduction is wholly artistic. The title cards fly at the audience, one at a time, and each hit like a punch to the face. Very reminiscent of Gasper Noe’s work in “Enter The Void,” Krokidas packs more energy in the first two minutes of his film than most manage to muster in an entire movie.
As the action shifts to Patterson, New Jersey, we are reintroduced to Allen on the same night that he is accepted into Columbia. For the dutiful son of working-class poet Louis Ginsberg (David Cross) and the mentally decomposing Naomi (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Columbia University is Mecca. It is everything he wants in life. A place where art, intellect, culture, and freedom coexist in equal parts. Even though his emotionally unstable mother pleads for him to stay at home, Allen decides to head to New York in order to pursue his creative dreams.
At Columbia, Allen finds that his idyllic image of the school clashes significantly with its overall stuffiness. Everything changes, however, during his first trip to the campus library. There, he meets Lucien Carr. Standing on top of a table reciting the sexually laced words of Henry Miller, Lucien is everything Allen expected to witness during his college experience. As the two become friends, Lucien takes Allen under his wing and introduces him to an entirely new way of living, thinking, and being. Along the way, he meets such legendary voices as Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). As Allen grows closer and closer to his college compatriot, their relationship begins to resemble something much more intimate and altogether unspeakable during that time period.
Completing this complex love-triangle is David Kammerer. The wealthy son of New York City royalty, David is immediately threatened by Allen’s presence. Being older, he cannot help but feel left out of Lucien’s new click of friends — the self-proclaimed “Libertine Circle.” Although not explicitly stated, Hall’s performance fully embodies the obsessive nature of Kammerer’s personality. Stepping out of his now iconic turn as a serial killer in Showtime’s Dexter, Hall is able to skillfully portray the saddening subtleties of an unrelenting lover. Even though the audience cannot help but feel sorry for the hopelessly-in-love character, Hall takes an on edge approach to his role. This forces the viewer to always second-guess every decision the man makes, and subsequently adds an entirely new dimension to his persona.
No two actors provide more on-screen chemistry, however, than Radcliff and DeHaan. With complex, mature turns in “Equus” and “The Woman In Black,” Radcliff further distances himself from the Harry Potter franchise with his promiscuous take on Ginsberg. “Kill Your Darlings” is very much a coming-of-age story, and there is no mistaking that Radcliff is truly coming into his own as an adult actor with interesting, multi-faceted roles like this one.
The British actor is at his best when interacting with DeHaan. With supporting roles in films like “Lincoln,” “The Place Beyond The Pines,” and “Lawless,” this is a breakout performance for the up and coming actor. Lucien is by far the most multifarious, tragic character in the film, and DeHaan succeeds in improving on the already elegant screenplay.
The future looks bright for the Yale educated filmmaker John Krokidas. “Kill Your Darlings” is an absolutely beautiful movie highlighted by unique performances from well-established actors and greenhorns alike. Just like the Beat Movement called for a change in the status quo, I am looking forward to seeing Krokidas disrupt the Hollywood system with future cinematic efforts.
By David Morris