Norman, Oklahoma, U.S.A. – On one of the many solitary nights most of our world has been confined to this summer, I was on my usual quest for a good film when I came across the 2013 biographical drama, Kill Your Darlings.
After seeing the cast and trailer, I started to watch the film. By the end I was slightly disappointment that I had not come across this movie earlier. It is one of the most remarkable films I have watched.
Written by Austin Bunn – and with a directorial debut for John Krokidas – Kill Your Darlings captures the influential writers of the beats generation at their early stages of development during Allen Ginsberg’s time at Columbia University.
Despite what one would guess, the plot does not solely focus on the poetic journey of the real-life characters the film portrays. Instead, it goes on a parallel course, presenting both their artistic development as well as their personal lives.
The plot is centered on Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), their meeting at Columbia, the role they play in inspiring each other and others around them with regards to literature. It explores their close and complicated relationship and personal lives.
It would be lax not to also mention the character of Michael C. Hall (David Kammerer) his complex role in Lucien’s life, and his murder, a vital event which the film leads up to.
Without question, the beat generation played an important role influencing the post-war cultural atmosphere in the U.S. The film offers this context through a historic timeline and series of events.
It’s important to consider how well this film depicted such a momentous life journey.
A critical element of the film – its setting – could not have been better utilized as we see the scenes at Columbia and the areas of New York well incorporated and setting the mood.
We have a well-organized view of the rooms at the characters’ respective dorms and flats where we see 1940s New York. Beyond that are the jazz bars, streets, and parks of New York that helps viewers feel the true emotions of the characters in that time.
The scene where Ginsberg, Carr, and Jack Kerouac steal a small boat to go into the water under the night sky is an aesthetically perfectly moment that can appeal to any viewer with an eye for nature. The film further emphasizes the setting by having a map of New York in Ginsberg’s room, and referring multiple times to the sites where the characters go on their adventures.
Beyond setting, other elements of the film such as the acting, soundtrack, and cinematography, were equally pleasant.
In portraying Ginsberg, Radcliff’s own famous personality did not outshine the character. Instead, Radcliff’s acting was far and beyond extraordinary, giving the viewer a sense of understanding of Ginsberg at the time.
Some viewers may even remember Radcliffe more for his role as Ginsberg than for other appearances by the end of the film. This remarkable quality acting is not only shown by Radcliffe, but also by other actors in the film, who give viewers well-rounded and incredible performances.
In terms of soundtracks, the film had a good compilation of tunes, including jazz and pop-punk revival. A personal favorite on the soundtracks was the M83 remix song, “Pioneers” during the final parts of the film where Ginsberg writes his account of the relationship between Carr and Kemmerer and the events that took place during their confrontation by Riverside Park, Manhattan.
In an early scene, discussing a bestselling poet of the time who had just walked into the bar, Ginsberg and the rest of the group express their disapproval of his work being given such status. Carr suggest bringing to light the works of writers the group admires more in hopes of outshining works by the poet who had just entered the scene.
Continuing his speech, Carr expressed his idea to use writing as a form of defiance to the standard narrative of the time, suggesting “new words and rhythms,” what he would call the “New Vision.”
This would be the start of the group’s revolution and the turning point in the film that leads to the storyline of an incredible era of history, urban culture, and poetry.
Kill Your Darlings is a well-balanced portrayal of the beat generation at an early stage, their values of anti-economic materialism, drug experimentation, passion for literature, sexual exploration, and expression of the human condition.
It also provides an appealing illustration of the personalities of the characters and their families, friendships, introspection and self-discovery, poetic admiration, sexuality, and libertarianism. This wide-reaching view makes Kill Your Darlings not only inviting to a large audience, but also at least somewhat relatable for most viewers.
Dawit Leake is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.