Collage by Chloe
I know there was a time in my life before I had watched this film, but before that, I can honestly say I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I was suffering from the biggest creative block of my life and hadn’t heard, seen or done anything remotely inspiring. I finally watched Kill Your Darlings a couple of days ago, and became so enthralled by what I’d just seen that I watched it again (and again, and again) in the space of five days.
The film centers around the three famous writers of the Beat Generation before they were even named the Beat Generation – Allen Ginsberg, (Daniel Radcliffe) Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Boroughs (Ben Foster) – as well as the man who introduced them all in order to begin a literary revolution, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). As well as the beginning of the Beats, the film focuses on Carr’s relationship with David Kammerer, (Michael C. Hall) an older man who stalked Lucien for several years as part of the extremely complicated and ill-defined relationship the two had. The catastrophic end of this relationship is what began the careers of the three writers previously mentioned, which is why writer/director John Krokidas and co-writer Austin Bunn rightly comment that it was surprising the story hadn’t been told before.
As well as the idea that true creativity shines out of darkness, (or in the words of Radcliffe portraying Ginsberg, “with death, comes rebirth”) the film depicts a whole array of meaningful themes including obsession, insecurity and adventure.
The accuracy of the film is certainly debatable as, for instance, the film spends a lot of time focusing on the relationship between Carr and Ginsberg, for which there is not a lot of information out there. However, historical accuracy becomes unimportant. Krokidas, when talking about the film, says he didn’t want Kill Your Darlings to be a biopic. If it was, I’m not sure I would love it as much as I do, because as well as the troubling events that these people experienced, what makes the film so captivating is the emotional intensity that the characters give in almost every scene.
For this, I have to praise the writers Krokidas and Bunn for remaining true to who the real people were at that age, but then presenting them as complex, flawed and relatable human beings as opposed to writers we’ve heard of and who’s work we vaguely understand.
I also have to praise the outstanding performances from the entire cast, particularly Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan. Daniel’s portrayal of Ginsberg speaks volumes to me as someone prone to being insecure and doubtful, and also gains my sympathy whenever he is badly hurt by Lucien in the midst of yet another complicated relationship. In turn, Dane provides an exceptional portrayal of Lucien Carr, a role that – despite incredible writing – would have no substance if it weren’t for Dane. Lucien Carr is a damaged and confusing person who before this film, I (like most people) knew nothing about, and if weren’t for Kill Your Darlings I never would. Having always been someone intrigued by complicated characters and drawn to writing them, both the fictitious and the real version of Lucien Carr break my heart.
This isn’t only because of what happens to him (and for the sake of keeping this spoil free, let’s just say that he deals with some pretty traumatic stuff) but because anybody who knows a lot about the Beat Generation agrees that Lucien had an incredible mind and should have been writer, or at least something more remarkable than he came to be. Writing can be a pretty open and vulnerable thing, and this is what probably led Lucien Carr to never write a word, as he was plagued with insecurity despite his extroverted persona. Lucien may never have had an interest in writing even at the beginning of the film, but he at least had ambition to leave a mark on the world in the form of the movement he and Allen created that they titled ‘The New Vision’, which we see in the film. But this comes crashing down as we see Lucien’s mental state deteriorate more and more.
Basically, I could talk about the significance of Lucien Carr and the complications of the relationships he had with everyone he knew for a long time, But instead I will just tell you this: watch Dane DeHaan play Lucien Carr, and if you don’t fall in love with him the same way the people around him do, I will personally deliver you a gold medal.
But let’s not forget how important and incredibly influential Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs are, because if it weren’t for this film, I fear I never would have discovered their work. And what they write is brilliant, but I’m not going to romanticize it or the writers’ themselves, or pretend that I understand all of it completely. But even if you dismiss their work as incoherent ramblings as many do, it’s important to remember how key they were in shaping modern literature. These guys were a group of people who decided to do things differently to everyone else (or as Dane DeHaan calls them, “the original hipsters”) and they succeeded in changing people’s minds. I absolutely love any story about people creating social change through literature or fashion or music or film and thanks to everyone who helped to create Kill Your Darlings, this one is told so well.
Not only is it a brilliant introduction to Beat history as well as a true display of the actors’ incredible talents, the film is so aesthetically pleasing – from 40s fashion to the incorporation of film noir towards the end of the film’s timeline.
Obviously, like all films, not everybody thinks Kill Your Darlings is as brilliant as I do. You might hate it and find that you cannot overlook some of its flaws, like the glaringly obvious pretentious dialogue or that parts of it are too cliché. Yet sometimes a film doesn’t need to be perfect, all it needs to do is enter your life at the right time.
So thank you John Krokidas and the entire cast of Kill Your Darlings, for re-inspiring me, introducing me to the Beat Generation and shining a light on a story that deserves to finally be told.