When I first heard about the Beat Generation, I imagined them as society’s first rebels. The hippies of the 1940s and 1950s who happened to write thought-provoking poetry. What I didn’t know was what drew the original trio together- murder. In John Krokidas’s directorial debut, the film follows future Beat poet Allen Ginsberg as he experiences sex, drugs, and morbidity in New York City with fellow Beat poet Lucien Carr. With impressive performances by Daniel Radcliffe as Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Carr, “Kill Your Darlings” is far from greatness but proves that these actors will have enduring careers.
A derangement of the senses
Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe) is new to Columbia University. Finally living away from his mentally ill mother and his published poet of a father, he quickly befriends fellow student Lucien Carr (DeHaan). An eccentric young poet, Carr frequents NYC’s jazz nightclubs with fellow Beat poet William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster). To introduce Ginsberg to NYC’s nightlife, Carr takes him to a party hosted by David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), an older man who admires the young Carr. He follows Carr from school to school in Maine, Massachusetts, and now New York. As soon as they meet, Ginsberg and Carr are drawn together. Their relationship teeters the homoerotic as they create the Beat movement with Burroughs and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston).
The New Vision
Daniel Radcliffe has been impressing me lately. He reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt when he did all those indie films after “3rd Rock from the Sun”. Radcliffe plays Ginsberg very convincingly with a great American accent, curly hair, and a budding homosexuality. He makes Ginsberg a complex character triangulated by his time, his sexuality, and his poetry. You will no longer see Radcliffe as the wand-wielding wizard once you see him furiously make out with DeHaan and partake in a man-on-man sex scene. Instead, you’ll see him as a young man taking his profession seriously.
Dane DeHaan is the same way. Maybe because of his breakout role in “Chronicle”, he can play tortured and enigmatic characters with ease. Carr had a tumultuous relationship with Kammerer, who was around 15 years his senior. He was extremely charismatic and attracted both Kammerer and Ginsberg with deadly results. DeHaan creates a manipulative yet vulnerable character stuck in a tricky situation where audiences don’t know if they should root for him.
Art eludes conventional morality
Krokidas’s direction was adequate. Breathtaking and unique it was not. However, it was a worthy debut that showed his chops. The story is touted as the beginning of the Beat generation but it really is about Carr’s relationship with Kammerer and Ginsberg’s relationship with Carr set within the context of the movement they started. Hall’s portrayal of Kammerer was convincing as a homosexual stalker but he’s had experience playing obsessed individuals so I would’ve like to see something more dynamic and original from him. Huston’s Kerouac, who had an important role in the formation of the Beat movement, was not given sufficient screen time and seemed to be nothing but a throwaway character. The cinematography was executed proficiently, adding a psychedelic aspect when the protagonists were high on drugs.
“Kill Your Darlings” explores an often celebrated American literary movement, and Krokidas shows its macabre beginnings with skill. It’s an enjoyable film but I wondered why he chose to tell this particular story. In any case, the film showcases the main actors’ potential. I believe Radcliffe and DeHaan will go on to have great careers and I can only hope the same for Krokidas. Despite its shortcomings, the film is good entertainment that simply acts as a stepping stone for the actors and director.