Can you imagine a more shattering experience than the death of your child? When you lose a child, you become a different person. There is no going back to the way you were before. It is a wound that no one ever recovers from. This is the subject of Rabbit Hole a film currently showing in the theaters.
Before it became a move, it was a Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play. It was also the subject of the 2007 French Film, Apres Lui. And before then it was treated in the highly praised Ian McEwan novel, The Child in Time. Like the couple in Rabbit Hole, the couple in McEwan’s novel, whose child disappears one day, grow apart following their loss.
Mc Ewan writes, The loss had driven them to the extremes of their personalities. Now there was no mutual consolation, no touching, no love. Their old intimacy, their habitual assumption that they were on the same side, was dead. They remained huddled over their separate losses, and unspoken resentments began to grow.
It is the way the couples diverge in response to the loss of their child, the kind of loss that makes normal life impossible, that captured my greatest sympathies in the film. Normally, you would expect them to come together. But in both fictional accounts, they don’t.
Six months ago Danny, the four-year old son of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aron Eckhart) in Rabbit Hole, was killed by a car as he was rushing into the street to retrieve his ball. Becca is trying to forget Danny, to erase all vestiges of his life, while Howie continues to grieve.
He does not want to get rid of Danny’s clothes or toys or postings on the refrigerator door as Becca does. He continues to attend a support group; Becca stays home. The disagreements, sometimes violent, continue to escalate. There is no coming together, no shared grief, only further and further drifting apart.
How can one understand this? Is there some reason why both McEwan and David Linday-Abaire, the author of the theatrical Rabbit Hole, chose to depict the loss of a child this way? Yes, it is almost impossible to ever recover from such an event. But why in this divergent fashion? Does it reflect a fundamental difference in their personalities, a difference that existed well before their marriage?
It is easier to understand the connection sought in both Apres Lui and Rabbit Hole when the women begin to stalk the person who was responsible, albeit both accidental, for the death of their son. In Apres Lui, the divorced Camille (Catherine Deneuve), searches for her son’s friend who was driving the car when he was killed in an accident. She hires him to work in her bookshop, cooks meals for him, and arranges to pay for his college tuition.
In Rabbit Hole, Becca follows the school bus that brings her teenage son’s friend home from school each day. Eventually they begin meeting at a park bench. One day he brings her a graphic novel that he had made. Together they try to recover from an experience from which there is no recovery. When Howie learns of their meetings, he becomes enraged which serves only to increase the distance between them,
People react differently to the same event, to a story they are reading or to a tragedy they experience. Sometimes a tragedy as devastating as the death of your child can create a gap that can never be closed. While the marriages did not collapse in Rabbit Hole or The Child in Time, we know they will never be the same.