“I love first times. I want my entire life to be composed of them,” says Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) in the new drama Kill Your Darlings.
The film itself is packed with first times for its main character Allen Ginsberg, played by an admirable Daniel Radcliffe. Ginsberg, a young writer here, spends most of his time facing new experiences and becoming more self-aware in this dark and moody movie where everything and nothing seems to be in order.
It’s a far cry from the radical Ginsberg would become. The new film keeps the focus on his formative years, not the political battles he’d choose during the second half of his life.
Radcliffe, who easily sheds his Harry Potter past the first time we see him, embues his character with a cold meekness that comes across in nearly every scene. At first, Ginsberg feels trapped in Paterson, NJ in 1943. His mentally unstable mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) relies on him while his father, a published poet played by the comedian David Cross, wonders how to survive when his wife questions his daily motives.
Ginsberg finally feels the freedom he craves when Columbia University accepts him as a student and he heads off to school. The shy Ginsberg quickly befriends the high-strung Carr, who presents him to a world of music and vividness that Ginsberg had never known.
Soon enough, the two are planning to take over the writing world, tossing aside the complacent history of poetry and hoping to violently reinvent it. Meanwhile, an older man named David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) stands over Carr’s shoulders, hoping that Carr will return his physical affections. Carr rejects his attention time and again but Kammerer tragically persists.
For Potter fans, this is a complete departure for Radcliffe, who has sought to challenge himself more over the past several years. He succeeds here in creating a sensitive but flawed character whose own frailties help shape his personality. Ginsberg–standing alongside Carr–attempts suicide early on, for instance, because of his mother’s hospitalization but grows to become more sure of himself physically and sexually. Indeed, the character’s homosexuality plays a major role in the latter half of the story.
The story succeeds in part because director John Krokodis, making his feature film debut here, treats the characters with the idealism and naivety they deserve. At this point in his life, Ginsberg is slowly becoming himself and the powerful writer he would grow up to be. He’s experimenting with drugs and alcohol here and his entire being is being transformed as he becomes friends with fellow writers like Carr, Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster).
As the story takes place, none of these people realize who they will eventually become or the fame they will eventually learn to accept. They simply think outside of the standard way of thought, believing that their professors and the ordinary people around them have grown complacent in their ideas and in the manufacturing of writing.
Killl Your Darlings is clearly not a story that everyone will enjoy, especially the young people who will always believe that Radcliffe is Potter. But for those who are willing to open their minds to an origin story about the Beat Generation, this is a powerful and insightful film about young people who were never satisfied with the status quo. They didn’t accept it and that resistance led them to become world-famous authors.