Kill Your Darlings is a daring project which attempts to bring to life the early years of three of the founding Beat authors, Allen Ginsberg and his contemporaries William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.
For many, the Beats helped to define a generation of defiance against the status quo of consumerism, sexual repression and conservatism associated with the post-war boom years.
Any attempt to bring their story to life is a steep challenge.
The plot centres on the murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr, that shaped the future of all three writers.
The two men were part of the underground Beat scene in Manhattan, and close friends of all three writers.
It was Ginsberg’s relationship with Lucien Carr that inspired him to later write his famous poem Howl, which lashed out against the pressure to conform within capitalist society.
The film follows young Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) from his impoverished home in Paterson, New Jersey to his first year at Columbia University on a scholarship.
Here he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a wealthy, hedonistic and temperamental young man who has already been expelled from two Ivy League universities.
Ginsberg is swept up in Carr’s whirl-wind life of downtown parties, jazz, drink, smoke—and, once he’s introduced to Burroughs, the amphetamine benzedrine.
Some scenes take on a scattered, jazz-like rhythm appropriate for the film’s Beat Generation theme. It also has moments of thriller-like suspension and others of high impact dramatic tension.
But it is all being painted too pretty and fantastical.
While the acting includes outstanding performances, at times the actors come across as if playing iconic characters from history rather than real people.
The closest it gets to grappling with the struggle which shaped Ginsberg’s poetry and made him such an iconic radical artist is its depiction of his relationship with Carr.
There is a strong connecton between the two. The film shows their love as part of a mutual quest for new beginnings, within a society intolerant of homosexuality.
The most redeeming feature of the film is the way it portrays Ginsberg awakening to his sexuality and the pain of realising not only that his love is unaccepted in society, but his lover has murdered a friend, which will separate them permanently.
In this it begins to grasp the contradiction of the Beats: their hedonistic rejection of society could only go as far as they could will it to.
A quietly evocative film
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