The Beat Generation was characterized by rejection of standards, modernism, drug experimentation, unconventional sexualities and explicit portrayals of the human condition. The Beats were made up by a small group of American writers who came to prominence post-World War II. Allen Ginsberg, (Howl) William S. Burrough (Naked Lunch) and Jack Kerouac (On the Road) are a few of the most well known. Before their rise to fame in the 1950s, however, these writers were brought together by a little-known murder case that happened around Columbia University in 1944.
These true events become the premise of director John Krokidas debut film, Kill Your Darlings.
After getting accepted to Columbia University, the innocent Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe, bearing no resemblance to his famous Harry Potter character), his mentally ill mother, (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and famous poet father (David Cross, Arrested Development) embark on what Ginsberg hopes to be his pathway to adulthood.
Starting off as the perfect student, Ginsberg attends classes regularly, says no to drugs and alcohol and steers away from anything that may break a rule. Becoming jaded by the conventional day-to-day happenings of the school, Ginsberg finds himself being pulled in by the troubled rule-breaker Lucien Carr, played by Dane DeHaan (The Place Beyond the Pines).
Carr brings Ginsberg into a world of sexual confusion, unlimited access to illicit drugs and a hankering to start a “writing revolution” to shake the social consciousness. This unconventional world brings together the future beat writers, Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), William S. Burrough (Ben Foster), Ginsberg and Carr, who then explore a new creative world of literacy that would be called the “New Vision.”
The revolution takes a back seat when David Kammerer, played by Michael C. Hall (Dexter), is introduced. Kammerer is an older gentleman who is mentally and sexually obsessed with Carr. He sees the other writers as a threat to his relationship with Carr and becomes overbearing. Finally fed up with the constant domineering of Kammerer, Carr discovers a way to get rid of his overbearing sexual mentor while taking down Kerouac, Burrough, and Ginsberg along with him.
The acting in this film is outstanding. The chemistry between Radcliffe and DeHaan, played out mostly in close-ups, is uncanny. The two actors bring a dark, moody and romantic quality to the film.
The film is set in the 1940s with costumes and set designs that match the era perfectly. Radcliffe’s Warby Parker vintage glasses and tucked in plaid shirts accurately match the appearance of the late Allen Ginsberg.
One of the best parts about the film, however, was its soundtrack. With a mix of classical (“Waltz No. 7 in C Sharp Minor” by Idil Biret) and modern music (TV On The Radio’s “Wolf Like Me”), the soundtrack brought the movie to life.
A downfall to this film however, is the seemingly sloppy-at-times voice match-ups. There are scenes where its obvious the actors did a voice over in the studio and the words don’t match their mouth movements. It’s a bit distracting, but the riveting acting and exceptional soundtrack outweigh the negatives.
The movie ends before any of the counterculture writers go on to form the Beat Generation, but the events clearly lead to Ginsberg’s most famous work, Howl, which he dedicated to Lucien Carr (who later asked to have his name taken out of all copies). This dark tale of the famous writers is worth the hour and 42 minute duration.
Kill Your Darlings is out on DVD now.