It’s 1944, you’ve just been accepted into Columbia University. The dream of becoming a writer in your own right (as your father was a poet) is fast becoming a reality. Columbia bears the prestige and excitement that you have always dreamed of, but you’re young and mildly impressionable, and you’re searching; searching for the soul who gets what it is to be you. That person who understands the grit of life and doesn’t shy from the shame that splinters your soul, who utters the word cock with a certain reverence that the Belle Epoque writers of Paris, like Rimbaud and Mallermé used so seamlessly also. You’re overwrought to find a saviour, a kin, a partner-in-crime.
John Krokidas’ film Kill Your Darlings, premiered at Sundance two days ago. The film focuses on the life of a young Allen Ginsberg, passionately played by Daniel Radcliffe. Kudos to Radcliffe for giving such life and vulnerability to Ginsberg as his seduction of youth and New York City is perfectly captured. The film begins as a murder-mystery where we’re introduced Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), or as he affectionately liked to be called, “Lu.” If you’re not sure of the actual events that surround this story, the film beautifully begins to draw out the tale, from the very beginning; the genesis.
Lu, a complacent fellow Columbia student, is filled with ennui for an establishment that is, for him, of the “old world”. He is feverishly seeking to start a revolution; a new order of thinkers and writers who are unlike any before them. He and Ginsberg are both craven for that change, so he surmises that he will take young Ginsberg under his wing and they instantaneously bond over Whitman and Yeats’ cycle of life. Lu takes Ginsberg to a party and introduces him to a drug induced William Burroughs (It needs to be said that Burroughs is brilliantly played by one of the most underrated actors I have ever seen on screen, Ben Foster; his physicality of Burroughs is eery as it is superb) and an interesting and mysterious character named David Kammerer (Michael C Hall), who, like Ginsberg, is enamored and sexually fixated on Carr. Later in the film we meet Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) a fledgingly talented college football star and therein the creation of the beat generation begins.
The presence of Kammerer is phantasmic, and Carr begins to embody more and more agitation as the story progresses. We understand that there is an unspeakable bond between the two, but Kammerer is impassioned and consumed by Carr, while the latter seems stifled and bored. Simultaneously, Ginsberg is at odds with the situation, feeling drawn so powerfully by Carr, his awareness of his own sexuality becomes a beacon and turning point in his life and we see how formative this time was for him as a creator and young man.
Unlike other “beatnik” genre inspired films, Kill Your Darlings is an authentic, well researched and honourable tribute. It’s evident that Krokidas (who wrote the film along with Austin Bunn) sourced material to give this story a nuanced and innovative outlook on four men, gay and straight, who dared to create, dream and devise the beginning of a literary powerhouse, to become iconoclasts of a generation. The nature of the film being a murder-mystery perhaps gives a unique context to fully explain how Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs were all tangentially connected, affected, and thus impacted, and the result that it had on their work and literary history.