“Kill Your Darlings,” the little-known story of murder and literary giants Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and their friend Lucien Carr, premiered to a packed theater at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday -- and not just because Daniel Radcliffe (as Ginsberg) has a very explicit sex scene with Dane DeHaan (as Carr).
But that scene -- nude, passionate and extremely graphic -- is undoubtedly something that will be much talked about as a daring new frontier for the actor formerly known as Harry Potter. (Update on that very point: I've been informed that the sex scene is with someone who only looks like Carr but is in fact someone else Ginsberg picks up in a bar. Error conceded, with the observation that this was very hard to tell.)
The sex is complicated, like everything else in this ménage à quatre, depending on how you’re counting what and whom, all set at Columbia University in 1944.
Michael C. Hall plays David Kammerer, an older, obsessive admirer of Carr, a student at Columbia, who along with Ginsberg, Kerouac and William Burroughs is exploring the boundaries of literature and university rules.
Intense and manipulative, Carr coyly strings along admirers, who come to include the younger Ginsberg (Radcliffe, with curly hair and owlish glasses). How Carr ends up stabbing the jealous Kammerer to death on a dark night in a park along the Hudson River -- and is then aided by his friends in dumping the body and creating a self-defense argument -- is the crux of the story.
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The stabbing scene is intercut with the sex scene and another scene of Burroughs and Kerouac taking intravenous drugs, all drawing a transgressive parallel between the acts of penetration. It also makes the film itself somewhat transgressive.
“It is getting so hard in the studio culture to take a chance on voices that are unique, to tell stories that you haven’t seen a million times before,” said director John Krokidas (pictured above, at the far right) after the screening, thanking his benefactor, investor Michael Benaroya.
Benaroya, who fully financed the film, is one of the indie world’s latest wealthy young bucks willing to take a chance on a risky story. But even on a tight 24-day shoot, the high-end cast was on board quickly, including Ben Foster as Burroughs and Jack Huston as Kerouac.
The project started with Radcliffe envisioned as the young Ginsberg. DeHaan ("Lincoln," HBO's "In Treatment") landed the part within five minutes of his audition, Radcliffe said. “No one else had a chance” after that, he observed.
Hall said he auditioned and then, “I looked the director in the eye, and I said, ‘Don’t be an idiot, give me this part.’”
In fact, the Beat poets are having something of a renaissance, with “Kill Your Darlings” following close on the heels of “On the Road,” another tale from their lives.
This one, though, was obscured by the writers themselves and had to be put together piecemeal by news reports and their sketchy memoirs that appeared designed to protect Carr, a lifelong friend (and the father of novelist Caleb Carr), who later married and had a family.
“Like 'The Manchurian Candidate,' all their memoirs had one paragraph, and it was the same paragraph,” said Krokidas. “Lucien stayed friends with Allen until the end."
The movie, which was received with warm applause if not bidding-war-style enthusiasm, is up for acquisition.