The Libertine Circle

Kill Your Darlings

kill_your_darlings

Director: John Krokidas
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Jack Huston, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Elizabeth Olsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyra Sedgwick

The Beat generations’ pivotal year at Columbia University in 1944 is the engrossing starting point for this literary murder story, Kill Your Darlings, featuring a superb performance by Dane DeHaan as the disturbed anarchist Lucien Carr who has been under the influence of David Kamerer played by Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame. Enter the freshman and aspiring poet Allen Ginsberg sensitively played by Daniel Radcliffe who has fled a disturbed domestic environment to attend Columbia University and study English Literature.

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Soon Ginsberg falls under the spell bounding attention of Carr and the two strike up an intensely homoerotic friendship and Carr introduces Ginsberg to William S. Buroughs wonderfully underplayed by an unrecognizable Ben Foster and Jack Kerouac, played by Jack Huston nephew of Hollywood stars Angelica and Danny Huston and grandson of legendary director John Huston.
Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac fueled by countless drugs, experimental sexuality and non-conformist attitudes attempt to liberate themselves from the pantheon of Victorian and pre-Modernist literature and invent a new type of distinctly American literary movement heavily influenced by the banned work of Henry Miller, The Tropic of Cancer along with D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover both of which was secured under lock and key in the stately Columbia Library.

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As the Second World War raged on across the Atlantic and many of their American countrymen were liberating a ruined Europe from the last throws of Fascism, The Beat Generation was germinating in the hallowed halls of Columbia University and the dive bars of jazzy Harlem. Naturally its every young man first response to rebel against society upon entering University and these four certainly do so in more ways than one, under the envious gaze of David Kamerer whose latent sexuality and jealousy threatens to destroy their unique vision that of a Libertine Circle inspired by the poetry of W. B. Yeats. Kill Your Darlings is heavy viewing and for those not familiar with the writers or works of the Beat Generation which blossomed in the 1950’s and was at the forefront to American counter-culture leading up to the youth revolt characterizing the 1960’s, should really avoid this film.

on_the_road

Kill Your Darlings refers to the breaking of all standard literary conventions like metre, narrative and plot development, something the Modernists like Yeats, Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot started doing. Central to this literary world, where creativity is fueled by drugs in Williams S. Burroughs’s case (see The Naked Lunch), or sexuality in Ginsberg’s case or recklessness in the life of Jack Kerouac whose seminal work On The Road become the literary bible for the Beat Generation is the unusual story of Carr and his ambivalent and highly influential relationship with Ginsberg. This controversial and ultimately doomed relationship would eventually be the inspiration of Ginsberg’s famous poem Howl published in 1957  as he discovers his latent homosexuality along with his distinctive voice as one of America’s most influential poets.

De Haan and Radcliffe are brave, ferocious and sexy  in Kill Your Darlings and while the murder plot tends to be slightly laboured it is their relationship with each other and also with their parents which becomes the focal point of a fascinating study of rebellion, artistic integrity in the face of conventional criticism and more significantly sacrifice. Highly recommended viewing but definitely not aimed at a broad appeal.

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