I think I had the wrong idea about Kill Your Darlings when I decided to trundle along and see it. What I knew was that Daniel Radcliffe would be starring as a young Allen Ginsberg who starts his university career and meets the likes of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. With this brief synopsis cluttering up my brain I was expecting to see the formation of the Beat generation unfold onscreen and what I got was something a little less defined.
At university Ginsberg becomes enamoured with fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) who goes on to introduce him to Kerouac (Jack Huston) and Burroughs (Ben Foster) and it is Carr who suggests starting a literary revolution. For part of the film the idea of the revolution seems to be the focus but it always sits on the periphery in contrast to Ginsberg’s determined pursuit of Carr despite dismissive treatment in favour of Carr’s much older lover/stalker David (Michael C. Hall). The film seems to want to imply that everyone will go on to change the face of American literature but doesn’t want to get bogged down in showing that happen when there’s drug taking, sex, and murder to be amusing ourselves with. Yes, one of the characters another and the whole film suddenly doesn’t find the drug taking and casual harassment nearly as fun as it did before.
For me the films lacks focus and a proper plot. The performances are all fine and Radcliffe does good work as Ginsberg, despite him being writing a little too pathetic to be able to carry the film, but the writing forces every performance to fall short of believability. The major trouble lies in the fact that on the one hand we are supposed to be revelling in a period piece where poetry can be seen as a form of rebellion and drug taking and child abuse as decadent indulgences, and on the other hand we have the grim dramatics of the murder and Ginsberg’s mother’s psychological issues which pop up from time to time. Nothing like murder and potential paedophilia to ruin a party.
This was no doubt quite a dramatic period in the lives of the men who would define the Beat generation but perhaps the story could have been moulded a little more to form a clearer narrative. At the end of the screening I wasn’t too sure what to think. I had enjoyed the performances and various scenes in the film but didn’t know what it wanted me to take away from it. At no point in the film did I get a sense of the legacy that these men left on the world of writing and I didn’t get any incentive to devour their collective works.
What I saw was a group of self-indulgent individuals who were finally forced to deal with the real world when one is arrested for the murder of another. I’m certain this doesn’t do justice to the combined efforts of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs and is unlikely to have been the intention of the filmmakers.
Not awful, and a worthy debut from Austin Bunn and John Krokidas, but Kill Your Darlings meanders a little too much to impress.
Kill Your Darlings is in UK cinemas on 6th December 2013.