Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs get schooled in 'Kill Your Darlings'
Published: November 27, 2013
Director John Krokidas and his screenwriting partner Austin Bunn make a savvy choice in their decision to bring the story of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs to the screen. Understanding that an appreciation and knowledge of the Beats can be self-limiting in terms of box office (such recent efforts as On the Road and Howl struggled to find audience), they have not only assembled an impressive roster of young actors—led by Daniel Radcliffe—but have focused the narrative on a little-known true-crime drama that occured before these alternative literary heroes had ever written a word. It’s the story of the Beats before the Beats, and so requires no particular knowledge of their work.
We meet Ginsberg (Radcliffe) as a shy New Jersey kid desperate to escape the tense claustrophobia of a home held hostage by his mentally unstable mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Accepted to Columbia University, he leaves as a starry-eyed freshman with dreams of becoming a writer. There, he quickly becomes enamored with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a charismatic and showy provocateur whose friends include William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston). A self-professed rebel and lover of William Butler Yeats, Carr becomes the ringleader for the students’ anti-establishment revolution against the Ivy League school’s stodgy view of society and education. He is also the unhealthy obsession of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a former professor and lover.
Jazz, alcohol, drugs and, of course, homosexual tensions electrify Ginsberg’s newfound independence as he’s pulled into philosophical debates, quote duels and rebellious acts against the university. This last bit provides Krokidas with his best set piece: the theft of a key and the sabotage of the library’s display cases, which he stages as a crackerjack heist sequence.