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At the intersection of sorrow and rage
"She's taking Danny's paintings down off the fridge, she's trying to give his clothes to her pregnant sister," Kidman explained. "She's constantly trying to move forward and choose life."
The problem is, Becca is trying to move the grief process forward faster than it wants to go. And Howie finds himself deeply resentful at his wife's attempts to "move on."
"That's where the divergence comes," Eckhart explained. "Because Howie is much more willing to explore, with group therapy, etc., and she is unwilling to. He's turning the corner, where he's starting to say, 'Becca, you gotta speed up, because I'm passing you up.' And that's not good."
The two wind up at odds with each other, sporadically blasting out the stress that builds between them in highly charged scenes. Those sequences, Mitchell said, are carefully spread through the film. "Otherwise, you'll wear the audience out," he said. "Real life is a lot messier."
On set, Kidman and Eckhart found the charge building naturally, leading up to the filming of those scenes. "You have actual feelings in the character," Eckhart said, "and you say, 'I want to yell at her right now.' I'm sitting there having to restrain myself, as an actor, and asking John, 'How come I can't yell at her?' "
But when the time comes, it's the natural release he and Howie - and the audience - need. "All those days of not being able to yell at her, not being able to release this monster that is inside of me - on those days that you get to release the monster, he's ready to come out. And it feels really good. You want to say it - and you want to see her listen to it. And I want to hear her response to it. And, as an actor, having Nicole there, who knows what she's doing, has prepared, and just gives it right back - it's very exciting."
Kidman agrees: "The emotions are epic." Despite her attempts to be "normal," Becca's own emotional outbursts come whether she likes them or not, with blasts at everyone from her husband and mother to a stranger at the supermarket.
"She censors herself, and then she's uncensored," Kidman said. "Then she's trying to pull herself in line again, then exploding, because the turmoil inside her is enormous. And eight months down the road, patience is wearing thin with people. Even though they still feel for you, other people have all moved on. So it's an incredibly lonely place."
The one place Becca does find solace is in a friendship she strikes up with the oddest of people: Jason (newcomer Miles Teller), the young driver of the car that killed her son.
"She can't bear to be in the presence of anyone but the person who caused all of this," Mitchell said. "And it's beautiful. They don't know where they are or what they're doing together. They just know they need to be together. He's got to get absolution, and she's gotta give it. She becomes healed by healing him."
Adds Kidman: "She's in such confusion and chaos in her head, but there's somebody there that somehow links her to Danny. She's trying to replicate her son in this teenage boy, and somehow trying to understand everything through him."
Howie, meanwhile, has tired of waiting for his wife to find her way through the muck back to him, longing for someone who can understand his own path through the process. "I talked to a lot of people about this in prep for the film," Eckhart said. "A large percentage of marriages don't survive a tragedy like this."
Adds Mitchell, "The audience will understand that they are both absolutely right, and they are both completely wrong, in their approach to the situation."
Ultimately, it is up to Becca and Howie to figure out whether they will continue on as a couple and begin life anew.
Hurwitz is a freelance writer.