Kill Your Darlings

Yes, it’s
another biopic about the aforementioned famed beat poet—in the past
ten years, about five or six movies has been about or featured him as
a character—but what makes Kill
Your Darlings
 so
different, and infinitely more watchable, is that it’s as big a
mishmash of genres as Ginsberg’s words were on the page: we’ve
got a standard biopic, an anachronistic Young
Guns
-style team-up, a
murder mystery slash crime procedural and, ultimately, an
experimental think-piece. It’s a ballsy, brash take that mostly
succeeds in publicly mainstreaming a radical poet who once wrote a
ditty entitled “Sweet Boy, Gimme Yr Ass”.

Daniel
Radcliffe, desperately trying to break free from the albatross that
is Harry Potter, is the youthful Ginsberg, a shy, introverted young
thing about to enter Columbia University, breaking free from his
mentally ill mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and his famous poet father
(David Cross, who, ironically enough, portrayed Ginsberg in Todd
Haynes’ 2007 Bob Dylan pastiche I’m
Not There
). This is
where the standard biopic clichés come into frame, with Ginsberg
challenging his professor’s take on rhyme and meter, as well as
meeting various equally famous writers in their youth, all done with
dreamily clumsy dialog. For example:

Allen: “Who’s that dude?”

Lucien: “Oh, that’s William
S. Burroughs. He’s going to be a big deal someday. I once saw him
eat lunch. Naked.”

(winks at camera)

OK, it’s
not that bad, but I’m sure you get the point. It’s a device that
primarily serves to get every single beat writer together in a way
that’s usually reserved for westerns starring Emilio Estevez. In
rapid fire, Ginsberg is introduced to Lucien Carr (Dane
DeHaan), Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), with
the boys traipsing around NYC in search of literary hijinks, gaseous
inhalants and, most profoundly of all, a source of inspiration for
how they are going to change the world of literature. In those words.

This is all
well and good until—duhn-duhn-duhhhn—murder
is afoot and it’s up to Sherlock Ginsberg to get to the bottom of
the case when the emotionally manipulative Carr murders his lovelorn
stalker, David Kammerer. Kill
Your Darlings
 takes
it’s most inventive and experimental detour here, becoming a
CSI-style
procedural where not only was none expected, but was almost
un-welcomed when it shows up. Luckily, it ends up working to the
film’s benefit as Ginsberg replays scenarios and theories and
memories in his head, looking for every little detail, as he attempts
to write Carr’s self-loathing deposition.

But what I
liked best about Kill
Your Darlings
is how
it goes out of its way to kill most of your heroes, painting Kerouac
as a grating lucky jock who treated his common-law wife like absolute
dirt and Burroughs as a sad little rich boy with the personality of a
dead mortician, both so lost in their own proto-hipster pretension
that it truly makes Ginsberg the most likable, relatable character,
turning him, like I said before, mainstream and attainable and into
the hero of the whole thing, both physically and metaphysically, bravely standing up to The Man. Every Man. Any Man.

With a
bold, sympathizing take like that, in the end, it’s hard to not
want to be best friends with the young Ginsberg, sitting in a
dorm-room, choking down phenobarbital while writing poetry furiously
as we tour the various jazz clubs in Harlem. And I don’t even like
poetry.

Sweet
movie, I give it a pass.

Louis Fowler

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