The parade of on-screen versions of Jack Kerouac marches on, and I, for one, am all for it. In the excellent “Kill Your Darlings,” Jack Huston portrays the famously charismatic writer and gadabout, and he is in the talented company of Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, Ben Foster as the reptilian William S. Burroughs and Dane Dehaan as Lucian Carr, the would-be Beat poet who attained infamy rather than fame, for reasons described in this film.
A strong beginning places the story in Ginsberg’s perspective, as a naïve bookish guy in New Jersey, the son of a successful poet and a mentally ill mother to whom Allen feels a smothering sense of duty. I could have watched two hours about the three of them, brought to life as they were by an unrecognizably good Jennifer Jason Leigh and David Cross, who gave my former favorite portrayal of Ginsberg in “I’m Not There.”
However, young Allen soon decamps for nearby New York City and Columbia University, where he quickly notices a beautiful and irreverent young man named Lucian Carr. The two enter a poetic haze of immature bliss that one can only really experience in college, and they romp about exactly like Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder in “Brideshead Revisited,” minus the teddy bear. Lucian pulls Allen into an intoxicating world of drugs, poetry and homosexuality, which is a glorious relief for Ginsberg.
However, there is one man who is not at all happy to meet Allen Ginsberg: the older David Kammerer, Lucian’s former lover and ongoing caretaker, who still writes his term papers for him while glaring jealously at anyone around him. Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) will do anything to keep Carr around, while Carr resentfully relies on him. Carr, Ginsberg and Burroughs want to launch a new poetic movement breaking free from stuffy tradition
Soon a new flavor of the month pops up, and his irresistibility is well-documented. While Ginsberg possessed many fine talents and qualities, his “sexiness” is rarely mentioned, whereas Kerouac did pretty well for himself. He quickly eclipses Allen and David, and while Allen is stuck in the dorms writing term papers, Carr and Kerouac hatch a plan to join the Merchant Marines and make their way to Paris. David Kammerer does not take this plan lying down.
Since it’s shown in the first minutes of the film, I can tell you that when he tries to stop Lucian Carr from leaving him, Carr murders his former lover. Both Kerouac and Burroughs get drawn in and arrested, while Carr begs wide-eyed innocent Allen to help him write his deposition, much as he wrote his papers and poetry for him.
“Kill Your Darlings” was a memorable and moving story that also happened to be true, and a completely engrossing look at an event in the early lives of some extremely major writers. Ben Foster was terrific as Burroughs, and you completely forget Harry Potter when you see Radcliffe as Ginsberg, particularly when he loses his virginity, a rather graphic love scene that may freak some viewers out. And newcomer Dehaan was as irresistible to the viewer as he was to those around him in the film; his disturbed manipulative character was truly a breakout performance.