Over the past few years, the Beat Generation that spawned writers and poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac has returned to cinema screens in documentaries (‘William S. Burroughs: A Man Within’), bio-pics (‘Howl’) and adaptations of their work (‘On the Road’). However, none has covered the time period where all of these writers met in college and were part of a murder. First time feature filmmaker John Krokidas tackles this story and knocks it out of the park with his jazzy, drug-induced opus called ‘Kill Your Darlings’.
This film shows the very beginning of the Beat Generation, including the friendships and influences that shaped these iconic writers that we study today. ‘Kill Your Darlings’ starts out almost like a thriller in the vein of ‘Se7en’, with Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) in a jail cell, talking to his supposed friend who has just murdered somebody. We then flash back to earlier in the year, when the young Allen heads out to college for the first time.
This is a difficult decision for Allen. His father Louis (David Cross, who actually played Allen Ginsberg in Todd Haynes’ ‘I’m Not There’), wants his son to stay home and look after his unstable, schizophrenic mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Nonetheless, Allen ships off to Columbia University, which he’s clearly emotional about. During his orientation, an older and very charismatic student named Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) leaps onto the library desk and shouts out sexually explicit writings from Henry Miller. This peaks Allen’s interest immediately.
The two become friends. Lucien takes Allen under his sick and twisted wing, showing him the insane New York nightlife – its jazz clubs with sketchy characters, and a great deal of drugs. At an apartment party, Allen meets William Burroughs (Ben Foster), who’s first seen sitting in a bathtub, fully clothed and inhaling nitrous oxide. A little later, he’s introduced to Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), the oldest of the bunch. Kerouac is charming and tough, but has problems with his girlfriend (Elizabeth Olsen, who in my opinion is not used to her full talent here).
Still coming to terms with his who he is, Allen begins to have feelings for Lucien. However, he soon realizes that Lucien uses his charm and sex appeal to get what he wants, like making Allen write his college essays for him, since he doesn’t have any real talent of his own. Through this time, the four writers hit the town in a drug induced stupor. These drug-fueled nights send Allen banging away at his typewriter keyboard, even pleasuring himself while writing.
Some of the best parts of the film involve watching these future iconic writers simply being college kids and friends. They laugh, drink, smoke and even pull pranks. One scene resembles something out of ‘Animal House’, as the four break into the library after dark to swap the literature passages displayed in glass cases with images of porn and death. Director Krokidas uses modern music to show that these students were ahead of their time and had a rebellious side.
Eventually, Krokidas constructs a sequence that culminates with the Riverside Park murder of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a peripheral friend with a creepily unhealthy obsession with Lucien.
The actors all turn in amazing performances. Radcliffe and DeHaan shine over the rest, since they have much more to work with. DeHaan gives Lucien so much magnetism and charm that it’s hard not to like him, even though we shouldn’t.
Not only is this a movie about a murder, it’s a movie about some of the most famous authors of the 20th Century, finding out who they are and who they will eventually set out to be. It sure is one hell of a coming of age story.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the talented director John Krokidas to talk about his first feature film, ‘Kill Your Darlings’. We discuss the pros and cons of making an independent film, his casting choices, working with Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan and David Cross, and some of his favorite scenes from movies. Enjoy this fun interview.