The Beat Generation is a time that has been captured on film again and again, yet something about it has remained mysterious and appealing to newer audiences. Writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg are figures whose stories film has not given up on portraying. Kill Your Darlings is based on the true story of the murder of David Kammerer, which involved Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Lucien Carr.
The film tells the story of Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr meeting at Columbia University in 1940s New York, unveiling some of the untold history about these famous figures. We witness their burgeoning romance and the murder of Lucien Carr’s long-time stalker, David Kammerer. The plot here is endlessly interesting, but it’s the emotion and themes of lust and longing that make it easy to invest in.
First time director John Krokidas has been working on this project for a decade. His vision refreshing and bold; he uses stylistic techniques that both emphasize the generation as well as progress the plot. The time period of the 1940s is captured eloquently with the cinematography, music, costumes, and especially the performances. The cast members fully embody the rebellion and excitement of their real-life counterparts, delivering raw performances that erase memories of other more iconic roles. Harry who?
Daniel Radcliffe gives a breakthrough performance as Allen Ginsberg, who’s presented here as naïve and morally conflicted but intoxicated by Carr. Dane Dehaan steals every scene as Carr, portraying him as sexy and enigmatic, someone it’d be easy to fall in love with. The romance and sexual tension between the two of them anchor the film; their onscreen chemistry is magnetic. Michael C. Hall is both creepy and pathetic as David Kammerer, a victim who’s equally sympathetic and disgusting. His performance offers a sad glimpse into how obsession can dominate one’s every living moment. Ben Foster is sufficient but a bit forgettable as William S. Burroughs, and while Jack Huston is fun as Jack Kerouac, his character is overshadowed by Radcliffe and Dehaan. Elizabeth Olsen, in contrast, has a very small role as Kerouac’s girlfriend, and she’s captivating for every moment she’s onscreen.
Kill Your Darlings is stylistic and fun, but also has a deep emotional impact. It expertly captures the Beat Generation and provides a compelling story that kept me captivated from beginning to end. Offering breakout performances from Daniel Radcliffe and Dane Dehaan, a visually stunning tribute to the 1940s, and a recently uncovered story that touches on universal themes, Kill Your Darlings is a period piece that effectively comments on issues that are still relevant and affecting today.