The excitement and air of possibility surrounding ‘freshman’ year at university is perfectly captured in first-time director John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings – from awkward introductions to hedonistic parties. Daniel Radcliffe plays the unsure freshman experiencing the shadowy corners of New York that his poet father had hitherto protected him from, with the wide-eyed wonder of a newborn. What we’re seeing, of course, is the birth of the Beat Generation, and Radcliffe plays 18-year-old poet Allen Ginsberg in a career-best performance that has already won acclaim from the festival circuit.
It’s whilst at Columbia University that Ginsberg meets Lucien Carr – and through him – Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs; a volatile collection of egos, intellect and raw talent. They set about forming a clique aimed at subverting the traditionalist teachings and stuffy attitudes of the faculty. And life seems pretty sweet for a while, until Carr’s obsessive, older friend pushes him towards a tragic act of desperation and everyone, bar Ginsberg, is implicated in murder. Yet even this murder is carried out with a certain lyricism.
The enigmatic Carr is played excellently by Dane DeHaan, an actor who seems to have specialised in close-to-the-edge characters early on in his career (Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines), and he portrays Carr as the classic tormented muse. Whilst Carr introduces Ginsberg to drug-induced enlightenment (via the work of W.B Yeats) we’re taken along for the ride, and the kinetic pace, collage-style, time-jump editing and believable dialogue make that ride all the more fun. The soundtrack hovers conspicuously over the period setting, however, and could have benefited from less Bloc Party/The Libertines and more 50s ‘beats’ and jazz.
Kill Your Darlings is reminiscent of Brideshead Revisited – both stories deal with unrequited homosexual desire and the insatiable greed for new experiences – but the former also has a tinge of Stand By Me, which makes it more relatable. You don’t need to know about Ginsberg and the Beat Generation to enjoy this film, simply kick back and appreciate the on-screen unfolding of talent – both Ginsberg’s and Radcliffe’s – and the recklessness of youth.