Literary movements, or whatever, emerge from youthful rejection of conventional values. It has always been thus.
Occasionally, one of these acts of rebellious suicide evolves into something more interesting. It happened with Jesus and it happened with the Beat poets. What could have been privileged college kids wasting their time on drugs and sex resulted in Howl, Naked Lunch and On The Road.
Kill Your Darlings is another prequel in this cinematic age of prequels. You know what happened to Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. This is how it started. Maybe.
Ginsberg came from a middle class New Jersey family. His father was a respected poet, his mother a needy neurotic nightmare. Allen’s arrival at Columbia University in 1944 was a release, an escape.
As so often in these Eureka moments, the spark comes from somewhere else. In this case a 19-year-old student, called Lucien Carr, a charismatic, reckless emotional terrorist with the personality to drive forward anarchic ideas, such as the relevance of rhyme structure in poetry and the need to rubbish the classics in favour of Henry Miller. He’s a flirt, a prankster, a provocateur who flies too close to the sun.
In many respects this is his story. The film begins with him releasing the murdered body of his older lover into the river. Ginsberg is not his muse, exactly, because he’s not a writer. He is his flame. Daniel Radcliffe is radiant in the role.
He portrays Ginsberg as a watcher, a relative innocent, still uncertain about his sexuality.
Ben Foster’s impersonation of Burroughs, heir to the family’s adding machine fortune, a natty dresser, obsessed with pornography and drugs, and Jack Huston’s randy, restless take on the Kerouac myth are perfect support players.
If Dane DeHaan’s Lucien eclipses all before him, that is the nature of the character, while Radcliffe spits on the memory of Hogwarts quite rightly and gives a performance of considerable courage and vulnerability.
Writer/director John Krokidas in his first feature deserves credit for attacking such a complex subject. He almost succeeds. There is a feeling – no more than that – of intellectual point scoring.