At one point in “Kill Your Darlings” — director John Krokidas’ first feature-length film — Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) points at Columbia University’s “hall of fame,” filled with team photos, graduations and ribbon cuttings of “souvenir history. To make people think they left some mark on the world because otherwise nobody would ever know.”
“I don’t ever want to end up on this wall,” says Carr.
But despite his mostly private post-collegiate life, Carr has his place in “souvenir history.”
Some events from his life were immortalized in a series of semi-biographical fictional works from his more famous Beat Generation friends — Jack Kerouac’s first and last novels, “The Town and the City” and “Vanity of Duluoz”; Kerouac and William Burroughs’ “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks”; and Allen Ginsberg’s “The Bloodsong,” published journal entries based on events between 1943 and ’44.
Krokidas and his former Yale University roommate Austin Bunn wrote their version of the events into the screenplay “Kill Your Darlings,” which centers around the death of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a former English professor who obsessively stalked young Carr.
The events are filtered through the lens of 17-year-old Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), who befriends his classmate Carr at Columbia University — where they discuss Whitman, Yeats and Rimbaud over a bottle of Chianti.
Later joined by Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Kerouac (Jack Houston), Ginsberg and Carr plan a literary revolution — to change the old order of rhyme, meter and form. But they can’t get away from the past. “[The past] becomes part of who you are,” says Ginsberg. “Or [it] destroys you,” says Carr.
“Kill Your Darlings” is fascinating because of the larger-than-life personalities captured on the silver screen. But despite his fame as the “boy who lived,” Radcliffe takes a backseat to DeHaan’s mysteriously alluring and seductive performance as the flamboyant Adonis Lucien Carr.
“Holy Lucien,” writes Ginsberg in “Howl and Other Poems,” was one of the “best minds…destroyed by madness.” That greatness, though, makes Carr Jay Gatsby to Ginsberg’s Nick Carraway. And while their lives intersected for only a moment, F. Scott Fitzgerald taught us that sometimes “boats beating against the current are borne ceaselessly into the past.”
“Kill Your Darlings” was directed by John Krokidas and written by Krokidas and Austin Bunn.