Kill Your Darlings

Nov 22, 2013

Revisit the Beat Generation with Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs.

Kill Your Darlings

Grade: B+

Director: John Krokidas

Screenplay: Austin Bunn, Krokidas

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Dane DeHaan ( The Place Beyond the Pines)

Rating: R

Runtime: 104 min.

by John DeSando

"She smells of imported sophistication and domestic cigarettes." Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan)

In Kill Your Darlings, Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) is the central character in a drama based on an actual incident that shows less of the beat poet’s greatness as an artist and more about his nascent gay passions. From the above quote, Ginsberg’s best friend, Lucien, has just kissed a stranger at a party and caught her plainness amid the signs of sophistication. So, too, does this film show the other side of literary glamour.

Nevertheless director John Krokidas and writer Austin Bunn evoke the tumultuous era of the early 1940’s when the world collaborated in defeating the Nazis and young artists Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Ginsberg were preparing to overthrow the moribund traditions of Victorian literature to create a hip-lit that made Ginsberg a god of mid-twentieth century letters.

While I would have liked more about Ginsberg and Kerouac as writers, Kill Your Darlings is nothing if not romantic queer lit of a high order. These bright boys evoke Whitman and Yeats as if they were neighbors, and the screenplay peppers the dialogue with enough cherished lines to make an English major weep with joy and the rest scurry to Google the references.

In other words, this biopic about a murder involving Ginsberg’s best friend and love, Carr, is more about youthful passion and rebellion than it is about the creation of culture-shocking art.  However, I’m OK with that emphasis because along the way we are privy to the impulses like jazz, booze, and weed that moved poetry into the mainstream.

Unlike Woody Allen’s romance with dead writers in Midnight in Paris, this film dares to show the underside of Columbia undergrad life, which nurtured a cultural rebellion that changed letters forever. The gay aspect, well, there’s too much of that young adult groping for love. Verses are what I want, verses, I say.

“I Love complicated.” Lucien Carr  

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at Contact him at