The years of World War II parenthetically frame Kill Your Darlings, but Allen Ginsberg, Lucien “Lu” Carr, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac pay no reverence to the politics of the war. Politics and institutions are not only beside the point, they are the critical target for these four during a short period based at Columbia University and in downtown Manhattan.
Lou Carr, the real focus of this biopic, is a nebulous personage who not only introduces all of the above writers to each other but who is simultaneously an object of love and sexual desire for most of them. He brought Ginsburg, Kerouac, and Burroughs into alignment—a fermentation of youth that partially resulted in the production of American classics Howl, On the Road, Naked Lunch, etc. Ginsberg’s first gay attraction, Carr never published any writing himself, and he exists to this day as a mere shadow in Ginsberg’s dedications and in the hearts and minds of those who know the story of the New Vision, which was largely orchestrated by Carr. The aim of the New Vision was “to expand the circle of experience,” a W. B. Yates reference implying the paradox of moral duties to break laws or disregard time-honored institutions, exemplified by a symbolic act of vandalism in the university library that made headlines and elevated the group into the public eye.
The New Vision is abruptly disturbed when Carr literally kills his darling… Carr is incarcerated and so are Kerouac and Burroughs (the latter two as accessories) on charges of murder. Just as Carr lifts the above-mentioned writers into the apotheotic New Vision, he ropes them into his own damnation. He’s a Don Giovanni figure who not only refuses to repent as he’s dragged down to hell but who also drags his fellow libertines down with him—none of whom “repent” either.
Lu Carr enters Ginsberg’s life as quickly as he vanishes from it, yet his significance is sounded in the original dedication of 1956’s Howl and Other Poems (later omitted upon Carr’s request). He also makes appearances in Kerouac’s On the Road—the publication of which is frequently noted as the spark that ignited the so-called “Beat revolution.” Who was the illusive Lu Carr, who didn’t write a thing but catalyzed some of the greatest works in American literary history?
Kill Your Darlings is an entry into the life and time of this run-up to the Beats, and a good introduction for those inclined to research Lucien Carr (1925-2005) in more depth. The timeless interest in the works of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs leads us back to Carr—whose disappearance into the world of political institutions for which he initially declares hatred (he went on to work as an editor for United Press International) begs for further inquiry. This is a story of extremes: life and death; love and hate; truth and hypocrisy; universality and mystery; in short, ingredients for a revolution. Intellectually stimulating and emotionally challenging, this is a must-see for those who are still keeping the beat.
Director John Krokidas and co-writer Austin Bunn do a pretty good job of representing the revolutionary jouissance of Carr and company. Thanks both to its rich subject matter and the cast headed by Daniel Ratcliffe as Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Carr, Kill Your Darlings is a definite awards contender—a historically displaced justice for the New Vision.