by Meredith O'Brien
Part of me wants to see the critically acclaimed film Rabbit Hole , but I won’t.
As a general rule, if I can avoid it, I don’t like to watch movies where the death of a young child is the central theme. I already marinate in ample quantities of 24/7 worry about my own children so I don’t feel the need to ratchet up my maternal anxiety by putting myself into the mind of a parent who has lost a child or has watched that child succumb to illness. Call me selfish or chicken if you want, but I almost always decline to envision what it’s like to walk in the shoes of an eternally-in-mourning mother who must attempt to soldier on, wake up every morning and continue to live her life while her child is no longer alive, knowing that there’s a hole inside of her which she’ll never be able to fill. I will read first-person articles or accounts of parents’ experiences, but when it comes to movies, with all their heartstring-tugging music that often accompanies this kind of material, I’ll take a pass, thank you very much.
The reviews for the Nicole Kidman/Aaron Eckhart/Dianne Wiest film Rabbit Hole -- about a married couple trying to figure out how to go on eight months after their 4-year-old son was killed in a car accident – say wonderful things about the acting, in particular for Kidman who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as the grieving mother. “Does it ever go away?” Kidman’s Becca Corbett asked her own mother in the movie trailer about the omnipresent pain that has assumed residency inside her chest. But no matter how many plaudits reviewers bestow  upon the cast, I have zero desire to watch a fictionalized meditation of how a pair of suburban parents attempts to survive what many consider to be the ultimate parental nightmare.
In fact, I’ve declined to see many dead/in peril kid-centric movies, like 2009’s Lovely Bones  (a 14-year-old girl was brutally killed and then watched her bereaved family try to figure out who killed her) and 2007’s Gone Baby Gone  (a 4-year-old girl was kidnapped). I remember when the CBS show Without a Trace  premiered in 2002 and I said to my husband, “Why in the world would ANYONE want to watch a show about people -- about kids – disappearing every week?”
My own early days of parenthood a dozen years ago were marked by rampant safety paranoia fueled by the incessant chattering of the ever-growing group of so-called parenting “experts” on TV, writing in magazines, in articles etc. They made me, a new parent, fearful that my kids were in danger at every turn, even in their own home. All these years later, I consider myself an in-recovery helicopter parent and don’t want to envision ways in which children could be harmed, nor do I need to imagine what it’d be like to sit in Kidman’s character’s seat. It’s hard enough for me to be okay with letting my kids live what author Lenore Skenazy calls a “free-range” life  -- where my husband and I encourage their budding independence -- like we did as children, instead of filling their heads with irrational fear and hovering over them, micromanaging every aspect of their lives. (Tangential reference: Did you happen to catch the giant article in the New York Times last week, the one that consumed a huge chunk of the front page of the “Home” section about how dangerous coffee tables  are to toddlers? That’s that the stuff of parental paranoia, particularly if you have a toddler right now.)
However no matter how I may try to avoid films about dead, ill or in-jeopardy children, stories about them crop up all the time on primetime TV programs. For example, early last year, Salon’s Heather Havrilesky  dubbed ABC’s Private Practice  “Parental Nightmare Porn . . . for the masochist that lives deep inside every last one of us.” And she was right on the money. Like Havrilesky, I’d been unwittingly sucked into horrific child-in-medical-peril stories on that show on a number of occasions. The absolute worst Private Practice storyline occurred last season when a woman got pregnant so the newborn’s umbilical cord blood could be used to save her twins who needed the blood for a fatal ailment from which they were suffering. But when it was learned there was only enough blood for one child, the parents had to pick which girl would receive the blood, therefore condemning the other to die. Damn did I cry angry tears about the fact that I allowed myself to be drawn into the scenario and was imagining what it’d be like to be those parents.
Which brings me back to Rabbit Hole, which Time Magazine’s movie reviewer  said features Oscar winner Kidman’s “career-best performance” along with co-star Eckhart’s “pitch-perfect calibration” and which a Boston Globe reviewer  described as “a comedy about loss” where parents who’ve lost children “speak a language – caustic, stunned, often brutally funny – that most of us never want to learn.” Such glowing reviews, yet the topic, to me, is akin to the clichéd third rail. Sure, I’ll watch movies about family dysfunction, deaths of others, wars and crime (I liked The Town, for example) but films built around dead and/or dying kids is where I draw the line. Now if only Private Practice would stop sliding in those dying kid stories...