Tonight, I decided to continue my monthly tradition of a Saturday night movie. That sounds like a pretty normal idea, right? Wrong. My particular tradition does not refer to a big family outing to the newest comedy or to seeing a steamy romance with my (non-existent) boyfriend. Instead, it refers to quite simply my individual attendance. Yep, I admit it. I go to movies alone. And it’s not even because I can’t find anyone to join! I genuinely enjoy going to the movies alone, perhaps apart from the sympathetic looks I get from families and couples. But hey, who actually wants to go see a movie with someone who will constantly whisper through the whole thing? Or fidget with his or her sweater? Or, worst of all, eat all the damn popcorn? The only time a partner in crime is needed, I would argue, is at a movie that will cause tears. And I’m not just talking a few. I mean, full-on crying. C’mon! You know it’s happened to you! It certainly has to me. And how embarrassing that would be (has been) to get up at the end of the movie, as the lights slowly get brighter, with mascara stains on your cheeks and big, puffy eyes? Well, take my word for it–very. I digress! The movies that I do see on my own are, indeed, usually among the less popular. For instance, tonight’s film was Kill Your Darlings, a Camelview 5 (the indie/foreign film theater; basically the best theater around) flick that stars Daniel Radcliffe, whom I’m apparently newly attracted to. The movie was about the absolutely amazing, sometimes even called “god,” Allen Ginsberg. For those of you who are not familiar with this man or his revolutionary work, bye. Just kidding. But seriously, go immerse yourself with his work. Here’s a link to a reading of his most popular work, Howl (warning: explicit content): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVGoY9gom50. Essentially, he was a leader in what is arguably the second best, behind only Modernism, literary movements in American history, the Beat Generation. But that’s not what this post is about! This post is about a character in the film and in Ginsberg’s early life, Lucien Carr.
Lucien Carr, in regards to the Beat Generation and to Ginsberg, he was sort of the conductor. If not for Carr, Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs may never have met, and the entirety of the Beat Generation may never have existed. Mr. Ginsberg met Carr when he was a wee, little freshman in 1944 at the beautiful Columbia University. After some exchange and banter about literature and what makes it, Carr introduced Ginsberg to some of his friends, among whom were Burroughs and a man named David Kammerer. Basically, he, the older of the two, brought Ginsberg into the underground world of New York City, inserting him into the abundance of drugs, alcohol, and intelligence that eventually formed the famous movement. Now, this all seems good and dandy, but Carr’s relationship with Mr. Kammerer, as told in Kill Your Darlings, went from one of equal benefits to one of hatred and eventually murder. Kammerer was, in simple terms, Carr’s teacher turned admirer turned stalker. David Kammerer was a teacher in St. Louis and met Lucien Carr when leading a youth group that Carr belonged to as a young boy. He was immediately infatuated with Lucien “Lu” and followed him across the country as he moved from city to city and college to college. We are first introduced to Kammerer in the film on the night that Carr first shows Ginsberg the town. The two wind up at David’s apartment, where he is giving a lecture of sorts with constant reference to a Yeats poem. The next “big” scene that he appears in, also at his apartment, is when Carr, Ginsberg, and Burroughs have just emptied the bookshelves of what have been deemed some of the most quintessential works of all of literature and cut them up, nailing the scraps to the wall. After yelling at Ginsy and Burroughs to go into the other room, Kammerer hands Carr an essay. We learn shortly after that Kammerer is “a professor working as a janitor” because he can’t live without Lucien. In exchange for Carr’s love, David writes his school essays for him. Throughout the movie, there are hints to something that happened to/with Lucien during his time at the University of Chicago, which we eventually learn was *SPOILER ALERT* a suicide attempt, in which Kammerer saved him.
At the end of the film, we are taken back to the opening scene, in which Lucien is holding David’s bloody body in the middle of the Hudson River–the movie plays quite a bit with the idea of time through filming. Allen calls Kerouac’s home, where his wife answers, and is told that Jack has been arrested as an accessory in a murder. Kammerer’s murder. It turns out that it was Carr who killed him, first by stabbing him repeatedly with a knife and later drowning him, hence the river scene. Lucien asks Ginsy to write a letter to the D.A. on his behalf claiming “honor killing” as defense. This is, of course, after Allen has fallen madly in love with Lucien and has to some extent taken on the role of Kammerer. With some advice from his recovering mother, Allen decides not to help his beloved friend out. Instead, he writes a piece telling of exactly what happened, rationale and all, which he gives to Lucien with the threat, “either you tell them the truth or I will,” to which Carr said he would not. Ginsberg turns the same piece into his English professor, whom he has had a bit of a ruff with since day one, and subsequently gets expelled from Columbia.
Perhaps the most horrifying of it all, however, is what happens when the movie finishes. As a “based on a true story” film, it unsurprisingly offers a few brief sentences about what happened in the end. The entire movie theater gasped when the screen read that Carr had only ended up serving 18 months in prison, as the case had to do with homosexuality and was inaccurately seen as self-defense. Even worse than that, though, was the fact that Carr later served as an editor for the United Press. I mean, it’s difficult for many minor criminals to find jobs after serving time, let alone a murderer!
All in all, the life of Lucien Carr is incredibly controversial, especially in regards to his role in the New York City circle and in the murder of Davis Kammerer. He isn’t really considered a Beat writer or even a part of the Beat Generation, but he is responsible for the “meeting of minds,” which could have never happened if not for him. He died in 2005 at age 80. His son, Caleb Carr, is, unlike his father, a writer and a pretty well-known one at that. His best known work is The Alienist. Putting all this aside, Kill Your Darlings is truly, truly a great film, and I recommend all lit-nerds and even some of you who aren’t to go see it!