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Σάββατο, 22 Ιανουαρίου, 2022
ΑρχικήEnglish EditionCultureKilling your Darlings: Based on a true story of obsession and crime

Killing your Darlings: Based on a true story of obsession and crime

By Panagiota Katsaveli, 

2020 has been a unique year and a different start to the new decade, to say the least. The global pandemic has resulted in social isolation and long days, weeks, months spent at home with the company of family and a good series to watch. Movies and TV shows have been the comfort everyone needs during this hard year. Hence watching movies that enable us to dive into the history of famous people and explore their world, provides viewers with two perks; entertainment and knowledge acquired in a playful way. In this light, the movie Killing Your Darlings (2013) gives the audience the opportunity to get acquainted the famous Beat Generation and experience a true story of obsession, vision and crime.

The movie Killing Your Darlings is a 2013 biographical American drama film written by Austin Bunn and directed by John Krokidas. In the 1940s the poet Allen Ginsberg, portrayed by Daniel Radcliff -in a role nothing like the one he had in the Harry Potter franchise- is a young man who is studying at Columbia University in New York City. Not long after his arrival, he meets Lucien Karr, a wild young man who introduces him to a whole new world and broadens his horizons, played by Dane DeHaan. The two along with the company of their good friends Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs -portrayed by Jack Huston and Ben Foster respectively- constituted the earliest members of the Beat Generation and began their literary revolution that brought about their success as writers. Moreover, the movie touches upon the troubling relationship of Lucien Karr and his long-time acquaintance or pursuer, David Kammerer, ending with the murder of the latter by the famous poet in Riverside Park in Manhattan in New York.

Now, I think it would be a great opportunity to learn more about each of the poets presented in the movie. Firstly, Allen Ginsberg is one of the most prominent poets of American literature of his time and one of the respected members of the Beat movement. He was born in Newark, New Jersey on the 3rd of June, 1926. His early life was mostly concerned with his mother’s psychological problems and her many nervous breakdowns. While studying at Columbia University, he met other influential writers and established what is now known as the Beat movement. However, as a student he also experimented with drug use which led him to prosecution for drug possession and his admittance to a mental institution for the duration of several months. He first became noticed by the public sphere in 1956 with the collection “Howl and Other Poems”. “Howl” is one of his most well-known poems, full of strong sexual content -an outcry of despair against our abusive society. The poem raised mixed reviews by critics of its time, but the book was deemed obscene by the San Francisco police due to its sexual language and its publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was consequently arrested. The trial’s outcome was in Ginsberg’s favor and “Howl” rose to be the manifesto of the Beat literary movement. His poetic work is greatly influenced by Jack Kerouac and William Carlos Williams, among others, and he was extremely interested in politics which he explored in his life and poetry.

Another great poet, who changed the life course of Allen Ginsberg at Columbia, was Lucien Karr -the wild rebel ready to start a revolution and change the American literary field. He was born in New York City on the 1st of March in 1925 to a socially prominent family and spent most of his childhood in St. Louis with his mother after his parents’ separation. One of the most perplexing aspects of his trembling life was his relationship with David Kammerer; the poet had met the man as a teenager and since then Kammerer would stalk him -in today’s terms- resulting to his murder. Karr changed multiple academic institutions in his attempt to escape Kammerer’s obsession and even tried to commit suicide while attending the University of Chicago, but all his efforts were met with failure. On August 13th 1944, Karr murdered of Kammerer, which he claimed was caused by his panic and despair to avoid yet another sexual advance. This tricky relationship caused discomfort to the rest of the original Beat members; Karr was the center of the movement and the one who brought these talented literary figures to change the existing scene. Karr’s idea of the “New Vision” was the base for the Beat movement, a raw, realistic, sense-based representation of life through art opposed to all the conventions and formalities of the period.

William Burroughs was an important postmodern writer whose influence involves both literature and today’s pop culture, he was one of the first members of the Beat Generation alongside Ginsberg, Karr and Kerouac. He was born on the 5th of February in 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri; a grandson to the founder of the Burroughs Corporation. His studies included English at Harvard, as well as Anthropology and Medicine in Vienna. He was listed to serve during the Second World War, but the classification as a 1-A infantry in the armed forces led to depression and his drug addiction, which affected the remainder of his life. He was convicted to a two-year suspended sentence for the killing of his second wife, Joan Vollmer. His works had magical and mystical themes, while he also introduced many novelties that challenged the literary traditions and caused frequent censorship of his work combined with several legal actions that were taken.

Jack Kerouac was also an important literary novelist and poet of the American culture who belonged to the Beat Generation. He was born on the 12th of March in 1922 in Massachusetts and died in 1967. His most famous work, called “On the Road” (1957) managed to perfectly capture the atmosphere of its time better than any other 20th century work and greatly influenced the cultural scene. Growing up, he attended both a French-Canadian school in the morning and an English one in the afternoon and in 1940 he enrolled to Columbia University, where he met Ginsberg and Burroughs who became his lifelong friends. His childhood was characterized by death since he lost many of his friends and family members.

Wordstage Literary Concerts, http://www.wordstageoh.com/project/the-beat-generation/

Even though the film is based on a true story and depicts the meeting of the poets, the start of the Beat Generation, as well as the crime committed by Lucien Karr, it includes some elements that provoke thinking and apply to different situations across the board simultaneously making it a contemporary work. Firstly, the title of the movie is a common phrase used by editors to writers with the meaning to get rid of unnecessary characters, lines, plots for the sake of the whole story. The meaning of it describes the mentality of the Beat poets who applied this piece of advice to every aspect of their lives: abolition of meter and rhyme, declaration of war to the rules and even distancing and murder to people who cared for them hence the phrase was used as the title. Similarly to the Beat poets, people in today’s society should not blindly obey to social conventions; they should follow and create their own path in order to succeed and find happiness.

The movie showcases obsession and self-destruction in a rather romanticized way but also makes the viewers reconsider their stance on such substantial issues and spend more time dealing with their psychological and mental problems. The obsession which we see escalating to murder shows that people will not hesitate to proceed to illegal actions when under pressure since their well-being and survival is above everything else. Our society creates selfish, self-absorbed creatures that only care about their development, even if they drag the people closest to them down along the way. Most importantly, viewers have the opportunity to get a small glimpse of the world and the beginning of this amazing generation that changed the literary field in the USA and the whole world.

Overall, the movie Killing your Darlings (2013) is yet another one of Hollywood’s attempts to dive into the glory of the well-known Beat Generation and show its importance. The film might have many flaws and not be the most accurate representation with some false details, but it sure constitutes one of the best depictions of this magical and unique movement, coated in the New York fibre and young recklessness. It portrays the meeting of the poets and the development of events in a simple to follow and understand way, providing the introduction to the history of this great generation. I would personally recommend it as the beginning for the journey of discovering the leaders of the Beat movement.

Related Links

Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/

Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/



Panagiota Katsaveli
She was born in 2001 and was raised in Kilkis. She was an undergraduate student in the department of English Language and Literature at AUTh. Her passions include learning foreign languages and travelling both inside the country and abroad. In her spare time, she enjoys watching movies and reading literature.