The movie “Kill Your Darlings,” starring Danielle Radcliffe as the young Allen Ginsberg, is an engrossing biopic that follows the future Beat poet through his student years at Columbia University. It was there that Ginsberg, as a 17-year-old freshman in 1943-44, met soon-to-be Beat writers Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, along with their circle of bohemian friends. He also spent a lot of time reading, writing and breaking rules. The last of those activities got him into trouble with the university—trouble that almost kept him from graduating.
Today we may laugh at the minor infraction that actually triggered Ginsberg’s suspension—an obscene phrase traced in the dust of his dorm room window—an incident described in Ginsberg’s letters, though not depicted in the film. But his involvement with a group of friends that included thieves and drug addicts, as well as a brilliant young Columbia student named Lucien Carr, who ended up murdering another member of their circle, is certainly troubling.
“Kill Your Darlings” devotes plenty of screen time to Ginsberg’s relationship with Carr, and to the murder, a controversial chapter in Beat history. Yet it barely touches on another important relationship—that of the young Ginsberg and his real-life professor, literary critic Lionel Trilling.