“So close. If all goes well, we should be wrapped this weekend. Tonight we have #3 – Dawnie, er, I mean Donnie Darko. What’s happened with a lot of the most recent selections is that while Im midway thru the movie, I already have the urge to watch it again. I start thinking that maybe I’ll restart it, or it’ll be my go to sleep movie, or I start thinking about friends I can watch it with. That’s how I know a film is deserving of being on my list. Actually, the first time I drafted this list a few years ago, I was kinda surprised that this was up so high. But there really only are two other movies I could conceivably rank higher.
I find it’s impossible to describe the film to someone who isn’t familiar with it, without sounding like a total crazy person. I’ve spent ten minutes trying to figure out the phrasing to no avail, so I’ll steal the one liner from IMDB: “”A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a large bunny rabbit that manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after narrowly escaping a bizarre accident.”” I’ll elaborate on that sentance with a few details. Donnie is masterfully played by the gorgeous Jake Gyllenhaal. The bizarre accident is a jet engine that crashes into Donnie’s room. The only reason he wasn’t there is because his bunny friend(?), Frank led him out of there in a sleepwalking trance. I’d classify it as a psychological film (I dont know if I’d go so far as to say psychological thriller, but then again I am somewhat desensitized to such things), but it has a very strong sci-fi element, especially because of the whole time travel aspect.
I know and love this movie so well now, that I forget how \m/ it actually is. Seriously, it never occurs to me when Im thinking of examples of messed up movies I adore. But I still remember how strongly it affected me the first time I watched it. I was back at my dorm, and I borrowed the DVD from a hallmate. Watched it in my room in the dark, glued to my seat. As soon as the credits rolled, I immediately restarted it. This time I put the subtitles on (a habit I have since continued whenever I watch a movie at home) thinking maybe there was something in the dialogue that I missed that could explain it. I remained frozen in place thru the second round. When the credits rolled, I stumbled down the hall with what was probably a vacant look in my eye. Found aforementioned hallmate. We sat down on the floor and discussed the film for a couple hours. Over the next couple years, we would have fairly regular hour-long discussions about Donnie Darko.
There’s just so much to debate and question about the movie. What does it all mean? What events are real? What’s in his head? I can’t really go into more detail on the questions without getting spoilerific, but trust me, they can go on endlessly. Seeing writer/director Richard Kelley’s subsequent films I cant help but wonder what his motive is. Is there a huge symbolic meaning behind everything? Are all of his works a grand metaphor? Or does he just think this shit is cool? Funny, I have the exact same thoughts about productions directed by a certain member of the MIT faculty.
A big part of why I feel so connected to the movie is the whole outsider aspect. That shouldnt be a shock. But I think what keeps me coming back is that no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I still have unanswered questions. I love that I’ll never know what it’s all about. Every subsequent viewing gives me something new to chew on until the next time. However, it does so without being confusing. I feel like Im always on the brink of discovering the key to cracking the whole thing wide open, like Im inches away from having a solid grasp. Hoookay think it’s time I stop with the vagueness and move on.
Oh, word of caution. Avoid the director’s cut. The attempt to try and explain some of the time travel elements sucks the magic right outta the movie. And the changes to the soundtrack are unacceptable. It’s maybe worth one watch outta curiosity if you’re a fan of the movie, but as a rule, I _never_ let someone watch the director’s cut who has not seen the theatrical release. Also, stay away from the sequel, s. Darko. I dont even consider it a real sequel since Richard Kelly wasn’t even involved with it.
Another antecdote to wrap things up. This one’s a little lengthy, but its a favorite. Whenever I’d go home on vacation, I’d bring a bunch of movies to watch with my daddy. Before we got into our tradition of marathoning 24, we would go thru quite a big stack of DVD’s together. One Xmas vacay, I took Donnie Darko. I just felt he’d enjoy it, which he did. I think he was as absorbed by it as I was on the initial watch. I still recall a few strong reactions at key scenes. Now, my daddy was a big goofball. He thoroughly enjoyed teasing and tickling and being playfully annoying. For example, it was impossible for him to walk by my outstretched legs without pawing at my ticklish feet as he passed. This happened often because he’d hafta walk by me in the recliner to get to the other chair in the tv room. The next time he tried this after watching Donnie Darko, I “”yelled”” at him as usual. His defense this time was “”It wasn’t me. Frank made me do it”” “”Frank, Daddy?”” “”Uh huh. Only this Frank is not a rabbit”” “”Um, okay, I’ll bite. What is he?”” “”No, Im not gonna tell you. You’re gonna laugh at him”” “”Just tell me”” “”He’s a gerbil””. Of course, I lose it. This joke continues through Christmas Eve. It’s presents time, and Daddy directs me to just a particular stocking first. I open it to find a dancing hamster Santa. Daddy leans over and whispers “”His name is Frank”””