Monday, January 12, 2009

Donnie Darko


This film was recommended to me by a relative, and I can after viewing it see why it has a cult following. It's a teen movie, but it's smart enough for adults; it's a paranormal science fiction piece, kind of a souped-up Twilight Zone. Jake Gyllenhaal performs the role of Donnie with considerable skill, there are also highly enjoyable performances from Drew Barrymore as an earnest English teacher and Patrick Swayze as a two-faced self-help guru. Spoilers follow.

It's the story however that is the most compelling. Is Donnie crazy, or has he just somehow accessed a parallel dimension? At first we're not sure. He has medication to take for emotional problems, he sees a menacing 6ft tall rabbit named Frank who tells him, among other things, that the world will end in 28 days. The falling of a dangerous object from the sky provokes him into exploring the feasibility of time travel, and there is also a charming romance interwoven with the rest of the plot.

Much like the director of Ghost, (another film starring Patrick Swayze - why is Patrick Swayze always getting involved in films with emotional intensity bordering on the manipulative?) the director of this film seeks to manipulate your emotions throughout the story, in order to build sympathy for certain characters, only to reveal an eschatological gotcha! at the end. I don't mind it though because the messages are so sweet and indulgent in that let's-relive-our-high-school-drama kind of way. Ah if only for a time machine, ha ha.

I didn't have much difficulty grasping the scientific theory presented as an explanation for all the strange events -it seems plausible that the universe could have evolutionary forks that collapse upon themselves in the same way that the biosphere does. The questions would be then - how do they happen? How often? And at what speed? Speed is something often useful to keep in mind when viewing or reading science fiction of any kind. But those are good questions for the intellectually curious.

Its hard to shake the image of the rabbit in this movie as no less than demonic, since there is another film that came out about the same time in which the rabbit is a devilish figure. But does the rabbit save Donnie or want to kill him? The interplay that Donnie has with this shadowy spirit guide is less easy to explain, even when the science appears at the end of the film to sort of "explain it." (they made me do it - carved in front of the atrocious school mascot by Donnie-as-prankster: well, who? There's just one rabbit - we know he doesn't mean "they" in that persecuted-loner kind of way)

At first it appears that the story means to send a message about drug use in America - it all takes place in 1988, and there is the debate televised between Dukakis and Bush 41 in which they mention radically different approaches to drug policy and Latin America. Donnie himself seems at least mildly damaged by his own medication. Does the writer mean to suggest that the "end of the world"that Frank the Rabbit describes is the perfect rapture of the police state brought on by the imminent succession of HW Bush to the presidency, and the Left's resulting capitulation - better expressed in my opinion by the Batman films - or is this just another one of these high school "fantasies" that is expressed scientifically at the end of the film as a mere "tangent universe" along with other such fantasies that step into that universe during the film - such as an English teacher who really gets you, pranksters flooding the school until it closes, and making love to the prettiest girl in the class on Halloween night?

In other words the director means to ask us which universe is the tangent and which one is normal/better? Where is a position of manipulation, and what is just a prank? There is enough comedy in the film too so one can laugh while thinking about these things.

1 comment:

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