Donnie Darko (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
I'm not sure if anything you've read about Donnie Darko
has been accurate. It's difficult to tell, because it seems that
everything you read will contradict the previous thing you read. This
film was hyped before Sundance as being an event approximately equal
in significance to the Second Coming, or The End of Days. It was to be an event as
rare as hearing Sinatra refer to a woman as a "woman" instead of a
"dame" or a "broad." It was to be as commercially viable as Titanic,
as brilliant a debut as Citizen Kane, as daring as Magnolia. The buzz
quieted significantly when it was shown. People liked it, but realized
that it had been over-hyped. Whatever else it was, it was not
commercially viable. Although some fairly big stars worked for scale
or near-scale to get this produced within budget (one of them was, in
fact, the producer, Drew Barrymore), it was all for nought. The film
didn't do enough at the box to buy a decent bowl of gumbo in the Latin
So what is it all about? Boy, you can't imagine how complicated a question that is.
Donnie Darko is a bright teenager who, in 1988, narrowly escapes being killed when a jet engine falls from the sky and through the roof of his parents' house. You might think that's a good thing, but it isn't, because Donnie was meant to die, and his failure to die means that he will take part in a series of events which will, in 28 days, require his mother to get on a plane which will lose its engine, and ....
OK, are you with me so far? So the engine fell not only through space, but through time as well, apparently going back 28 days. When the police and the FAA investigate the accident, they are non-plussed, because no plane has lost an engine. Hey, c'mon, they should've thought of looking in the future.
Hell, that was the simple stuff. Now it really starts to get complicated. Donnie escaped death because he was called out of his house by a giant bunny rabbit wearing a satan mask. After escaping his fated death, Donnie starts to experience some severe dislocations of time and space. He is able to perform superhuman feats. He is able to see into different parts of the time-space continuum. He is apparently even able to understand what is going on in this movie. The evil bunny continues to suggest actions for Donny, and he continues to obey because the evil bunny tells him that if he doesn't, the world will end in 28 days which, in a sense, is true.
Donnie drives an axe through a statue of the school's mascot. He burns down the house of an irritating self-help guru, accidentally exposing him as a kiddie pornographer. Eventually these actions lead his mother to go on that plane in place of the woman who was supposed to be there. (She had to chaperone some kids in a Star Search competition. The other woman couldn't go because of her devotion to the guru Donny exposed).
This time, when the engine fell off the plane, and back in time, Donnie was there to die, thus assuring he could not do those things which caused her to be on the plane. (If I'm not mistaken, however, Donnie's sister would still be on the plane and die even with the re-start of time. Or maybe I missed something.)
That is kind of the basic outline of the plot, but it involves dozens of other little details which are amusing and fateful. (Nobody likened his plot structure to any of Vonnegut's novels, but I found several elements pleasantly similar to The Sirens of Titan, especially the events surrounding a character named Granny Death)
|I think they hoped for an artistic film that would also have box office appeal, ala American Beauty. Instead, they ended up with a personal artistic vision which touched some people very deeply, but just didn't reach out to average moviegoers. That is the very definition of a cult film - one which is not liked by many people, but which is absolutely adored by a small audience. The film did only a half million at the box, despite being rated 8.3 at IMDB!||
How good a rating is 8.3? Real good. Here are the other films rated 8.3 at IMDB
I wasn't impressed enough to set it in there comfortably with To Kill a Mockingbird and Apocalypse Now, but I think two things make this film stand out from the crowd:
Donnie tends to see the local bullies, his shrink, and a gym teacher in the same way. The gym teacher objects to a nihilistic Graham Greene story in the curriculum. When asked, "Do you even know who Graham Greene is?", she replies, "Well, I think we've all seen Bonanza."
My biggest laugh in the movie: a movie theater playing a double bill - The Evil Dead and The Last Temptation of Christ - I guess it was an all-resurrection festival.
The film has weaknesses, more so in the writing than in the direction. A lot of the humor falls flat. There are too many familiar echoes from other films. A lot of the satire is juvenile. Opacity is seen as a virtue. Everything is pictured in starkly polarized black and white terms, as if life were very simple. In that respect, the author ends up doing the very thing that he is criticizing the self-help guru for.
But that's OK. It's a personal type of film made by a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. I like it when these young directors are so daring. Reach for the stars, lads. You see, wisdom is overrated. Oh, it has its place. I want wisdom from my doctor and our country's leaders, but wisdom is not a valid criterion to be used in the measurement of either art or entertainment. There will be plenty of time for all that settled wisdom and those subtle, boring nuances when you get to be 50. When you are 20, that's the time to stand in the courtyard and scream out your feelings in public.
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