October 26, 2011

Donnie Darko and More Time Travel [Review Time]

If the sky were to suddenly open up, there would be no law, there would be no rule. There would only be you and your memories.
You know how I love cult movies. Donnie Darko was a low budget film at 4.5 million, and didn't even manage to make that much back at the box office. It only started to have mass appeal as it spread as a cult phenomenon. Take a look at the 2001 trailer, and I think you'll see why this film didn't attract a widespread audience. It's difficult to really tell what this movie is about, what to expect, and that doesn't exactly change upon watching it. This is definitely a very complex movie with many undercurrents that are difficult to grapple with. A lot goes unsaid.

Donnie Darko is a curious story playing with the philosophy of time travel, but not in terms of a DeLorean and a journey to the age of the dinosaurs or anything like that. This is a much more mature film that deals with a tear in the fabric of time and a paradox that has to be resolved. It's deeply character driven, with the main concern being Donnie's acceptance of what has to happen in order for time to continue on as it was meant to. It's a deep piece, and it's very difficult to understand and make sense of everything that happens. The meaning is not spoon-fed to us, nor is anything — not even the plot. Definitely go watch it if you haven't, and then watch it again.

While the main concern of the movie is time travel and conflicting parallel universes, it's difficult to come to terms with how this relates to many of the film's events. A major concern of Donnie's is that the adult world and the world of his high school seem to be full of what can only really be called bullshit, but if you're adverse to using that word, you may call it hypocrisy. The school is visited by promotional speaker Jim Cunningham, who preaches that every human action can be described as either an act of love or an act of fear. This is very troubling for Donnie, who passionately tells his teacher, "There are other things that need to be taken into account here. Like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can't just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else!" While it is relatable to find some school assignments to be meaningless time wasters, Donnie's outbreak here, which earns him a suspension from extracurriculars, is definitely significant, but significant of what? While I find Kitty Farmer's later outburst of "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!" to be the most hilarious moment in the history of cinema, I'm not really sure why it was included in the film. There is definitely a thematic interest in the characters of Cunningham and Farmer, but I can't quite say what it is.

On the other hand, we see teachers that actually understand their students and want to contribute something worthwhile being punished. Karen Pommeroy is fired for teaching Graham Greene's "The Destructors" because the vandalism of the school is clearly inspired by the literature. It's an unfair world that Donnie leaves behind, but I feel like that can't be the whole point of this sequence of events. Certainly the tangent universe helps Donnie come to terms with his inevitable fate, but there must be more to it than that. It definitely helps characterise Donnie and gives us insight into his mental illness — as strangely as he acts throughout the film, it's easy to understand why he snaps after just minutes of screen time devoted to Jim Cunningham and Kitty Farmer.

There is endless discussion to be had about this film, and certainly no clear answers. Any movie like that is a winner in my books.

I also have to add, incredible performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. What a creeper.

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