Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Dark Surprise

Last night, Lucy and I watched Donnie Darko. We have been trying to make time for a movie night for awhile because Lucy really wanted to share one of her favorite movies with me.

Made in 2001, Donnie Darko stars Jake Guyllenhall, Mary McDonell, Maggie Guyllenhall, Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore. The film bypassed theaters and went straight to video because certain aspects of it resembled 9-11, which coincided with its release.
Donnie Darko is one of those films you just have to allow to unfold, kind of like The Sixth Sense. As when I watched The Sixth Sense the first time, I kept trying to make judgments on characters' actions, but Lucy had to tell me, "Just wait." The main character is a troubled teen boy, so it was hard to separate myself from the events at first. Empathy for the worried mother almost eclipsed my ability to follow the action.

I am not even going to try to explain this film to you, first because I don't want to spoil it for you and second because after reading the Wikipedia's attempt to explain it, I realize it sort of defies simple explanation. Like quantum physics, the plot of Donnie Darko can tie your brain into a pretzel. After you watch it, you have to go over the whole movie to put it all into perspective.
Try not to miss anything; for example, don't work on crocheting your afghan while you watch. Don't answer the phone or try to make dinner. You will need the details so you can argue about them with your movie-buddy afterward.

Another thing that makes Donnie Darko intriguing is how it manages to elude genre.
Genre is a social thing, a set of societal expectations that an artist attempts to fulfill. Genre tells us viewers exactly how to interpret features in a work of art like a film.
Don't go in there!
We know exactly when to hide our eyes during a slasher film; we can even guess which of the several lovely young characters will soon die an awful death; we yell "don't go back in there!" because we know what's in store.
This is what makes spoofs work; you take the recognizable aspects of genre and exaggerate them. For example, in Scary Movie, the fleeing girl, killer hot on her heels, sees weapons lying on the table: a gun, a knife and a banana. We laugh with rueful recognition when she grabs the banana, because characters in horror flicks always make the dumbest decisions ever.
Likewise, we know to bring tissues to dramas with us, to suspend our disbelief when watching sci-fi, and that in action films no mommies with strollers will be ambling through downtown when the cops chase the bad guys at high speed through the city. And so on.

But what is Donnie Darko? Drama, comedy, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi? After watching it, I still can't quite answer that without qualification.

And in a time when we're sick unto death of Hollywood's formulaic attempts to lift dollars from our pockets, it's kind of nice to be surprised.

Interesting Donnie Darko factoid:
J.R.R. Tolkien said "cellar door" was the most beautiful
combination of sounds in the English language


Lucy said...

I'm glad you were surprised!

Indie said...

Yeah, Lucy, I'll do movie night with you any night. Dexter was a little strange, but that wasn't your fault. I'm reminiscing fondly about our Bones/House nights.

Kym said...

They should pay you for that review. I'm plotting how to rent the movie! It sounds great and Sixth Sense is one of my favorites so that makes it even more enticing.

Anonymous said...

Indie, have you seen Places in the Heart?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if 9/11 is a genre? At least I got an idea and I might try to rent it over here... Thx K.! R.

Kristen said...

Wow, Indie! I'm hooked-in ... and on my way to Netflix IMMEDIATELY! I must confess that I enter with fear of the unknown, but with the excitement of your review in mind. Sounds like a solid cast and darkly refreshing :)

I love how into movies, music and books you are! It is really fun to share them like madness :)

Love to You,

Indie said...

Kym, you always say the kindest things. You should patent your extraordinary diplomacy. Will you come back here and tell me if you liked it?

Anonymous 11:28, no I haven't, or if I did it was long ago enough that I barely remember. At your recommendation, I'm going to rent it tonight, maybe drag Lucy over to watch it with me. It sounds heart-wrenching but very good. We can always trust Sally Field to be awesome too. Thank you for the recommendation!!!

R, 9/11 would be a topic. My older son saw a film about it with Nicolas Cage and couldn't stop talking about it.

Kristen, I don't know if refreshing is the word I'd use about this film. What I love is that every time I recommend something you watch it! You have earned yourself a solid place in my heart for watching and loving Under Solen. I was dying for someone to share that with. And you get kudos for turning me onto Toby Lightman. :)

Anonymous said...

K that movie with Nicolas Cage is on my list as well (rental online) and just today I put Donnie Darko on it as well :) R

Indie said...

R, for some reason, I'm just not ready to watch a film about 9-11 yet. But my son said it was fascinating.

For me, it feels premature, a Hollywood dramatization (money-making endeavor) assembled before all the facts are in. It seems to me that, until the war on Iraq ends and Bush has officially left office, the facts can't even leak out except as targeted manipulation. War (and enemies) make a great excuse for keeping secrets from the public, for good reason I suppose. So it's too soon to make a movie about 9-11.

The media is so twisted, and politics so manipulative, that I often wonder if "facts" are even possible.

History books are constantly having to be rewritten, to excise propaganda or to insert propaganda. History is a wild and colorful story but the history books make it so deathly boring, leaving a healthy niche for Hollywood to fill. And we all know what Hollywood's aim is: $$$

Nick said...

The greatest movie ever made
you need to watch it multiply times to figure it out
ive seen it a few times and dont have it all
none of my friends will watch it so all i have is my bro as a movie buddy
he showed me it, and now i know more