around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
John Hughes was
the penultimate voice of the youth during the 80s.
With Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, he
captured the vast scope and breadth of what it was like to be a
fertile, blooming, but confused young mind during the decade of
decadence. But for
all the depth that he gave his movies, he only skirted and browsed
through the darker tormented sides of growing up during those
years. Behind the façade of suburban families, IROC’s, Hobie
T-shirts and leotards, lie a generation struggling to understand
the world and their place in it, and afraid of what lie ahead at
every juncture where decisions controlled destiny.
In Donnie Darko, a chillingly morbid, and at times
frustrating view of life during these times, director Richard has
slashed open the wound that Hughes exposed, and dives into it with
twisted, but truthful glee. Those
who seek to grasp and understand the film may get frustrated or
angry, but I ask them to look not at the end result, but at the
undercurrents flowing seamlessly through the characters, stories
and atmosphere of the story.
The 80s, and our teens did not make sense to us either, and
we grew up okay, so he asks not to justify or explain, but simply
understand and try and relate.
their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tommorow, no tommorow
Donnie is a
student who is mysterious, brilliant, troubled and blunt.
He isn’t afraid to confront a teacher preaching the
explanation of life (between Fear and Love), or a motivational
speaker who seems to feed the audience full of empty catch
phrases, or ask the pretty new girl if she will “go” with him
(probably the most believable initial dating sequence since Say
Anything) Inside Donnie’s mind though, lies something dark
and mysterious. His name is Frank, and he’s a 6-ft haunting rabbit, who
prophesizes about impending doom, while “driving” Donnie to
explore his darker inhibitions.
The movie is mostly an exploration of the characters cast
in Donnie’s life, and the reaction after a plane engine
mysteriously falls through Donnie’s bedroom, yet no airplane is
ever found. Cue the
foreshadowing music here. Barrymore
is the teacher who seems to care about expanding the minds of
students (since Barrymore’s production company produced the
film, her role may have gotten more screen time than necessary).
Mix in his parents (Osbourne (the slimy boss from
Affliction) and McDonnell (her sarcasm and charm both
ever-present and in perfect pitch), his torturous, yet oddly
loving sister (real-life sister Maggie), a lonely Oriental
student and Grandma Death, and this still only scratches the
surface of the realm of personalities covered here.
Only a film this odd could make Michael Dukakis, plane
crashes, talking rabbits, the sexuality of Smurfs, and time
travel, into a cohesive, gripping, and dark story.
The contrasts of cultures are blatantly shown, to show that
while things on the surface may appear well, underneath, may be
bubbling confusion and frustration.
Beauty, from the children’s point of view.
Our lives are just a series of events and occurrences along
the path towards a goal we may not understand, but always seek to
find and achieve. Upon
rumination, the ending of this movie may not make sense, but in
the criticism of any aspect of the moviemaking process, I feel
that if you cannot offer a viable alternative, then it is
difficult to fault. In the case of Donnie Darko, I am not sure I could have come
up with a sensible, or justifiable ending for Kelly’s setup, but
I somehow feel that one is out there.
Like the answers that Donnie, his friends, family, and the
residents of his town seek, the explanation of this film, and its
ending, may defy, confuse yet still resonate in the inhabitants.
I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
Helping to set
the mood of the 80s, along with clothes and the references (Smurf’s,
Star Search etc) is the soundtrack, full of some great songs
from that decade, which ironically enough, are now fitting in the
context of the film. Tear’s
For Fear’s love/obsession anthem Head Over Heels, Duran
Duran’s melodic, but creepy, Notorious, and a remake of Fears
fitting Mad World gave music to the moods and feelings and
characters. As a side
note, this becomes the second film in months to use Joy
Division’s underground classic Love Will Tear Us Apart (the
first was Series 7:The Contenders climatic showdown/love story
angle) which will always make me smile, yet ache inside when
remembering the decade.
The casting in
this film is good, but the size and necessity of certain roles (namely
Barrymore’s) is questionable at best.
McDonnell and Osbourne as the parents strike a chord a
difficult, yet realistic balance of loving, imperfect and
compassionate as they struggle, along with their children, through
the events. Courtesy
appearances from Wyle (as the science teacher who feeds
Donnie’s time travel ideas) and Swayze (hamming it up as the
motivational speaker) lend credence to the oddities, yet
commonalities that naturally occur in life without question to
purpose or reason. But
the strongest performance, of course, comes from Gyllenhall as
Donnie. A drastic
departure from his October Sky role, Gyllenhall lends a creepy
curiousity and innocence to this conflicted, confused soul
searching for his place, and what it all means.
Coupled with Malone, who isn’t given much to do and Purdy
who stands out, even though she only has one line, repeated
several times, Kelly has managed to almost encompass the darker
side of the decade of decadence and confusion.
waiting for the day they feel good
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me
Donnie Darko is Hughes style teen movie, filtered through Todd
Solandz, and applied by David Lynch.
It is twisted, dark, uncomfortably humorous, yet painfully
real in its telling. It
builds a tension of impending doom, akin to what adolescents felt,
and feel trying to understand the world around us.
While the setup may be tiring, and the payoff frustrating,
the heart of this film lies in the relation of the audience to its
characters, and their predicaments.
Having things forced upon you, pressures applied, both
internally, and externally, there is no telling what the end
result may be. Maybe
we would see giant talking rabbits, pushing us towards those
temptations that exist within our subliminal conscience.
Maybe not. Kelly explores both sides of things, exposing us
to multiple characters (from the motivational speaker and
Bible-thumping mother, to the picked upon Oriental girl and the
teacher who wants to expand young minds), to show the varying
aspects and effects that the decade, the expectations, and the
need to conform to societal mores put on us. Being a child of the 80s, I guess I related more to this,
once I overlooked my initial frustration of things.
At first, I tried to figure this movie out, like most
movies that offer a conclusion or resolution that is not readily
evident, and I found it frustrating, yet intriguing because of the
masterful setup. The
way Kelly lures us in, and builds things up, and generates
expectation and anticipation shows his true talent as a
storyteller and filmmaker. And
the emotional undercurrent remains present throughout, and evident
upon later reflection, but a stronger, easier to discern
conclusion may have driven the message home better.
I got the point, I think I understand it as well as can be
expected, but still have a bit of an empty feeling about it all.
The overall experience isn’t diminished, but what could
have been truly breathtaking, instead is worth a gasp, a puzzled
look, an a-ha, and then a general feeling of anxiety.
In relation to the decade in which it’s set, I think that
is satisfactory enough. ($$$$
out of $$$$$)
World, performed by Gary Jules, lyrics written by
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