Monday, October 29, 2001

Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit

OK. Checked out Donnie Darko with Andrew, my son and faithful sidekick. Something about that creepy fucking rabbit poster just made me want to see it. Creepy, metallic rabbits have that effect on me. Evidently, I'm an anomaly. The theater was jam-packed with people who weren't there. Pity the poor dude in the marketing department who made the demographic miscalculation. He's probably dressed as a giant weiner somewhere, bopping up at down at minimum wage in 110 degree heat attempting to get you to stop your car and bop into Nathan's Famous and bite one of their weiners.

The poster tells you nothing about what the movie's about. I've seen the movie. Twice. (Thereby doubling its ticket sales in its meteoric one-week run.) I still don't know what it's about. Hell, I even checked out their bizarro-world website and followed the clues. I still don't get it. But I still love it. If it was playing somewhere, I'd see it again.

As best I grasp it, there's been a hard-drive error in time. The universe is looping in on itself, replaying the same month, over and over again. Eventually, the system will become unstable -- and the whole shooting match will be destroyed. One kid -- Donnie Darko -- is the causeless cause of the glitch. For some reason, he's supposed to die -- when an airplane engine (ripped into that space-time address via a wrinkle in time from an alternative temporal vector) crashes through his bedroom roof.
The freaking evil rabbit warns him, so Donnie gets out of bed and cheats death. Eventually, he sacrifices himself, at the advice of the evil rabbit, who's actually a good kid named Frank. Time loops around again. Donnie stays in bed and the engine kills him. The time-skipping stops. Before it does, he lives more life than most of us ever will in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.

Of course, if the rabbit hadn't warned him, Donnie would have stayed in bed and died: problem solved.

But, if he hadn't died, he couldn't have sent the engine through time ...

Ah, fuck it. Sorry if I made your brain bleed. Every time travel movie is a three-card monte game. Best not to think about it, as Austin Powers once said.

Forget the arc of sacrifice and the say-what logic to justify it. The movie isn't so much a Gaudi-like, overdone SF architecture of lost time. It is lost time. Within his arcane SF/fantasy structure, Richard Kelly has taken a slice of time from the recent past -- the late 1980s, which still seem like yesterday to me -- and then made it real again. The past recaptured. 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds of it.

Teens boil with sexual and spiritual frustration at a repressive school. The clothes are preppy uniforms. The music is all Duran Duran and INXS. The pop references are all C.H.U.D., Smurfs, Stephen King and the final battle between good and evil waged by Reagan and Dukakis. America's brand of Fascism Lite is in the air: reductive self-help programs created by a secret kiddy-porn lover and stuffed down the children's throats. The kids compete for Star Search. To the tune of Notorious, a girl group called Sparkle Motion wows the crowd with, well, dance moves that seem creepy when little kids do it. The good teachers are powerless and marginalized. They give good advice, but out of the corner of their mouths. Something very bad is going on, and they're powerless to stop it. Somebody, somehow, is stealing the children's future.

This movie about the 80s is told with a spot-on recreation of the look-and-feel of the movies from the 80s: the ouvre of John Hughes, and others like him. Michael Andrews' soundtrack brilliantly captures the synthpop, Minimoog feel of the time. And I like his cover of Mad World better than the Tears for Fears original.

Kelly's film (his first fucking film!!) is not an exercise in nostalgia. It's an attempt to express an inexpressible loss. Donnie Darko, heroically, does the Christ thing and give his life. He saves the universe. But, then again, Donnie Darko is dead.

Without being literal and allegorical, the movie's screenwriter/director is clearly saying some undefinable darkness was in the air. The adults left the children to deal with problems that children shouldn't have to deal with. Some of the children got killed. Some of the best children. The world was saved, but the world was diminished. We've lost something, some possibility of growth, human possibility, intimacy and freedom. The irony is, we don't even know what we've lost. Or who saved us.

At film's end, there's a montage where everyone weeps for their undefined loss. It could've been maudlin. But I think the director/screenwriter earned that scene.

I'm not sure where this last puzzle piece fits. But I'll drop it on the table anyway. Nobody seems to have caught the reference ...

In Butterflies are Free, Donnie Dark was the hero created by the mother character in a series of children's books she wrote to give hope to her blind son. Donnie Dark was a child, a superhero, and blind.

He saved everybody.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to put on my giant weiner costume and get back to work.

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