Monday, March 2, 2009

Darko Revisited

This weekend was spent watching a lot of good films on DVD. More about that later. But one of them was a film I decided to revisit for a simple reason.

It's been at least more than two years since I last saw Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, a film which just gets better with each viewing. The straight-to-video sequel, stupidly titled S Darko, about Donnie's Sparkle Motion sister, is coming out, and the trailer, which you can see here, looks incredibly stupid.

Donnie Darko wasn't a hit when it came out, but later became a cult favourite. When there's a cult following, it simply means there's a group of people who truly understand and appreciate the film. So what is the point of making a sequel to cash in on the following, when this group of people who truly understand the film would also understand that no sequel is needed?

Stupid sequels aside, everytime I watch the film, it ends up stuck in my head for days. I can't stop thinking about it, figuring out its quirks, clues and philosophies. It's one of the most original films of recent times, and the certainly one of the most moving, partly due to its fantastic soundtrack. This time around, it's the operatic tune, For Whom The Bell Tolls, by Steve Baker and Carmen Daye, that has haunted me over and over, making me relive that frightening moment in the film that takes place in the darkened cinema.

To make things easier, I'll break down what I want to say into a list.

1. If there's one film also about time travel that shares a similar fatalism with Donnie Darko, it's Chris Marker's La Jetee. But Donnie manages to find a way to escape, not his own fate, but from becoming the cause of others' deaths.

2. Interestingly, the discussions between Donnie and his science teacher seem to suggest that all arguments for fatalism inevitably ends up in the realm of theological fatalism. Donnie, is in essence, a fatalist, but his teacher argues that if the future is predetermined, then we, knowing the outcome, would have free choice not to take the path leading to that outcome. The discussion stops when Donnie starts bringing God into the equation.

3. The film questions what the idea of "doom" really means. Frank is a recurring "character" in the story. He is the giant bunny rabbit who keeps appearing to Donnie, he is the guy Donnie's parents talk about as "the guy who was doomed," and he is the character that Jim Cunningham uses as an example in his presentation at Donnie's school. Interestingly, and this you will only notice and understand on second viewing, Frank, when he appears to Donnie in the cinema, says "I'm sorry" to Donnie, hinting at why his right eye is shot out. Donnie himself is a doomed character, but the question is, to what end?

4. A plane is essentially a time machine. So I think the use of an airplane engine as the catalyst for the unfolding events of the film is very apt. Depending on which direction you fly, if you travel by plane, you will either end up jumping to a day ahead, thus having a missing day in your life, or you could end up reliving the day you left your port of embarkation. That's really another concept of "time travel."

5. Perhaps the most memorable sequence, or the one that stands out the most, is the Head Over Heels "music video." We are introduced to the various characters in the school while the Tears For Fears song plays, and the manipulation of the film speed really underlines the idea of time and its manipulation in the film. Several things in that sequence, such as Sparkle Motion's Notorious performance, of which we get a brief glimpse, have their later significance hinted at. And of course, Head Over Heels being a love song is appropriate, especially with the closing line "Funny how time flies ...".

6. And then of course, there's the sequence with For Whom The Bell Tolls, when Frank, the giant bunny rabbit, finally reveals his true face, and what he says to Donnie, together with the haunting music and vocals, point to a certain inevitability. It's an incredibly powerful sequence.

COPYRIGHT POLICY: It's simple: Steal my stuff and I'll kick you in the nuts