Monday, April 18, 2005

Donnie Darko

(The Director's Cut)

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

Originally it had never really dawned on me that Donnie Darko could be considered a horror movie. Then I rented the director's cut this weekend...

Plotline: Donnie Darko, your average angsty and confused high school student, is suffering from "delusions" revolving around a large and terrifying bunny named Frank who urges him to burn houses down and flood schools. The movie takes place in the time leading up to the alleged "end of the world" as Donnie's demons unleash themselves and he struggles to figure out who he is, who Frank is, and what's going on in the universe.

Director's Cut vs. The Original: I still am a sucker for the original, but the Director's Cut was definitely not disappointing. (Read about the differences between the original and the director's cut here). The reason I am a sucker for the original is that it was so mysterious and there was no map of understanding laid out in front of you for you to make sense of it all--the first time I saw this movie, I spent about 2 hours with my boyfriend, diagramming and rediagramming the jet engine moments and trying to make sense of what was going on in the universe of Donnie Darko. We were feverish and entranced in our intensity to make sense of it all. We were smitten with the movie. The director's cut gives much more guidance in understanding what Richard Kelly was trying to do--he sections the movie up with chapters from the Roberta Sparrow book which guide the viewer as to a) what is going on in these particular scenes and b) what is going on in the movie overall. A lot less is left up to the imagination. There are also more moments of discussion about the time/space continuum and time travel.

Now, as I stated earlier, I had never really thought of Donnie Darko as a horror movie. For some reason, this had never even crossed my mind. Perhaps because the characters are actually three-dimensional and not just the punching bag for evil beings. Perhaps because anyone who actually went to high school can easily relate to Donnie Darko. Perhaps because it is intelligent, complicated, spills over into philosophical realms and is psychologically taut. However, the director's cut is much more sober than the original--since it is longer, the funny moments are kind of overtaken by the darker instances. This is what made it suddenly dawn on me that, hell, this sorta is a horror movie. I mean, you have nods to other horror movies (Evil Dead) and other 80's movies as well (Back to the Future, E.T.). And more importantly, you have this creepy-ass demonic-like bunny that looks like it crawled out of hell guiding Donnie onto a path towards destruction and death. Definitely has the components of a horror movie. And yet it's complicated. And it's good. And it's meaty and intelligent.

Scariness factor: The creepiness factor is high on this--there are no real jump-in-your-seat moments, but the bunny creature Frank (shown above) is enough to make it difficult for anyone to fall asleep. Plus, all the talk of tangent universes and the end of the world will no doubt leave you unsettled and squeamish. This movie is scary the way thinking about death and the end of it all and infinity is scary.

Originality: Ridiculously, jaw-gapingly original in its delving into time travel and the nature of the universe. Looks at the complexity of teenage brains and ties that into the terrifyingness of mental health and madness and the complexity of the nature of the universe. I mean, what more can you ask for?

Other Complaints: None. I love this movie.

Other High Points: Fantastic soundtrack and score--fantastic timing of scenes in relation to soundtrack and score. Damn freaky bunny costume that will give you nightmares.

Overall: Totally worth renting. Will stretch your brain and make your skin crawl at the same time.

Grade: A



At 8:05 AM, Blogger Genevieve said...

I've avoided the director's cut because I thought the original explained too much.

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In what way did the ORIGINAL explain too much?

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

You're talking to a girl whose favorite director is Lynch. Compared to something like 'Lost Highway', Donnie Darko is almost a pop narrative.

Personally, I have to agree. Again, maybe I've seen too many weird art flicks, but I didn't think DD needed the additional time for explaination. It's been my fear that the director's cut is kind of like the end of 'Vanilla Sky': a really good movie where they felt the need to cheapen it by explaining it all to you at the end, just in case you didn't get it.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Genevieve said...

Without spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it, the ending is so much like the whole "it was just a dream" thing - the cliche most exemplified by the end of Wizard of Oz. Instead of embracing the magical realism and suspension of disbelief, the ending of the circle with the second time the plane engine falls on the house gives the whole explanation of "oh - this didn't really happen".

I haven't seen it in a long time, but it seems there was a little more at the end that gave stuff away too.

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gah! Maybe that's why you thought it was too "simple." I think you may have missed the point of the movie.

The ending was not an "it was just a dream" ending at all. The movie was about time-travel and a tear in the time-space continuum. *SPOILER HERE SO DON'T CONTINUE TO READ IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE:
The ending is not him waking up from a dream. The loop back to the engine scene is b/c at the beginning where the engine drops in is where the "tear" in the time-space continuum takes place and the characters drift off into a tangent universe. In the end (as we see the sky clouding over and Donnie awakening in his bed with laughter and the engine recrashing through the roof), the tangent universe has folded in on itself and imploded, and there is a return to the non-tangent universe. It was very carefully crafted, and a far-cry from those lazy "it was only a dream" movies.

Check out that link to the Roberta Sparrow book--it will make sense after you look through that, G. And you might appreciate the movie a bit more knowing that it wasn't one of those cop-out "it was only a dream" type flicks.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Genevieve said...

I wanted it to be open-ended tho. As I said - I haven't seen it in a while - and so it was really an over-simplified version of what I thought above. I did in fact get the whole space time continuum thing - but - to me - saying that that was an altenate reality and this is what really happened in the real time. As in - the engine falls on the house but Donny is ok and all the strange shit with the light trails and frank happens circling back in the end and the plane engine falls on the house and kills him.

Well - to me - it would have been more interesting if they had worked the one storyline into the real world - in my mind saying 'that was an alternate reality and this is the one we all live in day to day' is a variation of the dream sequence. What I had hoped all throughout the movie is that it truly was magical realism wherein Frank and everything existed in this plane of existence. So - while to you the movie suceeds in its whole metaphysical exploration, to me I see it as one solution to the plotline but not the one I had hoped for. It still allows the viewer to be able to separate things and say - ok - that was a glimpse into the other world instead of pondering - wow - that's in this world - but how?

So - yes - I did 'get' the movie, it just wasn't what I wanted it to be.

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. I don't so much see the ending as a "solution to the plotline" (which is what those annoying "it was only a dream" endings seem to be)--to me it was the point of the movie, not some copout "how can I easily wrap this all up" kinda thing.

I mean, the idea of having it be a tangent universe (rather than magical realism where all this was existing in the same plane of the universe) intriguingly opens up a lot of questions: 1) is the one "real" universe a composition of all "tangent" universes? 2) do tangent universes exist on different reality planes? 3) are tangent universes equivalent to "possibility" and how does this speak to a movie in which a child is trying to make sense of himself and his place in the universe and pin all these things down? Magical realism seems to me like it would have had less to say and would have opened up less interesting and complicated tangents in looking at the movie.

I mean, assuming that the movie had been conducted in the way you apparently wanted it to be (the whole magical realism thing), what would the "point" of the movie ultimately have been to you (and us as viewers) do you think?

And I guess this opens up a different and interesting question:
Does movie analysis consist of analyzing a film in terms of what you (the viewer) would do if you were to make the movie yourself? Or should it be analyzed in terms of how all its parts fit organically into the whole of the purpose of the movie that is now in existence?

Thoughts, anyone?

At 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your different question is basically asking what criteria ANY sort of criticism [film, book, music] should follow. Ultimately, that worth is totally subjective. I think two assumptions are inherent to any sort of criticism: a) What you think they are doing and b) how well you think they did it. For two criticisms to be compared effectively, they probably need to have at least one of those in common.

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when you start going into things along the lines of "i wish the movie was like this," you sort of start leaving the realm of criticism in terms of analysis of the story and style and start edging in on the realm of criticism in terms of finding fault.

it's sort of like looking at a painting and saying, "boy, i wish the painter had painted that man's pants red instead of blue." what you are doing there is asking for the art to CHANGE so that you like it more. and, at the same time, what you are doing is changing the art altogether, hoping to make something of it that it is not. you are asking the art to be more agreeable to your TASTE as opposed to existing as it does, disinterestedly, for your digesting how it is and does exist...for you to make sense of it as it exists in the world. this is all very basic kantian stuff.

you may not LIKE how the art is made. you may not like its compostion, the way it looks, or anything about it, but to wish to change its form is to wish it to be something other than what it is...and by that you say that it is not agreeable to your taste as opposed to saying it is not effective in form. that is an entirely different mode of criticism...

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Umm..I didn't think that was being question. she offered her opinion of it. She is saying "Well - to me - it would have been more interesting...". It's explaining why she, in particular, did not like the movie as much as someone else might. She didn't say "this movie sucks" or "it's horribly made."

The movies we see, the books we read, are all *about* taste. Sure, I could read a book that was beautifully written about a subject that bores the shit outta me, but chances are, despite the quality and intelligence of the writing, the book is probably still going to bore the shit outta me. I mean, I can sit and read cookbooks (and not the recipe parts either!), something that interests me to no end..doesn't mean everyone has to like it because it's well written or not.

In short: Though we *do* like it, neither of us like the movie as much as either of you. Big fucking deal. I'm sure there's lots of movies like that. We each offer our opinions (and that's truly all they are). We move on. There's no need to compile some long-winded "logical" arguement as to why one person is right or wrong or attempt to invalidate anyone's arguement.

Anyways, it's not even a horror movie ;)

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think all Eric was responding to was my question, not so much attempting to deconstruct Genevieve.

And all I was trying to point out is that maybe her dislike of the movie stemmed from her not clearly understanding it structurally, which is what it sounded like initially since it is NOT in fact a movie that ends with an "it was all a dream" sequence (and I don't think anyone would argue that it DOES end with that).

If one person is allowed to give their opinion, others should be too, Patricia, my Patricia. That is what the comment-space is for.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Oh, I know and, truly, I didn't have any problem with your comments or any of the others, just the tone of the last one I replied to.

that is all.
over and out.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Genevieve said...

OK guys - that's it - you can now do without my commentary. Every time I have ever had a difference of opinion with on this site or the defective site, I get bombarded by L and E telling my I'm wrong and then listing this load of theoretical, philosophical crap like it's debate club, loaded with Deridda quotes or whatnot. Well - you know - just deal with the fact that another person disagrees with you and don't start an argument that basically insinuates that you want to prove that you're more correct and/or smarter than said person. I'm not asking you to agree with everything I think (be it movies, sexual/relationship behavior, the basis of postmodern theory, etc). That said - I bid you farewell to your blogs, because if I wanted drama I'd post in my friends' LiveJournals.

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, relax. Please.

I don't know you genivieve, but you come across as being a bit ridiculous here. You post an opinion on a movie blog, and you're surprised when people react to it? In my mind, the best kind of internet dialogues are ones in which people disagree.

I consider myself to be quite smart and I still don't think that "Donnie Darko" makes complete sense. Please, someone, explain it to me.

The ending of "Donnie Darko" is "Donnie Darko" -- I really don't understand how you can say things like "oh, I wish the ending were different." The ending is the beginning, and the middle, and the end. Yes, I admit I don't entirely understand the film, but I think I understand it enough to make this assertion. If the ending were as you seem to wish it were, the movie would become complete nonsensical crap. This is my opinion, and I have seen both versions of the film many times.

As I am about to post this, I realize that it is more inflammatory than I originally intended it to be. For that I apologize.

Genevieve: clearly your comments are interesting, otherwise they wouldn't create such a stir. Don't take this shit personally.

My twenty won.

At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

uh, this blog response is to me, MUCH more interesting than Donnie Darko could ever dream to be.

I say post THIS on Defective Life (add a few squirrels) and hash it out for discussion.

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was incredibly disappointed with the director's cut from the start. One of the best things about the movie, in my opinion, is the opening sequence, which sets the tone for the whole movie. In the director's cut, they took out the creepy dawn music as Donnie is waking up, and changed the song as he's biking back to town. Maybe that's stupid of me, but that completely ruined the tone. Boo. I wish they'd left the opening sequence alone.

Something about the description of this movie fascinated me, and I eagerly awaited it. I followed the countdown on the official website, and browsed the sections (the official site is bizarre, and they put up sections at a time. you had to go through the first sections and get the passwords to the later sections to access them as they appeared). So I already knew a lot about the premise and had read the sections of Roberta Sparrow's book BEFORE I saw the movie, which informed my experience - as opposed to someone seeing it "blind", without any knowledge that tangent universe stuff. Also I saw it by myself - I find when I see unusual movies (Like DD or Memento) I like them more if I don't have a friend (my friends are not "into" film and are likely to mock and be skeptical) with me to snort at the movie and bitch about how it doesn't make sense and ruin it for me.


with all that in mind - I like the movie. I don't think the original explained too much, but I also don't know that it would have been clear to me without all my prior investigation that he had to make a CHOICE to sacrifice himself in order to close the tangent universe and save the primary one. I wouldn't have known that it was Donnie through some special "power" (which I still don't quite even get) pulling the engine off the plane the second time, to close the loop, and that he did so with full awareness that he needed to stay in bed and die this time for it to work. I think I wouldn't have gotten that.

however, I don't know that the directors cut solves this problem by just putting the pages of the book on screen. There had to be some other way to introduce that information, as both mentions of the book within the film pass over that point - they talk about time travel but never the "receiver" and "manipulated dead" stuff.

At 3:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first time I saw this movie I was in Laguna Beach California at the Spencer Recovery Center, formerly known as Hotel California. And yes, for those of you who didn't know, that song is about a hotel that was turned into rehab clinic in 1969 (hence the lyrics) and is still in operation today - it's a pretty nice place too. Anyways, whilst in recovery, since I couldn't get my hands on any good drugs, that night I consumed two full bottles of extra strength Robitussin, the 15mg dextromethorphin stuff, and was sitting - immovable - on the couch when some one decided to go out and rent donny darko. Anyone who has ever consumed mass quantities of cough syrup, for whatever absurd reason knows it can be one of the most mind bending, terrifying experiences of your life. You really feel that something terrible is just about to happen but you can't figure out what it is going to be. (In reality this is just your body telling you that it is being dangerously poisoned and that you should never drink cough syrup again...) So the point of this rambling is this: Try and picture a 19 year old kid, completely tripping "balls" on dextromethorphin, stuck in front of the ORIGINAL version of donny darko, having no idea that this movie had even existed up until this point. I remember believing that something terrifying was happening but that Mr. Darko himself would at any desperate moment reveal what the problem was and how to fix me. You see at this point during the film my remembrance of drinking the syrup was irrelevant and the only thing I could concentrate on was the movie, and to impatiently await Mr. Darko's resolution, as I felt myself directly linked to the plot in both mind and body. Why do I disclose all this information? If you have never seen Donny Darko, get the original version, and drink a bottle of non xtra strength cough syrup. I would advise not drinking two bottles of xtra strength as unless you weigh a good 250 pounds (all muscle, of course) as I do, this will probably kill you, and we will have to give you the Darwin award. Of course, now that you have read all of this, I promise you will not have the same experience as I did as by the time you drink the syrup you will already know Donny is a fictional character, and not an extension of your own self, some how visible to you in a TV screen. Nonetheless, consider it. I would not recommend acid as it is both illegal and stays in your spinal cord and comes back to haunt you. I've never tried acid, so I'm no authority on the matter, but I've heard and seen bad things. For all of you who read this in disbelief, furious that I would condone the abuse of cough syrup, I sit here with a smile, knowing I have experienced something you will never know. The syrup-darko experience, as I fondly remember it, is one of my most fantastic adventures and very fondest memories. It compares only with my wedding day, the birth of my daughter, and when I was 16, stoned on marijuana out of my mind, attempting to download some stupid pop song off of napster and accidentally downloading Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. To my virgin ears, having no idea who Led Zeppelin was, listening to this song completely baked, I pretty much came in my pants. Once again, if you haven't tried it by now, it's probably not for you. These types of things can only happen if your destined to live a life on the fringe of normality, playing by no rules except the ones dictated by the drugs you put into your system. As an adult, I no longer abuse drugs as most of my friends have either died or went to prison, and substance abuse sort of lost its allure. But I wouldn't trade my memories of the syrup-darko experience, nor the stoned-stairway to heaven accident for the entire world. And if Donny Darko did hold one ounce of truth, such that when I die I am only left with my memories, I'll have one more thing to laugh about. GODDAMN I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!!


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