Friday, December 23, 2011

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly)

Donnie and the Manipulated Dead.

(Note: It's the Director's Cut that I have seen)

I think it's quite a mistake to brand "Donnie Darko" solely as a horror let alone a thriller film. Sure, the film's prevalent elements suggest that it is, but the film completely transcends both genres to which it's most commonly attributed to. On the other hand, I can't also say that the film is inclined to be a full-fledged drama film either, as its emotional content is often times overshadowed by the film's overwhelmingly menacing visual texture. A film written and directed by Richard Kelly, it's a film that I have fully expected to deliver and also to disturb, but its thematic complexity I haven't seen from a mile away. It's one of those films that you're going to watch for the first time out of curiosity but for the second strictly for cathartic clarity.

"Donnie Darko" is a deceptive film that, in initial impression, asks for nothing but your senses, making you think that it's merely one of those typical psychological thrillers, but then catches you off-guard with its beautiful convolutions and blasts your senses and your bedazzled mind away. It is a difficult watch, mind you folks, but not in the sense of how epic period films are. It's difficult in a way how reading a complex literary gem is: intellectually frustrating, even discouraging in the beginning, but is ultimately rewarding.

Description-wise, it's quite challenging to state what this film is all about in a one paragraph, five-sentence synopsis. But seeing it fit to combine various films to create an impression of what the film might look and feel like for braver souls who may want to give it a go, then this is how I see it. It's like a cross between Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" and Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides", with Brian De Palma's "Carrie" and even Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" dually sneaking somewhere in a dark corner to provide the dream-like scares. That and some heavy-handed concepts of time travel.

Set in an 80's American suburbia, it's a bit of a stretch for the film to have etched some fantastical science deeply into itself. But with what I've said earlier, seeing that the film's true motive, at least from how I see it, is to give its characters dramatic pay-offs that are wholly unique (producing a sense of emotional catharsis out of the idea of portals and vortexes) in terms of how they were built up more than to depict an adolescent schizoid's mad internal world, it has nonetheless made the film's distinct mood shifts and tonal overlaps seem justified.

Jake Gyllenhaal, now a very fine actor of considerable fame, can be proud to call "Donnie Darko" as his great coming-out party, but the same can also be said regarding how Richard Kelly and company felt about Gyllenhaal's performance. Seething with deranged half-smiles and enigmatic behavioral patterns, it can easily be surmised that his Donnie Darko, a teenager with distorted visions of an impending oblivion and an evil-looking, six-foot tall rabbit, is one murderous freak. But on the other hand, with his acting talents winded to the fullest, Gyllenhaal was also able to merge those with childish tenderness and youthful naivete. With that, what came out is a character that may externally be judged upon as a doomed nightmare incarnate but is, after all, still entirely human.

One may regularly see people dressed as Donnie Darko on certain Halloween parties but I think he's not meant to be seen like that. "Donnie Darko" is a film that agreeably shows the dangers of psychological distortions but does not focus on its negative consequences but on how it affects lives in ways both unexpected and unseen, either good or bad. For some, with this kind of character treatment, it's an opportunity to yet again exploit give-away murders and bloody mayhem that may even breed dreadful sequels, as it is even quite fitting to see the title "Donnie Darko 2" dwell in movie marquees, complete with cheesy taglines that border on the desperate, but I'll just stop right there.

The film may or may not have provided all the answers regarding its hidden truths, but nevertheless, "Donnie Darko", with its conceptual complexity that deservedly inspires an intellectually stimulating post-viewing discussion or two, has awaken my ever-analytic sensibilities and my urgent need to understand. It is a film that achieves to simulate the sensation of reading an intriguing little book without trying very hard to do so. The film, for the magnitude of its ambition, can easily be branded as nothing but extreme cinematic pretense on Richard Kelly's part, but what it surely can't be accused of is cowardice of vision. A true modern classic, I believe.


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