So I've been watching Donnie Darko. Not once. Every day. I don't throw chairs at my roommates with they refuse to see it again, I just use mild obscenity to explain how I feel about their lack of aesthetic sensibilities, not to mention their lack of dedication. Also I don't normally like to watch things over and over.
What follows is my explanation of why Donnie Darko is so rocking.
Incredible mise-en-scene, characters, and dialogue make for constant fun. Most scenes merit a laugh.
This is a high school movie without the obsession with the cool kids. Such movies always rock- "The Breakfast Club", and "Ten Things I Hate About You". The high school movie cast is there- We have the bully, the adults with their various eccentricities, notably Ms. Farmer, the devotee of Jim Cunningham, and the passionate coach of the dance team, "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion." We have our cool teachers as well. There is the comfort of the complete vision of the social world- paired with the strange edges- where another world interacts with this one.
It's not your generic high school movie. It isn't about social standing, and it doesn't offer untruthful platitudes about how it will all work out. Inevitably, even the high school movies I like would tire me for their incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of the world. This is real, partly because it doesn't intend to circumscribe the known world with the creation of eight clicks in the lunch room.
It is the character of Donnie Darko that fascinates me. "What kind of name is that? Donnie Darko? It sounds like a super hero or something." Donnie is an iconoclast, offering to "forcibly insert the life line activities card into" his teacher's "anus," breaking the school's watermain, and, after declaring in front of a whole school his belief that a prominent speaker is the anti-christ, and then burning down his house. More importantly, he offers one of the cuttingest critiques of the Smurf way of life of all time.
His rationale for rebellion is murky. He suffers from strange visions, in which a man-rabbit directs him to break and burn. Also he has a hard time with any one who wants to simplify the complexity of life. Still, I joy in each rebellion, in the conviction with which he walks up to his teacher, and the wry smile that crosses his face before he tells Cunningham he is the anti-Christ. Nothing wrong with stopping school for a day, in fact there is an awesome montage of bus stops, in which children rejoice at the missed day. Cunningham turns out to be a child pornographer- and Mrs. Farmer is someone who annoys everyone already. His rebellion is against unwarranted authority, evil, and compunction (school).
There is a convoluted and made up mythology that explains this movie. I'm sure there are people who are waiting for their own Artifact, ready to be the Manipulated Living, or the Manipulated Dead, but this wacky stuff is the thing with which I have the hardest time in this movie. It's weird, makes no sense, and it's hard to know how anyone would invent this, and think it was worth burying in an awesome movie.
But it do contribute. It, (no director's cut, por favor) creates a world in which the sense of an alternate reality slowly permeating the real world freaks me out- and the sense that something important is going to happen- that evil forces, and imminent destruction are waiting right beyond the horizon of Carpathian ridge.
It is perhaps this conjunction which must fascinates me- the rebellion of a too intelligent high school kid, and the promise of salvation- two reasons.
There is then, a necesity to rebellion, in the specific form of high school rebellion. In high school, adults introduce teenagers to their values and their society. If the young do not see faults in this world, if they do not react and change it, two bad things happen. The world does not change. The ensconced and unwarranted authorities continue in their stupidity and oppression. People don't become what they can be. So we can look at Donnie as a metaphor- he must sacrifice comfort, and what he knows, in order to preserve the world's ongoing revolution- it is a grinding halt that he prevents. His heroism is his investigation of obscura, his insane belief that the story is not complete.
I also like Donnie for the way his character relates to the first Messiah. They are both figures whose death saves the world. They both work out their calling through strange and forgotten scripts- and they both fear dying alone.
I have a difficulty with the church's belief in Jesus' foreknowledge of everything. What's the big deal about dying, if you know you are going to rise in a couple of days? No, I believe that Jesus found God's will the same way that I do. If we believe this stuff, let's not make it unbelievable with wacky super powers. He prayed, he talked to people, he read scripture. Then he had faith. Which is not like knowing, but it is- and somehow he figured out his mission. Then, when he was going to Jerusalem, and they were waiting for him and everyone else said he was nutty- he felt really alone.
Donnie has the same fear. He is afraid of dying alone, afraid there is no God, and has to work out his way, the way to save the world, through a complex and weird mythology.