Four of Them
Oh, Donnie Darko. My love. My life. You, sir, are the reason I discovered the so-untapped world of real movies. Not whatever was playing at my local AMC on Friday night, but the wonderifulous 'underground' (that is, not so obvious to my previously-incarnate moviegoer) cinematic scene, if I may be so bold.
Enough of that, duh. Donnie Darko, released in 2000, one of those films released right before 9/11, a release you're thankful for, because no way in Jack's putrid hell would it fly post-2001. This, I assure you, is both spoiler and not-spoiler, involves a plane crashing into a house. A minuscule release, skidding by with a few months to spare of September, it was saved from persecution after the fact, as it had not yet been deemed a 'cult' movie. The story, in its simplest form, is about a teenager, the eponymous character played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a recovering emotionally-disturbed dude on pills, held back a grade, and seeing a therapist after a briefly-mentioned bout of pyromania, begins seeing visions of a sinister, if helpful, bunny, who first appears to him on the night of the falling jet engine. Okay?
I will not try and explain the intricate plotting, plot twists, plot explanations...in fact, I won't subject you to any plot explanation at all. Because I'm a good person. I can only understand a skeleton of the whole, and that's with ten different viewings within two years and the help of IMDb message boards.
So, why did it make going to the movies suck? Quite simple, me dear lads: It made muddled pretension the norm, the trend, the thing to do, the thing to be. As it slowly grew to the bestowed cult crown, up-and-coming young filmmakers, straight out of NYU with a degree in Film and Philosophy, got wind of the ever-fabled, long-hoped-for, but never-realized film. The one they all theorized about while stoned on those dateless Saturday nights, but never dreamed to achieve. A movie combining sci-fi, teen angst, paradoxes, time warps, the shadows behind suburbia (also still a trend, after the smashing success of American Beauty), talking rabbits, Drew Barrymore (that's what nerds dream about, right? There was that documentary, My Date With Drew, so I don't know), The Evil Dead, horror, and mental illness? What a scene of anarchy that year's graduation ceremony must've been.
Soon, we had films like The I Inside, eXistenZ, films that now dared to bring the twisted and philosophical to sci-fi and Doomsday. It brought upon a new wave of Catcher in the Rye-protagonists, young, surly, mature men with a stiff shoulder, contempt for everyone, and a raging libido. Genre bending was prevalent, still is, a new wave of 'X meets Y' movie pitches. A cinematic utopia or dystopia, you decide.
Yet, how did it effect we, John Q. Public? Well, I don't know. How it influenced me, at least, was it made me curious. I wanted to watch it again. It was a perfect blend of yearbook-worthy quotes (everybody: "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!"), complicated science fiction that understanding immediately made you the envy of all your friends, and underlying horror and epicness previously untouched by the manly hand.
It created an impossible standard of movie going...any other sci-fi would seem tired and dated compared to the retro-modernism opaqueness of Donnie Darko. What does it mean, this movie? Who is Frank, Donnie's sister's Boyfriend, a young man destroyed by curse words, or the long-deceased Prom Night phantom of Mr. and Mrs. Darko's high school days? Was he even real, or was Donnie losing his mind in his final minutes (this is not longer a spoiler, people, you should know it by now)? What is reality? Existential crisis follows each viewing, no doubt.
We live in a world divided, movies in subject. There's the guys who defend a film's 'artistic integrity', and others who lambast it for being 'pretentious dribble'. Neither are right or wrong, but that's not the point. Donnie Darko just might've started the debate in its present form, a petty pissing match between fat men living in their parents' basements and hipsters loitering at Starbucks. We are all truly losers in our own way, but it's these guys that take the cake. They make going to the movies suck.
So, right, that's the best I can do. Thank Donnie Darko and friends for every Internet commenter you happen upon, because they, they birthed this blessing and this nightmare. Have a nice day.
Ed. Note-As a companion piece, I did my own reassessment of Donnie Darko several months back.