Donnie Darko and what I like in movies
I've seen Donnie Darko three times now, and I enjoyed it, perhaps a little less each time – though maybe only on the Beckettian principle that every pleasant experience loses something with repetition (while provoking the desire for repetition). It never occurred to me though – with this or with other films – to speculate much on what the film was about. Maybe I'm just dumb when it comes to these things. I just hook into the emotions, the ambience, and from time to time I step outside and look in at it from the [very raw] point of view of filmic technique. I very quickly warmed to the richness and layeredness of DD, its interconnected takes on family life, school life, the internal life, fear, sanity, socialization, bullshit, dreams and reality, power, success, pseudo-science and the imagination. I found some parts more successful than others, but the lightness of touch with which the viewer is moved through a series of more or less heavy incidents appealed very much to my aesthetic sensibilities.
If pressed on what the film was about, I would've resisted. If pressed further, I would've said it was about a boy's struggles over the purpose of life, as manifested by the boy's finding himself in a state of limbo between life and death [maybe in a dream, maybe not], through an elaborately constructed yet barely noticeable division of time, forking out from an accident involving a fragment of a plane falling on the Darko home. The main theme for me, in any case, would have been Donnie Darko's internal and social worlds and their interaction.
So it intrigued me when, on listening to some of the DVD features on the film recently, I heard the director [I think] say that it was essentially about divine intervention.
Resolute secularist that I am, nothing of this sort had ever occurred to me. That's a positive, that it doesn’t have to occur to a viewer, who can choose [if indeed it's a matter of choice] to see it as a playful, albeit sometimes dark, what-if scenario, of the type that Borges loved to create and explore, but invested with a lot of contemporary Americana. Style-wise, it seems to me the influence of David Lynch is pretty obvious, but I'm no film expert, and there are no doubt many other influences I haven't picked up.
Altogether, quite a satisfying hodge-podge. The pseudo-science would be a worry maybe if it weren't for the obvious rejoinder; that it's all to be understood from Donny's dark perspective, teen-sensitive reality writ large. Then what do we make of Donny's ''actual'' death at the end? I prefer to make very little of it – it's just a story.