By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Donnie Darko straddles genres as fluidly as its writer-director samples his influences. The film is a blend of genres — a teen flick, a horror movie, a science-fiction fable reaching for near-mythic grandeur — but it’s seamless, not patchworked. You can easily tick off Kelly’s reading — and viewing — list. There’s Catcher in the Rye, which the film all but quotes (Donnie is heir to Holden Caulfield, only this time the rants are about the sex life of Smurfs rather than phonies and girls in tight sweaters), Blue Velvet and, of course, Harvey. This may sound like perilous viewing, but it’s not. We’ve grown accustomed to chastising young filmmakers whose impoverished view of culture seems to include nothing of life as it’s really lived, only pop culture — the movies they’ve seen, the songs they’ve absorbed. We’ve often overlooked that for many younger filmmakers pop culture isn’t a replacement for life, but its warp and woof. It isn’t simply that Kelly knows a lot about the movies, it’s that the movies — and books and music and comics — are his way of getting into life, his way of explaining it to himself so that he can share what he knows with the rest of us.
When Kelly points his camera, he isn’t just getting the shot. Like Donnie, he’s putting a frame around the world, trying to make some sort of crazy sense out of the mess all around him. The mysterious beauty of his film’s title extends through to Steven Poster’s cinematography, which envelops the day in velvety shadow and turns night into a phantasmal dreamscape. One of the film’s most poignant allusions is an eerie, nocturnal shot, echoing one of the defining images from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, in which Donnie and his friends jump on their bikes, as Elliot and his friends once did, and race toward the finish. This time, the kids are older, sadder, more scared, perhaps in part because the alien here isn’t from someplace far away, but somewhere too close. Melancholy hangs over the moment, but because Kelly takes adolescence seriously, and refuses to sentimentalize or heroize it, the Spielberg allusion doesn’t feel portentous. Kelly takes being a kid as seriously as a middle-aged man facing down his mortality, but he sees the rest of it, too — the tender absurdities and the cruelties of childhood. For Kelly, being a kid isn’t about outgrowing some phase, or any of the other bromides that adults employ in hindsight. It’s about being wrenched into a new state of consciousness and coming to terms — or not — with the rest of your life.
DONNIE DARKO | Written and directed by RICHARD KELLY | Produced by SEAN McKITTRICK and NANCY JUVONEN | Released by Newmarket Films | At selected theaters
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