Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Written by El Mono Santo
So I finally saw the film. Seems to make everyone's top ten, twenty, pick your number, greatest films of all time. Also seems everyone who's seen it recommends it highly, while everyone who hasn't seen it has no clue it even exists. I was formerly one of the ignorants, but cumulative praise via word of mouth finally sent me on a mission to Blockbuster.
As anyone who takes a gander at my favorite film list will immediately see, I've got a special place in my heart for Post-Modern films...not to mention music, art, and almost everything else in that stream... So this film did not fail to delight and excite--even if I happen to disagree with it fundamentally.
Donnie Darko is, basically, mysticism or romanticism for the Existentialist. I guess this was too much for the U.S. audience, so they had to market it as a horror teen flick. But in a way, horror and teen are also what it's all about. The protagonist is a young man suffering from what one philosopher called "angst" but which is better termed existential despair--something Post-Modern youth (like myself many moons ago) really, really get--not just in terms of understanding, but in terms of individual existence. While the film is very good, what makes it top the charts or hit home is this ability to communicate at a fundamental level what defines so many in this era of the Western world. But that is also precisely a fundamental reason why this film is self-contradictory.
Donnie is the Post-Modern superhero. Unlike Superman, who stands for truth and justice and fights against those who twist things to error so that a happy ending is not perverted, Donnie stands for finding meaning in the chaos, for creating his own truth in a world without it, for being able to face the unhappy ending with a smile because of the journey to that end. The road of Existentialism--either in the philosophy books or in this film--is a non-rational personal experience that gives hope and meaning to face a reality that is too much to bear and that would ultimately be better off destroyed (either in reality or outside it).
Like Sam Lowry in the Gilliam edit of Brazil, Donnie destroys the world by going insane--at least, that is how to describe it from outside the Post-Modern world-view. In the world-view of this film and many living in the world today, Donnie has not lost hold of reality, he has conquered it in the only way available to him until the end. He has saved himself and become the Existential savior. That is what makes him a comedic character instead of a tragic one. And it is also something that can inspire and give non-rational hope and meaning to other Existentialists who, living a self-contradictory existence anyway, will not mind defining themselves by the same token--in fact will glory in it.