Friday, February 02, 2007

Ever Since The World Ended

My younger brother decided, after looking through my movie collection and noticing one gaping hole, to get me Donnie Darko for Christmas. I've now seen it twice - the second time I even got Sami to watch it with me, a mini-coup - and have been meaning to write about it. It is the perfect embodiment of my favorite kind of movie, not exactly a technical masterpiece, but a delightful combination of philosophy, physics, metaphysics, theology, and, of course, extraordinary weirdness. The sort of movie that makes you say, as soon as you overcome the shock, Who the hell comes up with this stuff?!?

But, despite having seen it twice now, I still can't come up with anything meaningful to say about, except this: If you haven't seen it, see it NOW! Rent it this weekend. Hell, come over to my house and borrow mine. (Sorry, turns out I just loaned it out to Tom, who called me just as I sat down to type this.)

It was one of the most spectacular flops in the domestic box office (grossing only about $500,000, which seems like a lot of money to me, but a.) isn't to Hollywood, and b.) represents less than a quarter of what it cost to make) because, it part, we, only weeks removed from 9-11, just weren't ready for a movie whose plot revolves around a jet engine mysteriously crashing into a house. But now it is a cult classic. It has everything a geek could want.

Anyway, the title character, Donnie Darko (real dialogue from the movie: Girl: "Donnie Darko... What kind of a name is that? It sounds like a superhero name or something." Donnie: "What makes you think I'm not?") is a paranoid schizophrenic who starts to have strange daylight hallucinations. He is frequently visited by a giant bunny named Frank, who tells him that the world is about to end. As he chases the clues that Frank gives him, trying to figure out the "master plan," he explores the nature of space-time, gets into discussions about human nature and even free will and determinism, argues about literary criticism, censorship, and even the anatomy and sexuality of Smurfs, and studies the possibility of time travel, per Steven Hawking's speculation about the nature of worm holes.

But the big question throughout the movie is this: Will the world end, or won't it? And, what do we mean about the world ending, anyway?

I can't even come close to answering those questions, because to do so would give away the movie. And that is at the heart of my inability to say anything meaningful about the film. Like every film that I love, it creates its own world, even its own universe. And, while there is some correspondence between that universe and ours, to discuss the details, the architecture of that universe, you must first step inside it. You have to see that universe for yourself before you hear or read what anyone has to say about it, because otherwise you will bring to many expectations to that universe to be able to see it for what it is.

So, instead of telling you whether or not the world ends, instead of telling you whether Frank the giant bunny is real or a product of Donnie's mental illness, before telling you whether or not, and how, time travel is possible, I'm instead going to tell you about one of my favorite songs.

Huh? What? Did I just type that?

Sure seems like it, anyway.

Every time I think of Donnie Darko, and of the ambiguity about the end of the world, I get a song by jazz legend Mose Allison stuck in my head. Like the creators of Donnie Darko, Mose Allison is a cerebral poet and a dark wit, prone to play with the meanings and usage of words. He has a kind of macabre sense of humor, and it infects his music. Light, playful rhythms, melodies, and harmonies mask often biting language. See, for example, his playful Your Mind is on Vacation But Your Mouth is Working Overtime.

But he doesn't just use his gift with words to insult. He also uses it to explore the mysteries of life and death, and the inexorable passing of time. In Was he writes:

When I become was and we become were
Will there be any sign or a trace of th' lovely contour of your face
And will there be someone around
With essentially my kind of sound

When am turns to was and now is back when
Will someone have moments like this
Moments of unspoken bliss
And will there be heroes and saints
Or just a dark new age of complaints

When I become was and we become were
Will there be any Susans or Ralphs
Lookin' at old photographs
And wondering aloud to a friend
What it was like to be then

Other songs that grapple with mortality include If You Live (with its constant refrain, "If you live your day will come") and No Trouble Livin' ("I don't have no trouble livin'/ It's jus' dyin' that bothers me").

But the song that sticks in my head when I think of Donnie Darko is his classic Ever Since the World Ended:

Ever since the world ended
I don't go out as much
People that I once befriended
Just don't bother to stay in touch
Things that used to seem so splendid
Don't really matter today
It's just as well the world ended
It wasn't working anyway

Ever since the world ended
There's no more Bible Belt
Remember how we all pretended
Goin' round lyin' 'bout the way we felt
Every rule has been amended
There's no one keepin' score
It's just as well the world ended
We couldn't have taken much more

Ever since the world ended
There's no more black or white
Ever since we all got blended
There's no more reason to fuss and fight
Dogmas that we once defended
No longer seem worthwhile
Ever since the world ended
I face the future with a smile

Or, as Donnie says, "When the end comes, I want to breath a deep sigh, because there's so much to look forward to."


crystal said...

That's one of my sister's favorite movies, which she's seen several times. I still haven't seen it. Someday ...

Amy said...

I've seen it twice. I remember noticing that the hallucinations intensifed each time after his medications had been increased - however, no link between it was ever defined. What are your thoughts on that?

Sandalstraps said...


Watch it today! I'm not kinnding - you have to see this movie!


I noticed that too, but wasn't sure what to make of it. There are other events (that I won't divluge here) going on at the same time, that may also have some causal impact on the hallucinations, so it's hard to isolate the impact that the increased dosage of medication had on the hallucinations. However, that does fit with what I've been saying about health lately...


Something to ponder, anyway. Thanks for pointing our attention to it.

Brian said...

yes its a delightfully weird movie. i loved it, and watching it a second time helps fill in some of the stuff you miss the first time.

"waking life" is a good movie too if you havent seen that. it has quite a dreamy philosophical bent.