St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko title card.

Welcome to part three of Halloween month. I pulled rank on Parker this week and insisted we watch Donnie Darko — it’s horror, it’s Halloween-themed, it’s one of my long-standing favorites, and I just got the Arrow Films blu-ray with the fresh film transfer. Oh, and somehow Parker hasn’t seen it!

Parker: But it’s such a man movie.

Me: It’s supposed to be a man movie, it’s about a teenage boy.

Parker: All right let’s get this out of the way.

Me: I broke up with a boyfriend once after watching this.

Parker: Did the movie tell you to break up with your boyfriend?

Me: No, it’s just that I realised he’d never get it. He’d never have anything interesting to say, he was just a lump.

Donnie pulling a face.

Darko tends to be one of those movies that people either love or hate. It flopped on its initial release but became a big hit on the back of its DVD sales, which is how I first saw it. It was about 2002 and it hit me at just the right time. I was about Donnie’s age and all the movie’s teen angst really resonated, so this has always been my emo teen movie. Despite which, it’s set in the 1980s. I’ve always thought that was weird — it’s a movie for teenagers but it’s infused with a nostalgia for a time no teenager watching the movie can remember. I’ve always wondered why they did that. Partly I think it’s a stylistic choice, which doesn’t need justification beyond the fact that it looks/sounds good, but I think the effect goes a bit beyond that. Setting a movie in the recent past does two things. It gives it a slight sense of unreality, which works really well for a surreal urban fantasy like this one. It also means the movie won’t age because it’s already set in the past. That probably wasn’t their intent when they chose the 80s but it does mean the movie reads as well today as when it was made.

Three schoolgirls including Cherita and Donnie's sister Samantha.

Poor Cherita. You wonder why the actress even bothered with this movie. They were like, “The good news is you’ll get some lines. The bad news is it’s just ‘Chut up! Chut up!’ and then you run away. SHOWBIZ.”

The school bully sneers.

Parker: Wow. I know he’ll turn out to be really dirty and gross, but he’s hot.

Me: All right, we’ve found your secret boyfriend in this. You can keep him. I’ll take the science teacher, he’s pretty and sensitive like a lady.

The English teacher reads from a book.
“Even the grown-up gangs who ran the betting at the all-in wrestling and the barrow boys would hear with respect of how Old Misery’s house had been destroyed.”

Who names a kid Donald, anyway? Aside from the president, the most famous Donald is a cartoon duck. You might as well call your kid Porky or Daffy or Bugs.

Donnie and a crazy old lady.

Me: I think we found you in this movie. You’re Grandma Death.

Parker: I’ll be called Grandma Death and you’ll be Old Misery.

The bully holds a knife to Donnie's throat in the school toilets.

Me: Is this where your dirty boyfriend will have his way with you in the school toilets?

Parker: It could be a video.

Donnie holding a bottle of liquor.
“First of all, Papa Smurf didn’t create Smurfette. Gargamel did. She was sent in as Gargamel’s evil spy with the intention of destroying the Smurf village, but the overwhelming goodness of the Smurf way of life transformed her. And as for the whole gang-bang scenario, it just couldn’t happen. Smurfs are asexual. They don’t even have reproductive organs under those little white pants. That’s what’s so illogical, you know, about being a Smurf. What’s the point of living if you don’t have a dick?”

See, Parker isn’t wrong about this being a man movie. The bit where Donnie is drinking and shooting with his friends is total teenage boy dialogue, but it’s also incredibly funny. The script undercuts the boys taking themselves too seriously by having Donnie go on a rant about Smurf canon. The script for this movie is deft and nimble like you wouldn’t believe.

The PE teacher gets a bit hysterical.
“I’ll tell you what he said. He told me to forcibly insert the lifeline exercise card into my anus!”

I love this actress. She’s probably a lovely person but she plays an incredible bitch in everything she’s in. I guess she’s just got the right face and voice for it. She must have a great sense of humor — her comic timing is impeccable.

The science teacher gives Donnie a book.

Me: Aaaand there it is, the teacher just happens to have the book that explains exactly what’s going on.

Parker: Ohhh, let me see (browses shelf). Heeeere, this is what you’re looking for!

Me: It’s Alison’s Birthday and The Manitou and every horror movie.

Donnie's dad has a liquid spear coming out of his chest.

Parker: Just follow your big ol’ snake boner.

Donnie's friends in Halloween costumes.

Me: It’s the Halloween party! What has he come as?

Parker: Just because it’s got a Halloween party doesn’t make it a Halloween movie.

Me: Oh come on, there’s a sinister 7-foot bunny rabbit telling him to set fire to things, what more do you want?

The mum has a cigarette after Donnie dies.

Parker: She’s been cryin’ this whole movie, and now everyone else is crying she’s just havin’ a cigarette.

Me: That’s how she rolls.

The Skinny

Frank, the giant bunny rabbit.

“I hope that when the world comes to an end I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.”

This is one of those movies I normally wouldn’t write up because it’s too well known, but I really wanted to do a Halloween countdown. I can watch Donnie Darko over and over. It never loses its beauty, the music never gets old, and the dialogue hasn’t got stale. It’s spooky, funny, and poignant. It’s a goddamn treasure.

Parker’s got a point, though, it is a man movie and maybe it wasn’t camp enough for his Halloween tastes. He gets his pick next week so he can subject me to any old crap he likes, and then we’ll finish on the new remake of The Witches! I can’t wait.