October 31, 2008


Saving the Universe Darkly: a review of Donnie Darko (2001), Written and Directed by Richard Kelly (Art Livingston, Gilbert)

Sometimes an artist, if he possesses enough artistic integrity, can create something more true than his conscious beliefs could anticipate. Oscar Wilde made a habit of writing morality fables completely contradicting his decadent aestheticism. Donnie Darko is a prime example of profound theological vision lurking beneath surface confusion. Director Richard Kelly's audio track on the CD version actually trivializes his own creation, and he seems oblivious. One hopes it stems from modesty, but I can't detect it. Most curious.

The tale is as complex and as simple as a Charles Williams novel, which this story remarkably resembles. A viewer could (just) possibly interpret it as the psychotic delusions of a teenaged paranoid schizophrenic, one who sees visions of a six-foot rabbit who tells him to perform such acts as destroying his school's water pipes and planting an ax into the skull of the school mascot's statue, while writing on the ground, "They made me do it." Frankly, if I were Donnie, I would like the credit myself. Well, could be just a story about a nutty kid. But nowhere as interesting as the alternative interpretation, internally consistent, that a highly disturbed young man has become the genuine conduit for saving the universe.

This reading of the action so enriches the meaning that, after my fourth viewing of the movie, it continues to reveal new insights. But one must accept the plot on its own terms by not coming to it with preconceived notions of how a time travel story usually plays out. This requires a little information so as to get oriented: an airline engine inexplicably falls on Donnie's bedroom and he wakes on a golf course, where he begins having visions of Frank (the bunny rabbit from Hell). What unfolds is that somehow an unstable tangent universe has been created, and Donnie gains access to understanding what is happening and realizes that, unless someone (Donnie himself) can permit a portal for the disappearance of that world, our universe will be destroyed. Oh, we even get an explanation for Frank that is plausible in the context of the story.

What we have then is a profound understanding of a basic Christian concept, to which St. Paul refers when calling the Church "the Body of Christ," and Charles Williams extends to all creation in his concept of Coinherence--all being interrelated and interlocking as each part depends on all the other parts. I cannot see how Kelly could have put it there by accident.

It's been our experience that it isn't uncommon for an artist to stumble into telling the One Story accidentally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 31, 2008 6:21 AM
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