Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko ★★★★★

It’s hard to tell where my love for this starts or ends because I can’t really remember a time I didn’t have it in my life. While film has always been in my life, this is the reason I fell in love with it in the first place — without Donnie Darko I know for a fact I wouldn’t have the passion I do and my life would be wildly different. The first time I saw this it was like a switch flipped inside me; I’d finally seen something that understood how I thought. To me, there was nothing grander than a nearly-unsolved mystery, with so many ins and outs that it would take countless hours and tons of energy to actually parse. This was exactly that, but it was more to me then too, even though I couldn’t really articulate it.

Past the mystery, I was also able to see my thought process and mode of communication reflected in a way I hadn’t before. The first moment that always comes to mind for me is when Donnie’s friends go on about Smurf sex before Donnie interjects with an analysis on why they’re wrong despite the topic’s inherent stupidity and meaninglessness. Seeing it the first time was revelatory because, even outside of film, I’d never seen someone who felt the compulsion to fully piece through such intense irreverence, especially with such a specific balance of humor and unwarranted frustration. It’s simple gestures and conversations like this that flow throughout the film which were, and still are, closer to my experience than anything else I’ve ever seen. A lot of my deeper emotions — love, faith, and so on — are, while still uncommon, readily captured in many films due to their universality. My casual interactions and demeanor, however, I never see which makes this the film that feels the most distinctively me. Another moment that’s always stuck with me is when Donnie is in the theater with Gretchen, her asleep, and him intently watching the screen — this exact experience has occurred countless times in my own life. Again, it’s so small, but getting to see it when I never do is everything.

What I’m realizing now is how much my life has developed along this path, too. With my formation of ideology and faith, the first time I’d seen this I was pretty much exactly aligned with my parents — uninvolved politically, and strictly Christian. Like Donnie, as time went on and I paid more attention to the world around me, I asked questions, I didn’t get answers, and I slowly changed in response to what I learned and what I saw, for the first time without parental influence. More than that, I see so much of my life in Donnie’s relationship with Gretchen — like him, I talked to someone I barely knew, allowed myself to be exactly that, and eventually things just kinda-sorta worked out, and it completely shifted my outlook, and permanently changed me for the better, loving life in a way I hadn’t ever before. It’s strange looking back now and thinking how much it resonated all those years ago, but how much more it became akin to my experience in the years that followed.

In the past couple of years as it’s become more and more clear how much of me there is spattered across the screen, it’s expanded to mean more still through its broader ideas and gestures that I largely ignored for years. It’s immensely comforting in how it deals with death — it makes me feel so much safer knowing that there is always going to be something left behind. I won’t die alone because I know that there are countless people in my life I’ve affected, I’ve made laugh, and I’ve loved; I guess it’s strange to think about, but sometimes I’m so abjectly afraid that there will be nothing left of me once I’m gone, and seeing a life that’s supposed to be so ordinary have such a massive effect means everything. It’s also comforting in how it shows complexity — no one knows everything, so much can’t be understood, and puzzles don’t need to be put together. It lets me let go, it lets me be less concerned with having everything in my control, and it lets me try to hold onto the things I do understand and tells me I should hold them as dearly as I possibly can. Past all that, it’s utterly enveloping in its beauty. I wasn’t able to see it for so long, but now it’s impossible to disregard — the sunlight splashing across the road as the sun rises, the kiss that’s there to hold on to after nothing feels right, the trees that make up the grandest painting ever composed. It’s everywhere, but it’s not just nature — it’s the touches, glances, faces, words that are in every second of every day of every year of every life.

I’m all over this film, and it’s more clear to me now than it ever has been. It’s been in my blood long before I ever saw — it had always been waiting for me, so when I finally saw it, it gave me everything I needed and more. I can thank this film for making me fall in love film, I can thank this film for helping me find passion, I can thank this film for understanding me when no one else did, I can thank this film for comforting me every single time I needed it, I can think this film for allowing me to see past myself, and I will thank this film existing at all. I can’t imagine my life without Donnie Darko, and I don’t want to. I’ve never loved film more than I do right now.

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