Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko ★★★★★

Wake up.

I have loved movies for as long as I can remember, but things changed in 2001. I turned 17 that year and a vast majority of my time was spent hanging out with friends, finding ways to acquire and consume cheap alcohol and smoking an incomprehensible amount of reefer. At a time when my hormones were raging, I made no attempt to meet girls. At a time when everyone around me was applying for college, I didn't even pretend to study. At a time when I should have been trying to understand the fascinating complexities of the world around me, I shut down and settled into a routine of apathy and sadness.

I didn't like myself. I wasn't moving forward or upwards or even side to side. I wasn't even moving backwards. I wasn't moving at all. Days, weeks, months went by and I felt nothing. I did nothing. I wasted precious opportunities to live, to love, to remember shit that matters.

The other day I heard someone mention their first kiss and I realized, I can barely recall mine. Why would I? It wasn't shared with someone special. It wasn't a memory meant to last. It was just another drop in a massive sea of moments that aren't worthy of forever.

I don't remember algebra or Prom or the pain of being rejected by the prettiest girl in school. I remember shit that matters. I remember the first time I read The Catcher in the Rye and I remember the trip to the Art Institute of Chicago when a colorful canvas moved me by meaning so much more than just some strokes with a brush. I remember the last moments of the life of my dog, petting her head as she closed her eyes for the final time. I remember trips to our cottage in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in the fall when the leaves were changing color, a setting that the word beautiful doesn't even remotely do justice.

I remember when I realized that film could be so enigmatic and fascinating, that the best kind of art doesn't answer questions, it leaves you asking more. At a time in my life when I had played the game of cinema safe, I managed to watch David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko within a few months of each other and I was left puzzled and yet profoundly moved by both. Not so much moved by the content or the characters of the films but by the way their mysterious narratives were delivered. I watched these films sober and yet I was intoxicated by the way they lingered in my mind at night when I tried to fall asleep. Who needs to be drunk when the magic and mysticism of ambitious, creative storytelling can leave you feeling loopy and wanting more?

28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is when the world will end.

Donnie Darko was a game changer for me because I discovered the potential to be moved to an actual emotional release while simultaneously not having a fucking clue what I just witnessed. When the cover of "Mad World" performed by Gary Jules is playing at the end of the film, I felt tears welling up in my eyes but I wouldn't have been able to tell you why. Does feeling something need to be explained or defined? Sometimes you watch images in motion and you just get it, even if you don't in a literal sense. Sometimes I find meaning in the experience.

Since then I have come to form my opinion on the film and I believe the answers lie in the conversations between Donnie and his science professor Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle) about time travel and also the sessions he has with Dr. Lilian Thurman (Katharine Ross) regarding Donnie's worst fear. What I love is that after roughly literally 15 viewings, I still only have theories and an opinion on what happens, not facts and true defined answers. I love when a film released nearly half my life ago still makes me work and question and ponder and adapt if I am lucky enough to pick up on something new.

When you think about the amount of days you have lived, the hours in each of those days and the minutes that comprise them and the seconds that have ticked away, a vast majority of life is forgotten. Even the stuff you thought for sure in the moment would be everlasting simply isn't because you recognize years later what really matters, what is really important. Watching beloved cinema has a way of taking me back to the vivid memories of the first time I saw it and the impact it had on me, and also what was going on in my life then.

Donnie Darko reminds me of all the shit that really mattered, good and bad, and I soak in the pain and nostalgia that comes bubbling to the surface. I remember the wasted days and the phony "friends" and the emptiness inside that I tried to keep hidden from the world. I remember the forever closing eyes of man's best friend and the rebellious spirit of Holden Caulfield. I remember the tears I shed behind closed doors and the way I turned shit around, when I learned to embrace beauty and overcome pain and move forward.

Wake up.

Who gives a shit about a first kiss? I remember Donnie Darko.

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