Donnie Darko: It’s Good to Talk

Why do we like what we like?

It’s a tricky question to answer honestly and accurately, but let’s, in this safe corner of the scary WWW, try to be honest with ourselves. We don’t always love things for obvious reasons, for the “right” reasons, but we can love them all the same.

This, for example, is the pleasure I get from watching Donnie Darko, for approximately the millionth time. Oh, do I have to say “spoilers”? SPOILERS.

The primary appeal of Donnie Darko, I think, is that it’s a puzzle. After you’ve watched it, you want to know exactly What the hell did I just watch? Because you don’t know, not the first time.

There are other pleasures: the performances are all good, although the hysterical gym teacher appears to be in a different movie to the Darko family, who also seem to not quite gel with the super-cool teachers played with lazy ease by Noah Wiley and Drew Barrymore. (Were they angels? They were angels, right?) The dramatic scenes feel tense and there’s a surprising amount of comedy in there. My wife, who didn’t want to watch a “scary movie,” said after: “I didn’t know it was funny.” Get to work on that, marketing department.

And the soundtrack is taken directly from my iPod, so director Richard Kelly is obviously not only around my age but also incredibly cool.

Oh, and future comedy icon and Preacher producer Seth Rogan has a bit-part as “second bully.” His one line is: “I like your boobs.” From such tiny acorns, giant careers bloom.

But, showing this movie to my son as part of my ongoing attempt to make sure he’s seen everything he needs to in order to understand American popular culture references (“I’m beginning to doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!”), the real pleasure is in sharing it afterward. It’s a movie that does genuinely ask to be talked about. Watch it alone, and don’t know anyone who has seen it? Some of the enjoyment is lost – until you go online and discover a million rabbit holes you can lose yourself in.

Unlike the unpleasant trend in books now – where you often get “Items for Book Club Discussion” in the back pages, just so you know what you’re supposed to talk about – Donnie Darko does not need prompts. There’s a lot to discuss, right there upfront and in your face. And maybe its strength in this regard might have something to do with a slight incoherence, at least in the original cut.

So, after the movie was over, we talked about time travel, about religion, about symbolism, about which are the first and last scenes in the movie, about “cellar door,” about Grandma Death and Patrick Swayze and Maggie Gyllenhaall. We stayed up later than I intended, talking about this 20-year-old movie. And that’s a pleasure that should never be underestimated.

The only other discussion we’ve had like that recently was about the first season of Mr. Robot that is finally available on Amazon Prime. We had a great discussion about money and stocks and shares, and the gold standard. None of which I know anything about, while he’s an expert, having done financial planning in high school. I think I still won with my contention that money is a confidence trick, a plane that would fall out of the sky if we all stopped believing it could fly. But that’s because I’m the dad and if I say something with enough confidence, with enough examples that may or may not prove whatever point or I may or may not have, then I get to win. House rules.

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