Saturday, August 18, 2012

What I Owe Donnie Darko

It's no secret that I love the movie Donnie Darko. It might just be my favorite movie of all time.

I first discovered it when I was going through a rough time in my life. Call it a quarter-life crisis if you want.  The crisis part is accurate, anyway.  I was a confused young man with a lot of dreams but without the resolve to make them happen.  Big on ideas but not on follow-through. Maybe was the story of my life.

I'd never heard of the movie before, but I found the Director's Cut on sale at Wal-Mart ad picked it up.  I watched it twice the first night.  Twice again the next.  I must have watched the movie two dozen times.  At least.  Something about it spoke to me. It was the right movie at the right time in my life.

It took another year or two for me to begin crawling out of the hole I'd dug, but I managed to do it.  One of the first things I focused on when I got my life in order was my writing.  I didn't know it at the time, but the movie Donnie Darko had had a profound impact on my ideas and their execution.  I have a lot of other influences–Joss Whedon, the fantasy authors of my youth, writers I'd love as a boy (like John Bellairs and Susan Cooper)–but it was Donnie Darko that acted like a lens to help focus my own writing style and philosophy.

Everyone who sees the movie remembers the demented bunny. They remember feeling confused by the plot.  But what stuck with me most is how the writer and director, Richard Kelly, took this batshit crazy idea and filled it with human characters. Whatever you think the movie is about, you're wrong. It's about the characters.  Time travel? Schizophrenia? Smurf orgies?  Those are just the accessories.  The movie is about a family. About a confused young man seeking the answers to life.

So far, every book I've written has touched on the theme of Carpe Diem. And I think you can trace that right back to the influence of Donnie Darko. Seizing the day. Finding reasons to live in every crevice of life.  Those are the things that drive my stories.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Donnie's mother is in his room, trying to talk to him. As she's leaving, he calls her a bitch. We then see her in her bedroom telling her husband what Donnie called her. He says, "You're not a bitch. You're bitchin', but you're not a bitch."  That moment is just so real. Sure, they might be in a tangent universe that's threatening to destroy all universes in existence, but that's beside the point, because it's this fucked up family and how much they all love each other that really matters.

That's what I took from Donnie Darko. That's the influence it's had on me. No matter whether it's deathday letters or parallel realities or superheroes, it's the characters that matter. It's revealing the families we have and the families we build and the bonds that make them stronger.

It's showing what's real, even in a story full of things that aren't.

I think I'll go watch it again.


  1. This is such a great film. You can watch it 100 times (I've only seen it maybe five times), and every time it will do something different to you. Every time you will be moved by a different character, or a different facet of the human condition.

  2. Totally agree: this is such a good movie. I think this might be one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s best movies. I loved the dynamic between him and Maggie Gyllenhaal playing brother and sister in the movie. The other day my coworker at Dish asked me if I had ever seen Donnie Darko or if I knew anything about it. I was shocked! I thought everyone had seen it at least once. Granted you have to see it a couple times to understand what’s going on in the movie. I told him he should add the movie to his Blockbuster @Home queue. That way the movie will be delivered to his door and he can keep it as long as he wants without late fees. After he’s done watching it he can drop in the mail or switch it out for another movie in his queue at his local blockbuster store. I wouldn’t recommend the sequels but I thought the original was awesome.

    1. The sequel was terrible. I tried to watch it but it was so bad my eyes began to bleed. The funny thing is that there seems to be a certain magic to Donnie Darko that can't be recaptured. Even Richard Kelly has failed to come anywhere near it with his other movies.


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