Friday, August 7, 2009


In honor of my friend Don (and his lovely wife and 10-month-old son) visiting this week, I thought I'd write a post about Don's and my bonding over a particular movie.

See, we have a Darko-centric relationship.

To describe our friendship in these simple terms is intentionally misleading on my part. We've known each other for over 30 years, so we obviously have tons of shared history, and then a boatload of common interests as well.

But for about the last six years, ever since he first introduced me to Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, we seem to keep coming back to it in uncanny ways. And that makes tonight's planned viewing of S. Darko -- the sort-of-unauthorized, straight-to-video sequel -- all the more appropriate.

Don first showed me Donnie Darko on a February 2003 visit. I knew nothing about it at the time, other than that I'd seen the billboards, and I thought it looked vaguely pretentious. I was aware that Jake Gyllenhaal was the star, and I think I also knew that Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle were in it. Other than that, it was just another movie.

All it took was one viewing for me to rank Donnie Darko among my favorite films of all time. I won't go into an extended praise session now. I will ask what the hell you're waiting for, if you haven't seen it yet.

Since then, I've watched it about five more times. And it's continued to pop up in my relationship with Don over the years. (In case you were wondering, it doesn't have anything to do with his name being Don -- that's only his blogger identity anyway. Nor does his choice of blogger identity have anything to do with the movie).

Within that first year, I made Don a de facto Donnie Darko soundtrack. We both loved Kelly's choice of music -- which he changed at his peril in the director's cut -- and lamented the fact that no soundtrack was ever pressed. So I downloaded the songs that work so well in that movie -- Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon," Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," Gary Jules' "Mad World," even "Notorious" by Duran Duran -- and burned a CD. Then I adorned it with images from the movie, many of them involving the mysterious giant rabbit named Frank. I believe it was somewhere around this time that he sent me my own DVD copy of the movie.

It was the next year, 2004, when I was visiting Don in Chicago, that Kelly's director's cut happened to be in the theaters. Naturally, Don and I went. As I hinted above, we were disappointed with this cut, particularly the substitution of INXS' "Never Tears Us Apart" for "The Killing Moon" in the dynamite opening bike-riding sequence. And though some of Kelly's other additions were mild to modest failures as well, it was a bit like watching the deleted scenes from DVDs you love. You have to see the extra footage just because it exists and is worth examining.

I believe it was a November 2005 visit to Los Angeles when Don and I attended an art walk, and he picked up a lapel pin that bore an artist's rendition of Frank. Or maybe I picked it up. Or maybe we both did. Anyway, the Darko theme continued.

I can't remember if anything particularly Darko-centric occurred in 2006, but in November of 2007, it was my turn to visit Chicago again. Lo and behold, Kelly's follow-up to Donnie Darko, the incomprehensible Southland Tales, was in theaters. Don and I were all excited to go see this monstrosity together. The early feedback, especially from an incredulous crowd at Cannes, told us that this would be no worthy successor to Darko, but we were determined to expose ourselves to it anyway. Unfortunately, our best intentions were defeated by our better halves, as his wife and my fiancee conspired to poo-poo the plan, leaving Don and I to eventually endure it separately.

Sometime since last fall, Don picked up his first BluRay player, so what was the logical gift for him for his birthday this February? That's right, the newly-released BluRay version of Donnie Darko. My timing was perfect -- Don had actually been monitoring its potential release on BluRay, but I managed to jump right into that window of time between the last time he checked on it and its actual release. So he didn't even know it was out yet, and was pleased as punch to get it.

So it couldn't have been too big of a surprise to him when, a few weeks back, I told him to hold off on watching S. Darko until he got out here. Released straight to video in May, it was third on his Netflix queue at the time, but he bumped it down in anticipation of watching it together.

So what exactly is S. Darko, and why is it "unauthorized"? Well, without giving too much away, Donnie Darko is not exactly the kind of movie you make a sequel to. Richard Kelly surely knew as much, which is why he had nothing to do with this. But I can see how the world created in Donnie Darko would be something its fans would want to visit again, myself included. So even though I doubted the adventures of Samantha Darko, Donnie's sister -- the S. of the title -- would be much to write home about, I knew I'd have to see it. Lending some sense of credibility: At least they got the same actress, Daveigh Chase, to play Samantha, even if none of the rest of the cast returned.

S. Darko graduated to the top of my own queue, and arrived on Tuesday, one day ahead of Don and his family. The plan, as I said, is to watch it tonight.

Where will Don's and my Darko-centric relationship go from here? It's hard to say. It does seem like we're unlikely to be in the same place when Richard Kelly's next movie, The Box, comes out on November 9th. But if the above examples tell us anything, you never know.

And if not ... well, I guess we'll just have to fall back on our 30 years of other experiences.

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