Sunday, June 12, 2016
Big screen Darko
I had seen Donnie Darko on the big screen before Friday night, but never the real version of Donnie Darko.
Richard Kelly released a director's cut of his 2001 film in 2004, adding some unnecessary footage and perhaps more troublingly, changing some of the songs that seems so perfectly matched to certain scenes. The one that stands out is swapping Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" -- a song pregnant with dread -- for the more sentimental and less evocative "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS. The opening scene loses its entire sense of portent with this change.
Anyway, I did see that version on the big screen -- and have yet to watch it again, even though it came with the BluRay version of Darko I was gifted several years ago. The original eluded me cinematically, since I only discovered it two years after its release, in 2003.
"Discovered" may be an understatement. Saying that the movie indoctrinated me may be more accurate. I watched it at least three times within that first year, coming to own it in short order, and spent a lot of time puzzling over its marvelous details and unknowns. I also consumed a lot of tangential material related to it. It both blew my mind and touched my heart at the same time. Not a lot of movies can do both.
My affection for Donnie Darko persisted long enough for me to name it my #1 movie of the 2000's, an honor bestowed upon it in January 2010. That was also the last time I'd watched the movie prior to Friday night. It was kind of a perfunctory rewatch at the time, just to be certain that when I name a movie my best of a decade, it really deserves it. The viewing confirmed my choice, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that just a few seeds of doubt crept in. Not enough to dethrone it from the top, but enough to wonder how much longer the movie would carry the same glow for me.
Which is why I approached Friday night's screening with a little trepidation. See, I'd actually abandoned my last viewing of Donnie Darko part way through. I'd tried to watch it again in, say, 2012, when that particular Darko mood had struck me one night. But I started watching it too late, and succumbed to sleep. Often I do finish the movie later, even a movie I've already seen. But I didn't get back to Donnie Darko, and sensed that doubt growing just a little stronger.
Which is not an altogether unsurprising phenomenon. Maybe it always had this reputation, but over the years Darko has come to be thought of as a film that blows the mind of only a certain demographic of viewers -- young males. The criticism is that it's mind-blowing, but only if your mind is fairly superficial. The criticism is that it appeals to the same people who find The Matrix philosophically complex. That's not to diss The Matrix, just to say that if you are into Kant or Kierkegaard, you might turn your nose up at it. So a true intellectual probably never found Donnie Darko all that fascinating in the first place, and the rest of us are supposed to grow out of it as we mature. The reason I haven't returned to it in the four years since that last aborted viewing is because I wanted to hold on to the passion the younger version of me felt for it. I worried another viewing would further damage that passion.
But a month or so ago, I noticed a poster up for it at Cinema Nova. They were re-releasing it for its 15th anniversary. And a little checking online showed me that other cinemas around Australia were doing the same, though it's still not clear to me whether this is a formal, studio-sponsored re-release. As far as I know, it's not happening in the U.S., which is probably the strongest indication that it's more of a grassroots movement. (Or just the Australian distributor, Madman.)
It was opening at Nova on Thursday, and Friday presented a good opportunity to see it -- especially since they were starting it at the midnight movie-ish time of 10:25 p.m. I'd planned to go out for drinks and a little watching of footy (Australian Football League) with some co-workers, but I figured to be able to get away in time. (Actually, to my chagrin, I had to leave before the game was over. But it was an absolute blowout, so that reduced the crimes of which I was guilty to just being lame. I blamed it on exhaustion from a bad sleep.)
I was more excited about the screening than nervous about it not living up to my expectations, but both emotions were present. Fortunately, the former one ended up being truer. As soon as I saw the familiar font of the opening credits -- the one you see in the poster above -- I knew the movie was not going to disappoint. And it didn't. In fact, I was conscious of having a dopey grin on my face, even though this is not the type of movie that produces dopey grins in and of itself.
More than specifically a confirmation of Donnie Darko, though, this screening reminded me how great it can be to visit an old friend on the big screen. It's something I do extremely rarely. In fact, if asked to name the last film I'd seen on the big screen upon a re-release, I'd be hard pressed. Could it be the Star Wars special editions way back in 1997? That doesn't seem possible, but I suppose it is. No, I saw a director's cut of Cinema Paradiso sometime in the early 2000's. Oh, and Titantic when it came out in 3D. But let's just say it's rare. And in those instances -- including Darko itself in 2004 -- they were new versions of the movie, ones I'd never seen before.
But there's nothing like the original of something you love. And I'll be keeping an eye out for more chances to see things I love on the big screen from here on out.
My philosophy thus far has been not to "waste" a trip to the theater. Since I get out to the cinema once or twice a week at most -- a lot for your average person, but not necessarily for a cinephile -- I tend to think that those opportunities should be saved for new releases, even if they're dreck.
But it's no more a waste to see a movie you love on the big screen than to rewatch it at home in the comfort of your living room. And few people would argue that's a waste. In fact, the theater is where you're more likely to remember just what it is that makes a movie you love great.
Especially if you are no longer sure how much you love it.