For three weeks, I had time to watch only one movie in a theatre. Since then, I’ve been playing a mad game of catch up. During two weeks in particular, I saw Broken Flowers, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Four Brothers, Junebug, and Wedding Crashers. Thanks to the magic of Netflix, I have also seen Dodgeball, Donnie Darko, and Friday Night Lights. Among those films, I enjoyed many, but of special note are Friday Night Lights and Junebug (more about them later).
Still, having so many movies going through my mind, I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps this embarrassing story will help. After watching Dodgeball, I checked out some of the DVD extras, including the “alternate ending” in which the Cobras win. The director’s voiceover relates that although he and the cast preferred this ending, which maintained the film’s artistic integrity, ultimately the skittish producers got their way.
I actually pondered this for quite a while, wondering if he was being serious. Could director/writer Rawson Marshall Thurber really prefer this downer of an ending, and if so, what could that possibly mean for an otherwise ridiculous riot of a film? Searching through imdb to determine if this alternate ending was legit, I found nothing in the trivia section to confirm or deny my suspicions that this was a joke. It took the people at work laughing at my naivete to confirm that in fact, Thurber was kidding.
So, I’m gullible. No shock there. But more to the point, I tend to over think, which is why I’m more drawn to drama than comedy. That said, this issue of endings and what they mean for a film’s overall impact struck me.
Consider Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, a film that pulls a Dallas-type maneuver, depending on how you look at the film. Virtually everything we witness during the two hours of the movie is completely undercut by a time-traveling miracle through which Donnie sacrifices himself to save those that he loves. So was the whole movie a fantasy in Donnie’s mind? Something that flashed through his head in the moments before death to justify his untimely and sudden demise? Or perhaps did he truly travel through time, justifying his obsession with the mechanics of time travel throughout the film?
The indictment of suburban life, though in no way breaking new ground, resonates. Donnie’s parents can’t see that he’s breaking down right before their eyes. The attractive inspirational speaker enjoys kiddie porn. Donnie himself gets away with incredible acts of vandalism, almost defying authority figures to see behind his doe eyes to acknowledge the suffering young man inside. In this world, if the surface looks good, no one digs deeper—appearances are accepted as fact, hiding the ugliness beneath.
Donnie proves himself unable to deal with reality. Although the engine of a plane crashes into Donnie’s bedroom, disturbing the peaceful existence of his suburban town, in fact, Donnie’s trouble begins before this. As the film opens, we find Donnie lying in the middle of a street in his pajamas (a note on his family refrigerator begs the obvious question, “Where is Donnie?”). In one of many reversals, the falling engine appears to be an inciting incident when in fact, it is merely the conclusion of the story, serving as a sort of twisted foreshadowing of Donnie’s demise.
The logic of the film may not hold up to intense scrutiny (I'm still trying to figure out how to process all the implications of Sparkle Motion), yet the ending satisfies. Continually cutting away, questioning reality, and elevating the stakes, the film almost requires some sort of explosion because maintaining this level of tension is virtually impossible. Living amidst the ease of suburban luxury, Donnie refuses to accept the fraudulent façade of this world. His death, in some ways, seems inevitable. Confusion about the film’s overall meaning aside, there’s a lot to admire in Donnie Darko; it impresses with its daring, artistry, and shocking reversals.