Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Donnie Darko Experience

I remember picking this rather obscure movie October Sky from the video library about six summers ago, I remember that day pretty vividly. My "quota" of 3 movies per weekend was almost up with A Bridge Too Far (which I was borrowing for the 5th time) and The Black Cauldron. I was about to pick up The Other Side of the Midnight cassette when I noticed this new arrival right next to it. The cover said starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper...... and hello, Laura Dern! Based on a true story? Okay.... let me try this one. That movie simply blew me away and clinched my aspirations for moving into the Aerospace realm after my undergrad in Electrical. The movie, the storyline and the entire cast was excellent but it was the lead actor playing his age (rather than some late 20s dude playing highschooler) with consumate ease and conviction that caught my eye. This boy, Jake Gyllenhaal literally brought to life the teen Homer Hickam who is inspired by the Cold War shock that was the Sputnik launch to go for a life in rocket science, via college and all that jazz..... a life beyond the wildest dreams of a coal miner's son.

I heard no more of this promising young actor for about a couple of years till I stumbled upon a "top seeded" movie in KaZaA, something titled Donnie Darko. The synopsis on the internet read "Troubled adolescent Donnie Darko, receives a disturbing vision from a a 6 foot demonic-looking rabbit that the world will end in 28 days, 12 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. With the help of various characters, including the rabbit who calls itself Frank, he slowly discovers the mysterious physical and metaphysical laws that govern his life and that will lead up to the destruction of the universe." Wooooooooooo........... this is going to be quite some ride!
Cable internet had just arrived in my home state, but the infrastructure and bandwidth was extremely limited. The Mars probe had a steady stream of 11 kbps from the fr1ggin red planet to Earth, I counted myself lucky if I got 4 Kbps from the hub next door! Moreover, due to the lack of adequate electrical security measures, the sensitive modems just lay down and died *everytime* there was a spike. A couple of days and 144 phone calls after, the tech support comes in and replaces the modem.... you had a 1 yr guarentee. Thank God for small favors! Finally, 8 days after setting the download task, the 800 MB file was on my computer in finished form. Hallelujah!

The movie opens with Donnie waking up at dawn..... in the middle of the road straddling the a mountain ridge, his bike collapsed next to him. As he cycles down the road, the unforgettable "Never Tear Us Apart" track by INXS plays. The effect of that haunting, hearbreaking track rings in your ears as Donnie takes us to his affluent small-n-happy American family living in a white suburban neighbourhood is, pretty rankling to say the least. The lyrics and the overall feel of that song somehow warns us of the fate of the protagonist and all around him. The foreboding atmosphere created by the 30 yr old Richard Kelly reminds us of David Lynch's menacing "netherworld" that hides behind pleasant Anytown, America. We are introduced to his dad, a cool one like Eugene Levy of American Pie canon at that... not the abusive/negligent/beer soaked/psycho/mid-life crisis stereotype of Hollywood. His mom is a loving and understanding mom, much like the Maaaas of Bollywood, his elder sis is on her way to the Ivies (she shares a rather endearing sibling rivalry with Donnie) and his cute-as-a-button kid sister all of ten. A far from dysfunctional family! But we learn that Donnie is a troubled young man and has a history of mental problems after an out of hand prank turned arson. Now, he's on the Prosac and psychoanalyst diet at the grand old age of sixteen. He is in an uppity private school, uniformed kids, vigilant teachers, spotless hallways..... in short nothing like the Gangsta's Paradises of Harlem. This is Donnie's world, at first glance something not so different from Archie's sylvan Riverdale.

Other characters are Gretchen Ross, a new student who has a traumatic history and is living in an assumed identity with her mother. There is an instantaneous chemistry between Donnie and Gretchen...... the powers that manipulate the living and the dead seem to thrust these two people into each other's life. There is a rookie out-of-grad-school english teacher played very competently by Drew Barrymoore, one of the two teachers in the school who understands the trounbles, angst and disconnects that plague her students. The reading assignments she gives out and her pointed talks with her students tells us she is very well tuned with the kids and concerned of the all-round well being of her students. Rather than squeeze out results pertaining solely to their narrow "brief" like her most of the school staff. Something like Coach Carter who shuts down the court till his students get passing grades, but with less leeway as she's on probation..... and stacked against the dinosaurs of "scientific education of children".

Patrick Swayze has a cameo as Jim Cunningham, one of those charismatic Gurus who try to dumb down things, make you take reductionist approaches to life and it's problems and take the easy, painless way rather than meeting things head on. There's the physical education teacher Mrs. Farmer who is the absolute opposite of Drew's character, sports a very narrow-minded outlook and totally taken in by Cunningham's simplistic brand of thought. Plus a host of minor characters each tightly woven into the storyline, all etched out perfectly by the ensemble cast.

However, the most engaging character is the 6 foot tall "entity" in the furry suit with the grotesque and demonic bunny face. This enigmatic entity only Donnie could see (obviously a wicked take on Harvey, the friendly invisible giant rabbit) leads him to create havoc that is both destructive and creative. There's this ancient and spooky woman Roberta Sparrow, nicknamed Grandma Death...... a character who might hold the key to the doom thats closing in on your heels. All the calculated acts of "destruction" and his interactions with the other characters has something to do with the prophecised destruction of the universe..... The viewer is guided by cryptic title cards on "The Philosophy of Time Travel", "Wormhole Phenomenon" etc as the movie progresses, a luxury available in the recent prints. It somehow diminishes the mystery of the movie by offering a canonic explanation..... people like me who watched the first drafts had a slew of theories on Donnieverse. Anyway, I am not complaining, at least I am glad that Donnie's world would find it's "peace".
There was a whole corpus on DD Apocrypha and this word-of-mouth buildup led to the movie re-releasing in 2004, three years after it's first release. This time it found it's much deserved success in the DVD and re-run segments. On it's first release it was pulled out pretty fast 'coz the lay viewer was quite confused and angry at the movie. A similar fate met Guy Ritchie's recent movie "Revolver.... but I am confident Revolver will be a much appreciated and studied movie in the near future. )

The mystery sci-fi aspect aside, this movie appealed to me on other fronts. The disconnect Donnie feels to the world around him, the inability of his family to reach out to the troubled teen, the system that tries down to water down or disregard existential issues faced by adolescents are powerful messages in the film. The shrink diagnoses after a few sessions that Donnie might be developing schizophrenia but attributes to him not being able to cope up to the world around him. However, she misses the woods for the trees as the real issue was the inability of the world around him to see Donnie and his problems within. American law and society which stipulates compulsory psychoanalyst sessions and "one size fits all" solutions to individual juvenille issues sometimes sends the hapless youngster into a downward spiral of instability. In Donnie's case, the prank turned arson created this guilty-disturbed individual tag which forever colored the way even his family views him, let alone Donnie's image of himself. His inability to percieve the nature of Frank (if the ridiculous and terrifying at the same time rabbit is real or a just a manifestation of his increasing instability) at the begining leads him to try and destroy Frank in the next "meeting". This however only succeeds in wounding Frank and the wound itself is a pointer and at the same time a "multiplier"to the mystery...... something that becomes very apparent when Frank appears again and unmasks himself when Donnie is watching Evil Dead with Gretchen asleep at his side.

Donnie tries to leave subtle distress signals like "They are making me do it" when he is commanded by Frank to carry out the first act of destruction... a red flag of the Schizo types so that someone would note his "history" and approach him. He tries to save himself and others around him. There's a play on the possible overlap between madness and the ability to perceive the supernatural...... messages from the highest power in most religions always start with a bona-fide certificate like "The message is directly from God, there is no need to be afraid. Sonny, you ain't dreaming and no, you certainly aren't mad".However, Donnie slowly unravels the mystery further with encounters with Frank, Gretchen, the young science teacher and Grandma Death and finds the truth of the his mental state and the reason for Frank's appearance. Following this (slow and subtle) discovery, we see Donnie carry out his tasks with the maniacal glee and conviction of a Fedayeen... while at the same time crushed and heartbroken by the implications of his action and the subconscious understanding of his own fate. The scene in which he almost curls to foetal position, clutching a teddy bear and spells out his feelings and fears to the shrink is almost a giveaway on "what is required of Donnie's life". Nevertheless, he is convinced that the forces that manipulate everthing makes no mistake and lately he is made aware of what he should do(what he IS going to do).... this is done by very effective CGI. This foreboding of doom and the aura of self-destruction around the lhero, one who ain't very likeable at that..... so well LIVED out by Jake Gyllenhaal's expressive face and body language is the USP of the movie.

One is also struck by the pointlessness of our actions; no matter how earthshaking the results are or how deep the emotion that guided the acion is, the people who you intended to benefit may be oblivious to your suffering and mental turmoil. The existential question-"For whom? What's in it for me? Am I even in the picture?" is blasted into our face after the dust settles in the storyline. The last scenes which convey a message of the end beneficiaries being oblivious to the enoromity of Donnie's actions and his life is quite distressing..... I would like to say more about this but I won't be able to do it without doing a spoiler. The sole comfort is the fact that *some* of the characters do feel Donnie's "touch" on their lives...... the feeling rushes in as extreme regret, sorrow, gratitude and self-awakening without even knowing where it came from. And this beautiful, epiphany-like cutscene is set to the haunting and philosophical "Mad World" track by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews.

Still, the feeling of futility of sacrifice and thanklessness towards Donnie does burn a hole in your heart....... I remember being morose for a number of days, pondering over existentialist issues and looking up the masters of this genre, O.V.Vijayan to Satre. Donnie Darko has that effect on the perceptive viewer..... watch it. An unforgettable experience.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The First Post

New Delhi, India.
Valentine's Day,
16:30 Hours.

"First dates are always interviews" ........ thus spoke the all-knowing Van Wilder in the classic camp movie by the same name. Ergo, what should the *first* blog post be?
Heck, you are on a monologue here, right? And even monologues need some sort of a beginning. Mebbe I should start blogging with the kind of "Myself" essay they make you write in Std II. Yeah, that would be prudent, let the audience get an intro on the entity behind the words.

Here ........ get a load of some narcisstic drivel.
Reader, you have been warned.

I'm your average Desi bloke, single, 25, hails from the deep south and a Gemini cusp.
Dad's in politics, Mom is in academics and my kid bro is what these wogs call DOO, i.e Desi Oracle Operator. (A disparaging term for the fresh-out-of-college kids who start out as low level grunts in the IT Grindhouses. He's on his MBA after a little work ex anyway. You go, bro!)

Thirteen years of my life, i.e Kindergarten to Class XII were well spent in a Jesuit school. Oh Yeah, one of the Loyolas. Folks, I owe a lot to that place! I did my undergrad in Electrical Engineering and grad in Aerospace Engineering.... I don't think I am much of an engineer though. Trying to change my track now..... yours truly is presently aspiring to be a member of the elite world of Babudom. Hey, they ain't so bad! We'll talk about this later.

Interests: Ranges from religion and politics down to Star Wars canon. I'm retty well read and well informed for my age I guess. Used to be an avid quizzer in my school and undergrad days you know..... started quizzing at the age of 9 actually. Perhaps the only field I excelled (sad, sad me!). That spirit sorta died out during my grad days in the United States of Archie. Over there, Quiz alludes to an ancient BDSM ritual I do not wish to talk about...... and traditional quizzing is called "Trivia". (Yeah, good luck with American Trivia! How the hell am I supposed to know the etymology of "Elvis has left the building" phrase and the minutiae of Bruin-Trojan rivalry in Football?!).

Passions: Food, movies, music and girls..... and I have considerable expertise and arcane knowledge of the first three realms. No further comments. Thank You.

Political affiliation: Right-off-Centre, selectively liberal, jingoistic outlook...... lifelong Congresswaalah. A bit of a tightrope walk, but I manage. Swung into both ends of the spectrum.... dabbled in shades of extreme right down to candle-kisser-pinko during my "eventful" life. But I have I attained equilibrium Nirvana after years of religiously following the greatest discussion board in cyberspace.

Persona: I consider myself to be devilishly handsome and dashing, but other descriptions strangely range from "Oh, kinda OK" to "Fugly, Butt ugly!". Bollocks to them! In true Yodaesque manner, "Pataoed have I successfully for 10 years. Keep my own counsel, I will". The fact that I am like 25 lbs overweight doesn't even matter here..... Hey, judge me by my size, do you?.
BTW, I'm just 5'10", despite my sincerest prayers to all seeing, all powerful God. I soooo wanted to be 6'7" you see.... ever since I saw an ultracool Clint Eastwood looming down on that wretched Mexican gunman in his greatest western flick 16 yrs ago. The only people I am envious of are guys taller than I am....... insanely envious in fact. The kind of envy that makes one eat human liver with fava beans and a nice chianti. Worst of all, that once-runt bro of mine is now a looming Leviathan at a full 6 foot and 220 lbs. Now he exacts revenge for all the thrashings I gave him in our first 14 yrs of no-rules Backyard Sumo wrestling. :(

Well, I think that will do for a first post.
I have all the time in the world and the right to pen down my thoughts later on, right? The Blog is a pretty good place to indulge your ego, blow your horn, run your propaganda and psy-ops, let off the steam, share the exciting story of your life, speak your mind and you know, just talk! I guess I am going to do a bit of all these in this Blog. One has to ride his favourite pony, eh?

O Fortuna, Velut Luna
is Latin for "Oh Fortune, Changing like the Moon"..... a cosmic truth sometimes invoked as a curse. At least, this funda finds strong resonance in my life so far. It's also the catchy refrain from the Gravity of Love song by Enigma. It's a personal favorite of mine and a good example of my kind of music,i.e New Age. Moreover, it connects to the astrological explanation for what I am - "Moon in the 12th house. His mind will wander.... he will not be satisfied with mere continuity (thats a nice way of telling I won't stick to one field/job) , his love and his interests will be fleeting". Well, that oracle got it 400% right. I am a believer. I thought of using this phrase as the blog title..... but I think "The Wanderer" defines me more accurately. Amen.

I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.......... shall I begin blogging?

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