Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut

I am an hour into it and have paused to pee, on the same night as when I wrote that last thing, below. I have been sucked into computerland and am listening to a Haino Keiji MP3 and typing this, before resuming the film. I have just checked Soulseek to see if I have located Bach in a Tub or any Luigi Nono or Animal Slaves, or if that European guy with all the Nomeansno bootlegs is online today (he ain't). Mike Watt covering "Riot Industry" by Cobra Verde hasn't come through yet, either (Mike Watt should release a covers-only album of songs he's done -- his take on "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill is a delight!). This is pretty cool Haino; wish I knew what album it came off.

Um, anyhow, this is my night, and welcome to it.

Thoughts on Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut, as yet unfinished by me (see above):

I can understand why some critics are compelled to say the earlier cut is the better of the two. Attached to the earlier version as I am, there are various ways that the director's cut requires me to change my way of watching the film that are somewhat unsettling and not wholly welcome. The loss, during the opening of the film, of "The Killing Moon," for one, seems from the gitgo to really jar against one's appreciation for, to force one to rethink and reaccomodate oneself to, the rhythms and the flow of the film. Trying to hold both films in your mind at once is like trying to watch both cuts of Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie back-to-back. Whether comparing them is necessary or not, it's very hard not to want to do it, not to want to reject (tho' not entirely) this new way of viewing the film in favour of the old... But who says its unfair to compare things, anyhow? We can compare as much as we like, as long as we're aware that we needn't come to any firm conclusion and that both "versions" perhaps should be regarded as separate works... A couple of points come to mind:

1. The original version of this film plays like a thriller, of sorts, with a slick, rhythmic flow from one scene to the next; one always feels like one is caught up in a narrative, with meaning seamlessly and skillfully subordinated/grafted to the plot developments, puzzling as they sometimes may be. The director's cut is more explicit, more inclined to explain itself and to underscore what, exactly, the events we're seeing mean; I liked the puzzle-like aspects of the earlier cut, though, liked that it required extra viewings to really see just how carefully constructed and coherent the film is; puzzles can be a joy to behold, sometimes, particularly if they require some effort to truly perceive. The necessity of second viewings probably won't be so pressing to those who come to the director's cut first; it's an easier, less enigmatic, in a way less trusting version of the film -- one that wants to make sure we understand, rather than letting us earn the privilige. Why should we be less puzzled than Donnie, though?

2. The original version of the film -- perhaps in part because of the aforementioned Echo and the Bunnymen song -- establishes more of a mood of nostalgia at the outset; the song triggers a near-intant warmth for Donnie, if we grew up when he did and this song was part of the tapestry of our adolescence. In a way, it's a more comfortable beginning. By eliminating this pleasure in the director's cut (by using a less enjoyable song), Kelly puts us at a greater distance from Donnie, delays our identification with him; this in fact gives us more time to observe him, to be affected by his mood, to make us know him better as a character outside ourselves and see him less as our reflection, our representative. Actually, it's more fulfilling an overall movie experience to have Donnie as our representative -- to view the film as a sort of romantic adventure (or, as I said, a thriller) with a very strange young man as its hero/antihero; but to view him as a character is, in its own way, quite rewarding too. One feels more affected by Jake Gyllenhall's performance, here, more aware of Donnie as person. Ironically, the director's cut really plays up the "Donnie Darko, Superhero" element of the film in the added scenes, while effectively making Donnie less our hero, and more of a troubled youth.

3. Finally, the longer cut of the film just tends to meander more. For all its greater self-explication, it loses a certain focus, or seems to, by comparison with the first. That's not altogether a bad thing -- less focus sometimes means more space for reflection and contemplation, which there is plenty of here. But still: some of what's been added seems just a bit like fat.

Anyhow, even if I hereafter stick with the previous version, I'm really enjoying the experience of watching the director's cut. Each previously unseen scene is a little delightful surprise (added later: particularly a moment in the second half of the film between Donnie and his father); and the film -- like visiting the Darko website -- adds a few nice details here and there to the text, that I suppose will serve to enhance my appreciation of the first cut, on subsequent viewings. Maybe that's the best way to use this film... It certainly shouldn't become the definitive version.

The one thing that remains untouched, thankfully, whichever version you choose, happens to be what I really love about Donnie Darko: its twisted affirmation of its protagonist's massive alienation, and its utter hostility towards the noise, confusion, hypocrisy, self-centeredness and suburban mediocrity that he's drowning in. I mean, that's really what we all love about the film, isn't it? It takes our side, even in our darkest moments. How many films made these days even try to do that?

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