Donnie Darko: The Black Five Review
Donnie Darko was released on September 11, 2001 and its vision of doomsday, science fiction and dark trageday has made it , almost from day one — a cult classic. In an early review — Oppenheimer of New York Times writes, “Like gathering storm clouds, Donnie Darko creates an atmosphere of eerie calm and mounting menace”.
By chance, On October 2, 28 days ago — I watched Donnie Darko. At the moment in the film a figure in the dark said. In 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds, the world will end I noticed my wall clock was the exact same time as the clock in the film. I decided that the review should be published exactly at 6:42 am this morning, and on social media, I quietly informed everyone that the world will come to an end at precisely that point. I was going to publish this at that moment, but I overslept.
Based on multiple universe cosmology, which seems to be a good way to go— the film may be one of the first coherent and inspired forays into the real implications of multi-universe cosmology. Most reviews up to this point have discussed tangent universes, and time travel. But time reversal grates against the laws of physics, and creates massive problems with entropy. These reviews enerally fall along the lines of artifact, tangent universe, the manipulated (living and dead), ensurance traps, and the fundamental relationship of a primary universe to its tangent through a receiver (Donnie) and the artifact (the Jet Engine). I’ve gone through all of the reviews and they all seem to miss the killing joke. What would it have been like to have been in High School, knowing the world will end. Black is the new black. As Elon Musk says — fatalism can be helpful.
One some points, the film could have gone farther. The first thing that comes to mined is that universes are fractal in nature. Every time we look deep into the sky we find more galaxies. The last time we looked, we counted 200 billion. In 2022, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a ground-based telescope currently under construction in northern Chile, will spend 10 years photographing the sky every night, detecting billions of stars and galaxies. In 2024, the European Extremely Large Telescope, another ground-based telescope in Chile, will begin surveying the sky, looking for pretty much everything. A paper recently published stated that we could find as many as 2 Trillion galaxies. Sure, two could be similiar. But only as two trees are similiar, until you climb them. And thats the fun part of Donnie. It’s like climbing through the branches of another universe into a Searle Room. Every branch we climb, every moment fate pulls us to another accomplish — helps us understand the differences, as well as the similiarities, and most intriguing of all — ourselves. And more than simply branching from one universe storyline to another — the element of Donnie Darko seems to have been lost is the effect of the echo of that other universe. Which echo of what action would have had Seth Rogen standing before a high school locker door with a sticker saying “What would Satan Do?” , doing coke in public. And for that matter, why the fuck do we still live in prohibition? Personally, I’d like to do coke in the hallway with Seth Rogen. But I will stop short at walking up to a girl I don’t know , stand over her like a creep and tell her she has nice boobs. I’m not Papa Smurf, but I’m not that guy.
Donnie Darko has a structure, a timeline of character development and a symphony of ideas of beauty, darkness, within the harmony of the adventure of life lived to a purpose — it is a cult classic. From the moment I saw the film, I have added to my family’s dinner prayer…. “And God, thank you for this Dinner — may we work to accomplish your will with this tasty food. And please let Hal Hartley work with Drew Barrymore and make the second version of Donnie Darko, Lord, if it is your will. Maybe even borrow some elements from the film ‘The Book of Life’. Amen .” After you see Donnie, you’ll feel like the character played by Bill Murray in the film Caddyshack, who says, holding a pitchfork to someone’s throat… “Hey. Dalai. What about, you know… Something for the effort?” So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
Donnie Darko is unlike many other films you see that are not trying to find their way out of the Minotaur’s maze of commercial horseshit. Unless you’re watching Mubi. Darko is an adventure — you feel like you’re travelling. You ride along down the mountain , roads turn to dust , people check their mail, bottles get blown up in a field. It’s a film you could watch multiple times and still enjoy. Christ, it took me two times just to begin to enjoy the film. And it took me until now to get the joke. The Evil Dead, The Last Temptation of Christ, and the Book of Life — but high school and your girlfriend is still in the theatre while the dark bunny rabbit is helping you to better understand humanities in the 21st century. Set in 1988, Spencer wrote (Donnie Darko) is “dreamy, [and] exciting … (the film could) take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul.” First, the film is an adventure in the medium of film itself. It is 24 frames per second of deeply beautiful photography. The film weaves themes of romance, self discovery, vandalism, destruction, creation and a dark, self reflexive and playful exploration of deep concepts. Crafted with painstaking attention to detail, and skill — Donnie Darko was the work of Drew Barrymore, and Nancy Juvonen — “Olive, the Other Reindeer” , “50 First Dates” — and directed by Richard Kelly — Donnie Darko was named the 2nd best of all time, independent film ever made. Shot in 28 days, the film develops over the course of 28 days. And its central theme is universal. We’re all in it together, but we all die alone. Just like rotten.com.
How would your life be any different, if you knew it would end in a certain number of days? What would you do differently?
I asked this question of my 15 year old son, and he replied that he would take care of his remains. I was puzzled. He said. My remains. For example, he said, he would bury his pocketknife collection.
There are films within film. A self help film with the boom microphone dropping down in front of a subject’s face. Footage of the Bush/ Dukakis debates. There are commercials for community Halloween. At the moment that we are visited by a large, dark bunny named Frank —the TV screen has become static.
The dark rabbit awaits us. In the shadows, we are told that the world will end in 28 days , 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. And of course we will ask . Why.
But we also push against the boundary that separates us from the world of the dark rabbit. We hit the barrier between the worlds. And we aren’t even being thrown across interstellar space in a block of accelerated ice yet.
It is not the concept of time travel, but of consciousness and reality — where the movie centers its orbit. The basic idea of the film is that a tangent universe can be bound to a primary through a metal artifact, and once matter crosses from one to the other — they become unstable until all matter is accounted for in both universes. Physics teaches us that the four space we see (time, and three dimensions of space, 3+1=4) is likely a collapse of higher dimensions. Like the book at the center of the film, “The Destructors” by Graham Greene — the secret is to look at what a dimension is, and is not — and to be able to understand the properties and characteristics of someone who can transcend them. Destruction is a form of creation. Get a high enough score, and watch the game break down.
Often we speak of the big bang as a moment in which the entire universe is created. Donnie finds himself in a universe that sustains life. All of the constants are dialed in correctly. But it is also a universe that is unstable.
So here’s where we’re going to talk about dimensions, instead of singularities. Time travel itself, backward — is a kind of cheat against entropy. But we may very well be living in a multidimensional universe.
If we lived in a 2 dimension world, and someone existed that could see in 3 dimensions — they would be able to explain to us — the unexplained. For example, a two dimensional world would experience an apple first as a point, as the bottom of the apple touched our plane. We would circle around the point that appeared in our world — and not unlike the Jet Engine which mysteriously tore off from the wing of a plane that was not there — we would not know the origin of the object. It would appear, as the base of the apple touches our plane — as a single point. The point would then develop into a circle, with perhaps four smaller circles appearing as if from nowhere. The four smaller circles within, being the seeds of the apple. And it would recede, and finally disappear into a single point. Whoever could see in the third dimension would see a red apple passing through our world — but we who live in the 2nd dimension would see what appeared to be disjointed images, and events that didn’t seem to have a causal effect.
Physics has taught us that it is extremely likely that there are other universes in existence, and what we see as a Big Bang is probably a wave collision with another universe. Life seems to transcend and in some ways, the beginning of comprehension — of such a vast and timeless thing. And in the short span of the film — we see what connects us. What forms a commons. A film that was made just at the dawn of the internet shows us all capable of forming bonds, of changing the world for others.
Donnie Darko makes his way through this landscape, devoting himself to different tasks that fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces slowly falling into place. We slowly begin to wonder what the events of the film are leading toward.
For me, the reason that the final scene has a lyric and unexpected component — is that I drew a parallel to John Searle, and the Chinese Room. Once I drew that parallel, I smiled. The story goes — What if a man lived inside a room that had bookshelves of books he’s not yet read, and then one day, a piece of paper slides under the door. The man picks it up. And puts it on the table next to a book he has taken down from the many that line his bookshelf. On the page, we see chinese characters. And there is a space for a reply at the end of the page. He turns to the book, and sees that the title of the book is “What to do if someone slides a piece of paper with Chinese Lettering on it, underneath your door”. So he opens the book, and he reads the first sentence, which has a picture of a chinese character, and an explanation .. “If the character is this, then turn to page 40,253 and circle the next character with a green highlighter”. He does so, and is instructed to eventually write a series of characters in return, and passes them under the door.
Donnie Darko teaches us that the books themselves, a kind of approximation of a computer program — would have instruction that loops in on itself. Like the helpers encountered in the movie, there is a limit — and dead ends, and things that might stop the room from working. Although there is this logic, the book cannot intrinsically hold the knowledge of the Chinese language — and so with its many loops and pitfalls, Donnie Darko explores sexuality, self and connection to others. The room itself then can be said to o slowly progress through the codes given and write our own replies. Chinese words go under the door, and eventually, we receive a reply written in Chinese. We do not understand the process. We are like the people who live in the two dimensional world. No one in the room knows Chinese. But if you were able to see the room itself, and talk to the room — you would be able to say, with an aggressive sense of honesty — that the room understands Chinese.
In the film, Donnie asks his Physics teacher about time travel, and in the director’s cut of the film, he is given a book that is used as a central element of the film. The regular cut excludes these chapters from the book, but he is given a book by Roberta Sparrow called “The Philosophy of Time Travel”.
And like Robert Sparrow, and the books that we would find within the Chinese room — loops can occur. She goes to her mailbox several times a day, looking for a letter.
Set against this , is a Jet Engine that will fell from the sky, and kill you if you are in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Or, the right place, at the wrong time. A metal object sent at great speed that transcends the primary secondary universal bridge. And it doesn’t ask the PTA to ban Graham Greene, either.
Much is made of the book within the film “The Philosophy of Time Travel”. But to really understand the film, understand its author. Roberta Sparrow. Aka Grandma Death. A Human echo.
In the first moment after the jet engine crashes upon their home, Donnie’s family are at a hotel. Donnie’s father is sitting in bed, and reflectively recalls someone named Frankie Fiedler and how he died the night of the prom.The TV playing vaporwave in the hotel room, alive with transmissions from the 1980’s. Donnie’s father says… that could have been Donnie. Echoes of past receivers.
Roberta Sparrow — as we learn in the film — was a nun who renounced her vows and one day became a High School Science teacher — perhaps not unlike the science teacher that helps Donnie. She must helped Frankie Fiedler. Which leads us to discover that there were others like Donnie. That’s pretty important, because if you buy into the idea we live into a multiverse, there should be others. Even if it means checking your mailbox every five minutes. Or social media. The eddies left behind can destroy us.
Films, and rooms, like universes, are collections of things within — and can be seen as an object, and an idea. A universe , at least to us — has its destruction and creation shrouded in wonder. What would it mean to us if we discovered how the universe began? What if we discover how it will end? If a person like Donnie were alive at the beginning, or end of a universe — what characteristics would that person have? And more importantly, why?
The why is simple. So we can have an observer, and the laws of physics are written to predict observable phenomenon. Physics is really about models that help us to understand the world around you. And Donnie Darko , to the same extent, seems to help us to understand the emotional world around us. The places where we all come together. The commons.
In 2016, those places are closing. We live now in a time where everyone gets to wear strangely tribal banners — and we live in the real world, and also, ghostlike — on the net. Like the book “Super Sad True Love Story”. Donnie Darko takes place in a time where the network was just started to grow. Life without cellphone, or social media. The cruelty of children. And the end of the universe. Opening night, September 11, 2001.
As a universe begins or ends, all of spacetime is collected into a single point — any observer would be capable of traversing space and time through that point, and therefore would be omnipresent. They would be able to change things, by their observation and interaction. This would give them great power. And the patterns of our lives and the things that pull us spiritually from one to the next — would become apparent to that observer. Donnie is allowed a glimpse of this reality. And he is also contained within his own fractal boundary — he pushes against it, and it pushes back. Let me go get a metal knife and try this again.
Professor Monnitoff tells us that anything metal can traverse the boundary, and that part of the philosophy of time travel involves something metal. This is where the jet engine comes in. Literally.
It’s important to remember that the object could be anything metal, and we’re slowly starting to realize that in our own society — there will soon come a moment when people start putting metal in themselves. Our society suffers from a descent into plutocracy, and if you think it’s bad now — wait until everyone who’s at the top of the food chain — which, if you are careful — means that they themselves could become artifacts. If you are reading your statements in the mail, wondering about your health insurance — wait until the cyborgs come, and then see what really being manipulated feels like. Readers write:
“The vessels that Donnie is talking about that come out of your chest are real. I’ve seen mine, it looked exactly like the ones that Donnie and his family had coming out of their chests. Except mine had an infinity rotating at the end of it. Here’s the craziest part, I saw it before I had even ever knew about this movie. I saw it while in a different dimension.” — A . Soulmeister.
The dimensions fit together. We explore them at the edges of our perception and with our hearts, and minds. Donnie pushes a knife through one into another and he cuts Frank’s eye. This is a foreshadowing of a later event.
In our feelings, and our expressions to others — we touch, and form the lives of others we touch , and that action forms spacetime itself. Pet your dog on the head. You’ve changed that dog’s life, at least for a moment, and at least in this day. Life leaves a real imprint in the continuum. And it really matters what you do with it. Donnie finally understands this.
And with things like the universe, we’re sometimes on the outside looking in. Alive, moments before the engine crashes through — every moment of that experience would be vivid. Our senses attuned. The engine would crash through the ceiling, and the world would come to an end.
The Room dies.
But like Searle’s chinese room — the collapse of that universe left nothing behind within its boundary — we see the end of perhaps, the person and the room as if we see the universe… a broad, unimaginable expanse of mystery and a sense that calls us . Deja Vu all over again.
In that universe, Drew Barrymore is your english teacher. In that universe, the Jet Engine destroys you, and your room — transcending the plane of existence, and finally, we see the beauty of it. Destruction is a form of creation.
A ghost in the machine.
America is about streets and highways. Europe is about small roads and sidewalks. What would it feel like if you were able to save the entire universe? I bet it would feel pretty good. You might even smile.
The moment after homes are destroyed, we find ourselves — in the hotel room, listening to the vaporwave of the 1980’s. It’s nice to visit another universe , even if the only thing it will leave you is a sense of deja vu. French for ‘already seen’. That is the feeling that will remain after this film. This film will haunt you. In a good way.
That’s how good this film is. It’s good enough that many people believe it describes an alternate universe. Others say it describes methods of time travel. Still others claim some religious meaning. But if you look at it from the point of view of a self aware observer, there is a dark undercurrent to the film of hidden humor.
At the beginning of the film. Under a Killing Moon. Echo. And the Bunnymen.
In starlit nights I saw you
So cruelly you kissed me
Your lips a magic world
Your sky all hung with jewels
The killing moon
Will come too soon
There are very few films that bring out in their experience and idea — the qualities of ourselves, the dark loop that sometimes destroys us — the constant tendency to be injected with viral memes and misguided elements — our decisions, our lives — together. The fractal echo of the multiverse. Lazarus.
The only other experience that I can recount from 2016, was the strange moment where I happened to be online just as David Bowie released Black Star. The moment where we open the astronaut’s helmet and we see metal embedded in the skull. It’s 2016, and it takes a village. And a Jet engine.
Donnie Darko. Five Stars.
Flower Films / Pandora/ New Market Cinema — Sept. 11, 2001.