Richard Kelly

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

7.4 Southland Tales
7.0 Donnie Darko (2001)
6.6 The Box

Richard Kelly (1975)

Donnie Darko (2001) is an interesting concept, but it does not quite flow organically. The film explores the blurred border between sci-fi metaphysical thriller and hallucination of an unstable mind. David Lynch's influence is obvious.

A byciclist is lying unconscious on a deserted road in the paradisiac countryside. He wakes up, gets back on his bicycle and rides home. Donnie lives with his parents, his elder sister Elizabeth and his little sister Samantha. Over dinner he has an argument with his sister that ends with vulgar insults. Later he insults his mother too. He takes some pills and falls asleep, but wakes up in the middle of the night and walks outside following a mysterious creature with a rabbit head. This creature tells him that the world will end in 28 days. An explosion rocks the house. Donnie wakes up in a golf field. When he gets home, he finds the police and reporters: a jet engine crashed through the roof. The authorities put the family in a hotel. Nobody knows where the jet engine came from. Donnie's father almost runs over a crazy old lady who is expecting a letter that never comes. The old lady whispers something to Donnie about dying alone. Donnie tells his therapist that he has a new imaginary friend who told him about the end of the world. At school a new cute girl is admitted to Donnie's class, Gretchen. Donnie wakes up again in the middle of the night, walks outside with an axe and hits the sculpture in front of his school. School is closed because the classrooms are flooded. Donnie befriends Gretchen, whose family is a nightmare. He asks her to become his girlfriend. She says yes with no hesitation but then walks straight home. Donnie talks about Gretchen to his therapist and almost masturbates while talking. The police and the school are still investigating the act of vandalism and suspect Donnie because of the handwriting of the words the axe vandal wrote under the sculpture. Donnie also gets in trouble because he refuses to comply with an obnoxious teacher's request. Meanwhile Donnie keeps seeing the rabbit creature during his hallucinated states of mind. The rabbit man, who calls himself Frank, talks to him about time travel. Donnie asks the science teacher to tell him about time travel and learns about wormholes. He also learns that the crazy old woman used to teach science at the school and wrote a book about time travel. Then one day he sees wormholes emanating from his father, his sister Samantha and even himself. He follows the wormhole and finds a gun hidden in a closet. While the school is having a meeting to discuss student violence, Donnie takes his pills and sees Frank and feels trapped into a membrane that he tries to break with a knife. The therapist tells Donnie's parents that she intends to increase the doses of medication. During another meeting at the school that Donnie attends, an invited lecturer, Jim, preaches against sex, alcohol and premarital sex. Donnie stands up and insults him, calling him a hypocrite. Donnie tells Gretchen about time travel and the book that the crazy old woman wrote, a book that he keeps reading and that coincides with his hallicinations. He realizes that the jet engine was an artifact coming from another universe. When the discussion gets too mystical, the science teacher refuses to discuss any further Donnie's conjectures about time travel because he might lose his job. One night Donnie and Gretchen go to the movies. She falls asleep and Frank appears to Donnie. Frank takes his mask off and Donnie sees his true face: one eye is bleeding. Frank inspires him to walk to Jim's house and set it on fire, while Jim is presiding over a school show (at which Samantha gets a standing ovation). Then Donnie returns to the movie theater where Gretchen is still asleep. Donnie 's adventures parallel the chapters of the book. The fire set by Donnie indirectly uncovers Jim's secret vice: child pornography. Jim is arrested. Donnie's mother has to leave to accompany Samantha and her team to a dancing competition. Donnie's English teacher is fired by the school's principal for her controversial choices of texts to read. Under hypnosis, Donnie confesses to the therapist that he is responsible for the fire and even confesses a future crime, that he will kill someone in the future. Donnie and his sister Elizabeth decide to throw a Halloween party. Gretchen arrives crying because her mother has mysteriously disappeared, and Geetchen fears that a tragedy has happened. They make love for the first time. It is midnight: the 28th day. Donnie sees a wormhole in the middle of the party and decides that it is imperative that he finds the crazy old woman. Gretchen follows him and so do two random kids dressed like vikings. The crazy old woman does not seem to be home, but two thugs are hiding inside and attack Donnie and Gretchen with knives. While Gretchen is lying in the middle of the road, a car approaches at high speed. The car runs over Gretchen and kills her. The car stops and a kid dressed like a clown emerges, looking very much shocked. Frank appears next to him. Donnie has the gun and shoots Frank dead. Frank's eye starts bleeding. Donnie tells the clown to go home and the clown starts running, terrified. The crazy old woman appears next to Donnie and tells him that a storm is coming. Donnie sees a colossal cloud forming over his house. Police cars and a helicopter are converging towards it. There's a countdown going on somewhere. Donnie hauls Gretchen's body into a car and starts driving. He stops on a hill to watch the colossal cloud hovering over the town. Meanwhile his mother and his sister Samantha are flying back home on a plane. The plane is hit by the cloud. The movie rewinds while fireworks explode. Donnie reads the letter that he has written to the crazy old woman and bursts out laughing. Then he turns in his bed: it's again the first night, and Donnie has not gone out. The explosion rocks the house: the jet engine has crashed on the roof. Elsewhere the therapist wakes up as if she was having a nightmare. The police carry out Donnie's lifeless body: he has been killed by the jet engine.
Is it the engine of the airplane that was transporting his mother and sister?
His mother is alive, smoking a cigarette and crying. Gretchen rides by on her bicycle and stops to ask what happened. She says she doesn't know who Donnie was, but then waves at his mother.
Donnie has traveled through a wormhole to alter the past, and has sacrificed his life to save Gretchen's.

Southland Tales (2006) is another metaphysical sci-fi thriller but this time the tone is more humorous, occasionally even farcical. The "terrorists", in particular, are viciously incoherent, and the mad scientist is ridiculed like Dr Strongelove. The protagonist is an idiot and the only one who is more stupid is his girlfriend, a porn queen. The general incompetence smacks of Mars Attack, with the surreal tone of Repo Man. The problems are Kelly's usual problems: the plot is mostly implausible, and unnecessary complications make it even more implausible if not inconsistent. On the other hand the visuals are jaw-dropping, and not because of high technology but simply because of the "iconic" way that the scenes are framed. The most disturbing aspect of the film is in fact visual: there are multiple videos everywhere, we are constantly being surveilled. This relentless reminder of "Big Brother" works a lot better than the various conspiracy theories that are woven into the narrative. The weakest part, instead, is the sci-fi component, with its naive reference to time travel, although the protagonist in the end may look like a an anti-heroic parody of the Terminator.

The film beings by showing a party filmed by an amateur videomaker, probably a member of the family. Suddenly a nuclear mushroom appears on the horizon. Three years later the country is still enmeshed in nuclear war, and Abilene, a war veteran with a Biblical fixation, is mounting guard on a beach from a gun turret. He survived a friendly-fire incident and is going to tell the story of Boxer (hence one would imagine that the rest of the film is a flashback until the very narrator takes part in the action). The only news are delivered by a special agency that provides constant surveillance. Hundreds of people work in this agency, in particular an obese woman who doesn't have a life. Their boss is an austere woman who sits in the center of a large room whose walls are covered with screens projecting live action. A presidential campaign is underway. The vice-presidential candidate, a senator, is married to Nana Mae, the woman who runs the national surveillance agency. Boxer, an action film actor stricken with amnesia, has mysteriously disappeared. He is married to the daughter Madeline of Nana Mae and the senator. In reality he has been found in the desert by a porn diva, Krysta, and, having completely lost his memory, lives with her. Krysta has befriended a group of neo-Marxists who are plotting against the senator. They include a white poetess, Veronica (author of the proud lyrics "all your regulation can't stop this masturbation"), a black man, Dion, and two ugly and vulgar women, porn producer Cindy and her girlfriend. A German scientist, surrounded by a cast worthy of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (his exotic lover Serpentine, his mother and two scary scientists), broadcasts from the beach that he has discovered how to harness the ocean to produce energy (that the country desperately needs in this time of war) in the form of a fluid ("fluid karma") that can be transmitted via quantum entanglement. Another female militant, Zora, buys weapons from a smuggler who uses an icecream truck. She does not hesitate to employ brutal manners. The terrorist cell is also holding twin brothers Ronald and Roland (initially shown as if it was one man and his reflection in the mirror), respectively a cop and a war veteran. Krysta has aroused the curiosity of Cindy during a meeting originally meant to sell Krysta's project for a reality television show, when she mentions that she is sleeping with Boxer, whom Cindy knows well as the son-in-law of the powerful senator. The neo-Marxists listen to Boxer summarizing the screenplay that he and Krista have written together: all the problems of humankind are due to a mysterious slowing rotation of the Earth which affects brains. The screenplay ends with the end of the world. The protagonist of the screenplay is named Jericho Caine, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in Peter Hyams's religious fantasy End of Days (1999), who falls into a rift in spacetime continuum. The neo-Maarxists clearly thinks this is an incredibly stupid screenplay, and Krysta does not increase her credibility with comments such as that she read in the newspaper that God is dead. One of the twins, Ronald, monitored remotely by Veronica and Dion, is dispatched to entertain Boxer, while the other twin, Roland, is kept sedated in the cell's hideout. While driving him around in his police car, ostensibly so that Boxer can do research for his movie. Ronald asks Boxer about his wife to make sure that his memory has completely been erased. Cindy calls the senator and tries to blackmail him with the news that she has a compromising tape of Boxer having sex with a porn star, but the senator laughs her away. Cindy and the other neo-Marxists are trying to to affect the outcome of the election, and not just the presidential election but also "Proposition 69" that would restrict the power of Nana's agency; and Krysta has bought into the conspiracy. They have a bigger, better plan: involve Boxer into a double murder. Veronica and Dion dress up like newlyweds. They stage a big argument. Ronald receives a call about a domestic disturbance. The plan is to stage a double murder and film Boxer as involved in it. Ronald and Boxer arrive at the scene, but so does another cop, who cynically kills the couple (for real). It was a trap set by Zora, the rollerblading militant. Later she and the psycho killer have sex. Meanwhile, Nana from her sterilized control room has ordered a raid on the Neo-Marxists and remotely orders the killings as the troops enter the building. The only one who survives is the sedated twin who wakes up and jumps from the roof of the building into a dumpster. Boxer's and Krysta's screenplay has leaked out online and it has readers. When the German team meets Boxer, they tell him that his screenplay is actually the truth. And one of the agency's operatives, Starla (an obese woman who doesn't seem to have a life and assumes a fictional identity under the moniker Muriel), is in love with the character Jericho. Muriel calls "Jericho" (Boxer) from her agency's office and gives him a phone number to call. Boxer calls the number and the cell phone of the senator's assistant Vaughn rings. The politician's team is at a party in honor of the German team's ocean-based economic revolution. The senator's assistant realizes who is calling and arranges for Boxer to be arrested. Zora the rollerblading militant uses a taser to get rid of Ronald, steal his police car and run over a man who wants to defect from their terrorist cell. Then she rollerblades home, passing by the dumpster where the other twin is just about to wake up. The television news channel reports on the killing of Veronica and Dion but no mention is made of the cops. The other twin, Roland the war veteran, is kidnapped by the icecream man (the gun smuggler) as soon as he wakes up and starts wandering around. Boxer is escorted to the huge mansion of the senator where the cocktail party is still going on. He does recognize his wife, the senator's pretty daughter. Boxer is told that the neo-Marxist group abducted him. Soon the senator's man produce also Krysta, who is confronted by the cheated wife, who also reveals that she is pregnant with Boxer's child. Boxer defends Krista, arguing that she is a polymat having recorded an album, conceived a reality show, and even launched an energy drink. (Krysta is depicted as the dumbest person in the world, and Boxer must be a close second because he believes her stories). Meanwhile, Ronald the cop delivers the tape of the murders to Zora the rollerblading militant who also plans to blackmail the senator. Krysta wants money for tape, and the German scientists advises the senator to pay the ransom. When Boxer's wife accuses him of scheming with the neo-Marxists to sabotage her father's political career, and in particular of having paid them to kidnap Boxer, he does not quite defend himself but instead retorts that she is pregnant with another man's baby (that she has cheated on Boxer). Krysta leaves telling Boxer that she truly loves him. Starla/Muriel calls Boxer and asks him to meet her at a pier. Meanwhile, the Japanese prime minister signs a contract to obtain the fluid karma gives in exchange for one of his fingers, but Serpentine the exotic lover of the German scientist cuts instead his whole hand. A disfigured former actor, Abilene the narrator himself, is smuggling fluid karma as a hallucinogenic drug. One of his customers is a young man named Martin. Ronald the cop, who has been abandoned by Zora in the middle of a street, wakes up and starts walking. Nana the controller leads a ritual dance in the agency's office with thousands of employees. Krysta steals the tape from Zora. As he is walking randomly, Ronald sees Martin pointing a gun at his head and talks him out of committing suicide. It turns out that Martin has been drafted to go to war and would rather die. Ronald enrolls him to find his twin brother Roland. Cyndi the neo-Marxist delivers the sex tape to senator's assistant Vaughn but, before tasering him, also mentions that there is a far more devastating tape out there (the one that Krysta stole). Earthquakes shake the coast. Riots are erupting in the city. The soldier is still guarding the coast in his gun turret, using a laptop to see what is going on at the beach. He aims his gun at the beach crowd and finds Boxer who is about to meet with Starla/Muriel. Starla/Muriel tells Boxer/Jericho that a dead body was found in his car after he disappeared. Boxer is terrified that he may have killed someone, but Starla does not elaborate. She is madly in love with him and wants to perform oral sex on him right there. If he refuses, she is going to kill herself, and pulls a gun to her head. The soldier, seeing her pull a gun, shoots and kills her. Meanwhile, the controller is directing a search for Krysta, who has the infamous tape. Zora tracks down Krysta but Krysta is saved by snipers who kill Zora, while the controller watches amused from her control room. Boxer is kidnapped at the beach and taken into an ambulance. The neo-Marxists are fomenting riots throughout the city while the senator, amid fireworks and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, is about to inaugurate the German scientist's megazeppelin, the first vehicle to be propelled by fluid karma. Boxer arrives at the party, where the German scientist is dancing with his exotic lover. The senator is informed that neo-Marxists have infiltrated the control agency's building and that his wife must be evacuated immediately. Boxer arms himself and takes the elevator to the scientist's secret chamber, determined to find out what happened to him in the desert. Collaborators of the scientist disarm Boxer and tell him of the "serpentine dream theory": their experiment caused a spacetime rift (just like in his screenplay) and he, Boxer, was the first human subject dropped into the rift. He traveled 69 minutes back in time. They show him the remnants of his old self, a partial carbonized mummy. His screenplay is simply the truth (and it ends with the end of the world). Now they want to perform some other bizarre experiment with the two selves that are left when someone travels in time. Martin tries to get money from an automatic-teller machine but his transaction is denied. Ronald, on drugs, ties the ATM to the back of the car and drives away, determined to take the whole machine (full of money) with them. The city is on fire. Boxer, back at the party, asks Serpentine for the name of the person who kidnapped him and dumped him into the spacetime rift: she tells him that it was Roland. Just then Roland is being driven by the gun smuggler in the icecream van through the riots. They collide with the car driven by Martin in which Ronald is traveling. The twins survive and meet in the icecream truck. Listening to Serpentine, Boxer realizes that Roland and Ronald are the same person. If they shake hands, the fourth dimension will implode. The controller is watching coolly from her office. Ronald and Roland shake hands in the icecream truck, surrounded by indiscriminate shootouts. Chaos keeps spreading in the city. The party for the VIPs in the megazeppelin goes on. Four sexy girls including Krysta dance. First Boxer and then his wife join them. But violence is raging in the city: the neo-Marxists enter the control room and kill Nana. Boxer pulls out a gun and shoots in the air, finally interrupting the party. He threatens to kill himself if they don't evacuate and wishes them "have a nice apocalypse". He is now convinced that everything is only a nightmare in his head. The German scientist reveals his real persona by shouting that his aim is to destroy capitalism. The icecream truck is flying over the city. One of the twins begs the other to let go of his hand so everything will stop. He is still traumatized by a friendly fire incident during the war. Martin, standing on top of the flying truck, aims his rocket launcher at the zeppelin, which explodes. The narrator concludes with a biblical verse dedicated to his best friend Roland.
(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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