Few films of the last 20 years have generated more, or more divisive, conversation—including on this very site, where it’s kicked off discussions about cult film, ideal soundtracks, and the reasons directors should sometimes leave their past work well and truly alone—than Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko . Simultaneously a near-perfect encapsulation of a particular breed of ’80s suburban ennui, a mystery-infused horror story with some haunting aesthetics, and an ambitiously goofy science fiction movie with a nasty tendency toward self-sabotage, Kelly’s career-making flop has been a headscratcher for going on two decades now. People are probably going to be debating whether this movie holds up from now until our own commitment to Sparkle Motion has finally, inexorably waned, but a new video from online philosophers Wisecrack takes a slightly different tack to drilling into its particulars, asking: Is there an actual ethos underpinning all these ghost rabbits and ethereal cellar doors?
Hosted by Jared Bauer, the 17-minute video starts with a pretty basic question: Is Donnie Darko deep, or is it dumb? The conversation gets suitably intense and more nuanced from there, though, digging hard into Kelly’s tendency toward weirdo world-building—only exacerbated by the film’s highly questionable Director’s Cut, which fills the screen with all sorts of extraneous rules for how its unique brand of time travel works—and tying it back to actual physics, both meta and otherwise. But while Bauer gives the movie credit for doing at least some of its homework on multiverses, worldlines, and closed spacetime loops, it also becomes apparent that Kelly was far more interested in making a sort of adolescent religious parable than a “serious” discussion of the minutiae and issues of traveling through time. As such, it’s the film’s abundant surface qualities—the cast, the fantastic soundtrack, the rabbit—and its attacks on suburban hypocrisy that come closest to carrying any kind of tangible message, at least in the ultimate analysis.
Anyway, we can only pray that Bauer and Wisecrack will tackle Kelly’s financially disastrous follow-up, Southland Tales, next; we’d love to see what he makes of watching a bleach-blonde Jon Lovitz blow Amy Poehler and her prosthetic nose away, then toss off a Philip K. Dick reference like he’s some sort of gravel-voiced, UBIK-obsessed James Bond.