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Donnie Darko, Directed by Richard Kelly

Pandora Cinema, October 26, 2001 (US)

Screenplay: Richard Kelly

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, and Noah Wyle

What a difference a day makes.

“I wanted to be with you alone
And talk about the weather”

-from the Tears for Fears song, Head Over Heels

It was Thursday night when she sprung it on him. At that point, the worries surrounding Tropical Storm Isaac were, as is known to happen in the space–time continuum, wildly disparate from what they would be early Saturday morning, when all eyes would turn to vulnerable and weary Haiti.

As for the U.S., Isaac was expected to strengthen in the swirl of a particularly warm Gulf before bearing down on a coastal landfall yet unknown.

They were thousands of miles away in Chicago watching Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut when she did laid it down, rocking his world. It felt like an artifact from the film (the jet engine, what else?) had crashed down upon the room. She just blurted it out so quickly and carefree, knowing in advance she would need to exhibit a strong and calm assuredness to offset his certain reaction. She explained to him that there was no changing course now. She already had her airline ticket. She was going to Tampa for the convention.

The implications were earth-shattering, extending beyond the obvious: another argument over Romney and the election. But now his focus was suddenly on the eye of a storm that would have been otherwise well outside the boundaries of his periphery. Now, he faced the prospect that the love of his life would be traveling in the path or else perilously close to a potential hurricane, and for all things! For all things. He didn’t care what anybody said either, a Category 1 hurricane sounded "legitimate" or "forceable" enough.

“I find it kind of funny
I find it kinda sad”

-from the Tears for Fears song, Mad World

They were among a sparse crowd in the theater when they saw the original cut of Donnie Darko in late October, 2001. Sure, it was difficult seeing an engine and airplane fall from they sky on screen so soon after 9/11 with the soul of the nation firmly ensconced in darkness and gloom in the infancy of a mad mad new world.

Dr. Lilian Thurman (Katharine Ross): His increased detachment from reality, seem to stem from his inability to cope with the forces in the world he perceives to be threatening. Uh… has he ever told you about his friend Frank?

Rose Darko (Mary McDonnell): Frank?

Dr. Thurman: Yes, the giant bunny rabbit.

Eddie Darko (Holmes Osborne): The what?

Rose: I don’t recall him ever having mentioned a rabbit.

They both fell in love with the movie, although truth be told, they probably fell in love with every movie they saw that summer and fall, every restaurant too, every moment they spent together. The beginning, in bloom. Opposites in many ways, they fell quickly, madly, deeply. At every turn, the universe seemed to be conspiring to bring them together.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal): Well, I’m really glad school was flooded today.

Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone): Why is that?

Donnie: Because you and I would have never had this conversation.

Still, Donnie Darko stood out among the rest. It felt bigger. More ambitious. Impossible to forget. He remembers how they talked afterward about how it made them connect to all that paralyzing angst of high school days, that at the time they saw Darko, were now nearing a decade removed from their yearbooks passed. But they could still remember the minutia inside the classroom, inside an hour, inside a day, inside a cubicle, inside a screen, the mind. How the eyes get heavy against the glare of the hot midday sun burning like lasers through skyscraper office windows. Direct hit. Like the breaking news from Tampa that comes with a phone call nobody ever wants to get.

Donnie: And then he said … Then he said that the world was coming to an end.

In the evaporating reason of the immediate aftermath, grey clouds swirled overhead and the picture in his mind was of a sinking heart, literally sinking into the ocean. He thought of all the times that they had spent together, good and bad. Mostly good. Mostly great. But in the sadness too. Like when they watched the airplanes hit the buildings. The Jumpers. The buildings falling.

Donnie: She said that every living creature on Earth dies alone.

Dr. Thurman: How did that make you feel?

Donnie: It reminded me of my dog, Callie. She died when I was eight, and she crawled underneath the porch.

Dr. Thurman: To die?

Donnie: To be alone.

He thought of what it was like to hold her hand in a movie theater. He wished, desperately wished, that he could be some kind of a superhero instead of a scared lost man-turned-boy holding a phone.

Gretchen Ross: Donnie Darko is a cool name. Sounds like a superhero.

Donnie: What makes you think I’m not?

He would watch the films that they had seen together. He would go to the places they had been. She would be with him again. He would hear her voice again, and she would say things in ways nobody else had before.

Gretchen Ross: You’re weird.

Donnie: Sorry.

Gretchen: No, that was a compliment.

Maybe everything they had seen and experienced together was a breadcrumb left behind to help for him to find a way back if ever …

Donnie (as voice-over): So in order to travel back in time, you have to have a big spaceship or something that can travel faster than the speed of light?

Prof. Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle, as voice-over): Theoretically.

Donnie (as voice-over): And be able to find one of these wormholes?

Checking departures to Tampa, he never once allowed himself to think that it was the least bit crazy what he envisioned would come next.

                                     * * *

There was this girl and she was watching TV alone in an apartment in Chicago. When she saw the story on the news, it immediately caught her attention but she wasn’t quite sure why. Had it not happened outside the RNC, the story probably wouldn’t have made national news and she wouldn’t have seen it all. And why did she feel so connected to the man witnesses said used his body to shield a woman from the crazed gunman. The woman survived but her hero did not.

                                     * * *

He took the stage, albeit—your words—a silly American Idol stage, and he sang. Mad World. The Donnie Darko version of the Tears for Fears song. It was haunting, as if he was singing to someone into the camera far far away, maybe even singing to someone who didn’t even know he existed at all. At least not here. Not now. And yet, he sang as if both of their lives depended on it.

“All around me are familiar faces
Worn out faces”

-from the Tears for Fears song, Mad World

I didn’t see the rest. The channel hadn’t changed but my plain of existence did. I guess I had fallen through—I know, I know—a wormhole. Of all things, a freakin’ wormhole.

I shook my head. I think you did too.