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darko & thompson

By 2:47 AM , , , , , , , ,

Tonight I watched a double-feature of "Donnie Darko" and "Buy the Ticket Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film". I didn't even plan on watching a movie tonight, much less two that {spoiler!} ends with the protagonist killing himself...but I did, and they went together perfectly.

I hadn't seen Donnie Darko since it came out in 2001, right after 9/11. The main event of the film – a hunk of a jet falling from the sky onto a home in suburban VA – was prophetic enough that it scared off even an indie audience. It didn't do well in theaters, but over the years has become a cult hit on DVD.

At the time, it left an impression on me, even though I couldn't explain it. The feeling of the film remained with me, like how a cryptic dream can leave you in a state all day – maybe largely contributed by the 80's soundtrack. Roland Orzabal is one of the best songwriters of that decade and The Hurting is a perfect album. I was soaking in the atmosphere, but I could not retell the narrative back to you if I tried. I barely can tonight after the second viewing and ten years older, at least not much more than schizophrenic teenager self-destructs when he follows the lead of his alter ego, Frank, a 6-foot, demonic rabbit.

New random things that I realized this time around were:

  • Donnie's therapist was Katherine Ross from Butch Cassidy. This fact somehow got the biggest "Aha!" tonight.
  • Seth Rogen was also in it, as the bullying jock.
  • Patrick Swayze has since died of pancreatic cancer.
  • Frank reminds me a lot of a Hannya (Japanese Noh theater demon)
  • Drew Barrymore actually plays a character that is someone other than herself. It's a pretty understated role considering she's Executive Producer.
This film, once again, braided my mind into a pretzel; I got frustrated trying to deconstruct it. Time travel has a tendency of doing this anyway, but throw in a big piece of GOD with a chunk of mental disorder and you have a full-blown twister game about to collapse inside your brain.

Even though I can't lay it all out neatly, or logically, I get the idea. It's like a foreign language, you can understand it better than you can speak it.

...as long as I don't get caught up on trying to figure out how Donnie can be haunted by somebody who he's yet to meet (Frank), or if his medication is a placebo, how he is well enough to be in control of his disorder, or how could a piece of the jet from the airplane that his mother and sister are taking in the future fall on their house while they're asleep in the present. Pretzel factory.

So how do I figure that both Donnie Darko and Hunter S. Thompson are led to their death by the perfect cocktail of "fear and loathing" of being alone (or more accurately, being left behind), literary guidance, anti-establishment sentiment, and powerful inner demons, yet, I walk away thinking that they're perhaps saner than they appear.

And then there are the rabbits...
  1. I don't know the significance of rabbits in literature and film.
  2. I personally don't keep company with rabbits, because I'm deathly allergic to them. My eyes are watering just thinking about them being near me with their cotton bottoms. 
  3. 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit plus it's almost Easter. 
  4. Alice kept company with one and Elwood (J. Stewart) did too.
Harvey (1950)
However, I do understand the presence of a "rabbit", or more broadly, a guide, someone that leads me to certain places, to do certain things, with certain people, and present to me facts or knowledge of something that I wouldn't have otherwise encountered on my own. And the combination of all of those circumstances tend to haunt me deeply or change the course of my life forever.

In that sense, I live with a proverbial white rabbit 24/7. I can't shake him and he doesn't stand a chance of getting rid of me. Does this make me a schizophrenic or does it make me unaccountable for any of the choices I make. No, we all meet our guides, and it may be an alter ego, a friend, a lover or an enemy. Whether we choose to follow them, go kicking and screaming or refuse to accompany them is always our choice.
Maybe someday I'll watch the Director's Cut, just so I can listen to Richard Kelly's intent and explanation behind Donnie Darko, however convincing or unconvincing he may be.

It's too premature to unleash all of my thoughts about Hunter S. Thompson. I have to let his conundrum unravel from underneath Darko's pile-up in my brain before I can make sense of either.

But I'll share with you two things that resonated clearly with me from "Buy the Ticket..." I learned that Hunter used to type out novels cover to cover as an exercise of sorts. Novels written by men that he admired, Hemmingway, Faulkner, Mailer, just so he can feel what it's like to write that well as his fingers hit the key.

"I wanted to learn from the best, I guess," he said.

I totally get that. This is not dissimilar to playing Chopin or Beethoven's notes off of a score. That's how I peeked into the greatness of composers who crafted epic stories out of 88 keys. His sentiment moved me so unexpectedly. It was then that I realized that the lore of Hunter being a drug-addled dissident was just the front door to the house of a writer he was inside. Gonzo, the persona, is who we all know and adulate, but Hunter S. Thompson, the writer, was a "supreme Southern gentleman", somebody who had the utmost respect for the power of words, frailty of emotions and love for friends.

Apparently he used to call his friends in the middle of the night. John Cusack said that if a call came in between 12 and 6 he knew it was either Hunter or bad news, or Hunter with bad news. And now that he's gone, his friends know that a 4AM call is always bad news. How I would have loved to have Hunter to talk to in 4AM when I'm awake.

I think I'm going to retype a favorite screenplay this weekend.

So the second piece I'll share is the following essay Thompson wrote for the Spectator in 1955.

Open Letter to the Youth of our Nation

Young people of America, awake from your slumber of indolence and harken to the call of  the future! Do you realize that you are rapidly becoming a doomed generation? Do you realize that the fate of the world and of generations to come rests on your shoulders? …Oh ignorant youth, the world is not a joyous place. The time has come for you to dispense with the frivolous pleasures of childhood and get down to honest toil until you are sixty-five. Then and only then can you relax and collect your social security and live happily until the time of your death.

Signed fearfully and disgustingly yours,
John J. Righteous Hypocrite

I think it's time to read some Graham Greene and HST this Spring.

And, maybe watch "Where the Buffalo Roam" (1980), Bill Murray's portrayal of HST.

PS - Tom Thurman directed the HST documentary. Donnie's therapist was named Dr. Thurman; Coincidence? Balderdash.

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  1. Very interesting.

    Have you ever seen James Stewart's serious/comedy 1950 film "Harvey"?


  2. You're the one who told me about Harvey! I think I watched it with you.