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Is Donnie Darko appropriate for high-schooers?


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Dear Mr. Overstreet,

This summer, I have the opportunity to teach a four-day long seminar on Christianity and Film for a conference our denomination holds annually in Florida.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Didn't you and Peter just write a lengthy piece on how to handle profanity in the movies? Just send this guy the link.

BTW, who is the questioner, and which conference is he referring to? I can't think of an annual PCA conference in Florida, where teens attend...

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I would assume so, but if there was one scene I would edit out for content, it's the part where Donnie's friends are discussing the sexual habits of Smurfs. It doesn't really add much to the plot, in my opinion. Other than that, I wouldn't change a thing when showing it.

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I would assume so, but if there was one scene I would edit out for content, it's the part where Donnie's friends are discussing the sexual habits of Smurfs. It doesn't really add much to the plot, in my opinion.

...except that it's hilarious.

Really though, if you're gonna start editing stuff for content, pick another movie.

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You're right... it's a pretty raunchy scene, but I think it's a perfect example of one of those stupid, nonsensical conversations young boys have when they want to be badder and raunchier than they really are (at least, I had them with my high school guy friends). On one level, it's hilarious (Donnie's retort to this friends' comments is great), but it's also kind of pathetic and pitiful at the same time.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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I would assume so, but if there was one scene I would edit out for content, it's the part where Donnie's friends are discussing the sexual habits of Smurfs. It doesn't really add much to the plot, in my opinion.

i have to agree with opus here. the smurf discussion may not strengthen the plot, per se, but i think it definitely enhances the characters', well, character. when i was a teenaged girl with teenaged male friends, i was regularly privy to debates of this caliber. (usually my only contributions were along the lines of, "you guys! sick!") but whether or not it's "realistic" (maybe not an entirely convincing argument in this case), that scene and donnie's response tells me more about donnie than i knew before the scene started.

one could say the same thing about the dinnertime exchange between donnie and his sister elizabeth, which contains crass language but, in my opinion, sheds light on the family dynamic:

Donnie: You are such a fuckass.

Elizabeth: Did you just call me a fuckass? You can go suck a f***.

Donnie: Oh, please, tell me Elizabeth, how exactly does one suck a f***?

to me, this dialogue is productive and necessary to the story richard kelly was trying to tell. however, i'm not at all sure high school students would be able to understand this--particularly if they're in a christian school environment where their families may be more nurturing and their experiences less psychotic.

although i love donnie darko dearly and think it's a brilliant work of art, i'm not sure i would recommend it for high school students in this situation. looking at it through the eyes of your typical evangelical parent (or even zealous christian teen), there is TONS of "objectionable content" here: allusions to masturbation that make you squirm in your seat, EXTREMELY disturbing and destructive imagery, lots of colorful language, a rogue educator who wants students to think for themselves (ok, maybe that last one was a cheap shot on my part wink.gif). in many parents' minds, these elements may automatically cancel out the excellent quality of the filmmaking and storytelling, as well as the redemptive themes of self-sacrifice and the overarching idea that "the truth will set you free." i hate that this is true, but it is.

on the other hand, the conversation with students could be based around the inclusion of such elements in the film--why would richard kelly choose to have his characters act and speak this way? why should we as christians watch and engage with this type of movie, where the characters reflect some of our core values (ie self-sacrifice and truth-speaking) but not others? i have a feeling lots of teenagers--even christian ones--might relate to donnie's sense of alienation and otherness, and some good discussion could come out of that. it may even be liberating for some of them.

anyway, if this guy does decide to show the film, i think he should be prepared to count the cost. i would support showing teenagers this movie, but it's a serious undertaking and shouldn't be done lightly, as he seems to know. he will undoubtedly have to answer to parents who want to know why their kids went to a christian conference, only to hear the phrase "suck a f***" and cheer on a character who lusts after jena malone.

i would love to dialogue with this person more if you have his email, jeffrey.

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The one "problem" with Donnie Darko, IMO, is that many of its strengths, those themes that Kebbie mentioned, might take multiple viewings. At least, it did for me. It took 2-3 viewings before I could move past the cool style and atmosphere and intriguing premise and really start delving into the "substance" of the film. It's definitely a movie that, again IMO, rewards multiple viewings, and I'm not sure if that sort of appreciation could be developed at a youth conference.

And I have to agree with Kebbie - that dinner table exchange is fabulous. As is the scene when Donnie calls his mom a "bitch", and you immediately see the pained expression on his face afterwards. In fact, all of the scenes between Donnie and his family are great (and IIRC, there's a really great one among the deleted scenes on the DVD, when his sister gets accepted into Harvard), as they underscore the alienation and sadness that characterizes Donnie's existence. Which makes the film all the more poignant.

One criticism of the film that I never fully understood was that it mocked the family. If anything, each viewing makes it more apparent that Donnie, more than anything else, wants to connect with his family but he just can't. One of my favorite scenes is when Donnie asks his mother how it feels to have a wacko for a son, and she replies that it feels "wonderful".

But again, I don't know if all of this would become readily apparent after just one viewing (and I'm speaking purely from personal experience). Personally, I'd be really interested to see what the person thought after he had reviewed the film, since the e-mail was written before he had seen it.

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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i totally agree on the multiple viewings thing. that's something i hadn't thought of, but it's absolutely true. i've seen the film probably three or four times, and i STILL don't understand half of it, although certain things are coming into clearer relief. this could be a definite drawback of showing it to students--although i wonder if they'd pick up on certain things older people wouldn't the first time around?

on a tangent, i also agree on the criticism of the family. the film DEFINITELY mocks/criticizes american suburbia and the fake personalities of certain stereotyped characters who inhabit it, but the family seems outside that in a way to me. also, those walking stereotypes are treated with a kind of tenderness; we are allowed to see their brokenness. look no further than your signature, opus--kitty farmer is a TRAGIC figure of flannery o'connor proportions. and the family--i just love the touches that show how much they care for each other: "you're bitchin'... but you're not a bitch."

Edited by kebbie
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Kebbie-

I went and rewatched that part with Kelly's commentary, and he wrote the scene because it reminded him of the useless conversations he had in high school over silly stuff like the topic of Smurfs sexual habits (and because wanted to take advantage of the "R" rating). I might recend that slight edit, but I'm wondering if the high school students can see why that conversation is so funny, and not just because of the subject matter.

I think the reason I had problems with it the first couple of times is that compared to many of the other conversations in the movie, it didn't feel like it connected to anything in the plot. It's a lead in to the first occurance of Roberta Sparrow in the flesh, but that's it.

totally agree on the multiple viewings thing. that's something i hadn't thought of, but it's absolutely true. i've seen the film probably three or four times, and i STILL don't understand half of it, although certain things are coming into clearer relief. this could be a definite drawback of showing it to students--although i wonder if they'd pick up on certain things older people wouldn't the first time around?

I've watched it quite a bit myself, and I'm still picking up little hints and clues that I keep missing. The new director's cut that premiering in Seattle is suppost to be closer to Kelly's original vision, so perhaps that might fill in a couple of questions that still nag me.

What makes this even more amazing is that this film was made for only 5 million dollars - the cast alone is worth two to six times that amount.

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spoilers1.gif The Smurfs: Writers like Kelley don't put this stuff in just for fun...

I think we are missing out on the sexual issues of the film. Not that they are everything, but they are an important part. Donnie's masculanity and virility, if you will, set him apart from the antagonist, Swayze's character, who is ultimately revealed to be a pervert.

Everything matters in good films. And this is one.

Edited by DanBuck
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spoilers1.gif The Smurfs: Writers like Kelley don't put this stuff in just for fun...

I think we are missing out on the sexual issues of the film. Not that they are everything, but they are an important part. Donnie's masculanity and virility, if you will, set him apart from the antagonist, Swayze's character, who is ultimately revealed to be a pervert.

Everything matters in good films. And this is one.

Ah, excellent point. I had not thought about that before.

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What makes this even more amazing is that this film was made for only 5 million dollars - the cast alone is worth two to six times that amount.

And it was Kelly's first feature film, and he wrote and directed it when he was only 26, and he only received $9,000 to write and direct it.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
Opus, Twitter, Facebook

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