Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko was a fun, mysterious, hypnotically creepy film that continues to be rediscovered by new audiences, all of whom seem to have conferred upon it the cherished appellation of "cult classic." The film also has an interesting and very strange website.)
They say that some directors have one good film in them. I hope that isn't the case with Richard Kelly, however after his 2009 film The Box, he's got some explaining to do.
The film is an elaborately puffed-up reworking of a Richard Matheson short story entitled Button, Button, which was previously adapted for an episode of the 1985 Twilight Zone television series. Matheson reportedly hated the Twilight Zone episode because they took liberties with the story. If that's true, I hope Matheson never got a look at Kelly's version. Hoo-boy! This is one undeliverable parcel.
The scene is off-putting not on account of Norma's deformity, but because it illustrates Kelly's occasional staggering obliviousness to--or cynical contempt for, I'm not sure which--the fundamental realities of authentic human behavior. No real teacher, in the real world, would ever, in a million years, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die, behave the way Diaz does. I've known a few teachers in my life--my parents, to name but two--and the grotesquely reverential way that Diaz meekly acquiesces to her own humiliation in front of a classroom full of students is an insult to teachers, and indicates how out of touch with reality a certain fading former Hollywood A-lister has become in the waning days of her viability as a bankable property. I almost left the theater after that scene, however as it occurred within the first ten minutes of the movie I wouldn't have had much to write about, aside from which I thankfully hadn't had to pay for the ticket. So I decided to stay. Not that I'm happy about it.
|Marsden and Diaz|
The mysterious Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) shows up at the appointed time, nattily attired in an elegant Savile Row suit. He is polite but businesslike, however his most noticeable feature is his face, half of which appears to have been blown off and improperly attended to. Langella is the only thing worth watching in the movie, however he is unfortunately upstaged by his own makeup, which resembles that of Harvey "Two Face" Dent (Aaron Eckhart) from Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. (That the great Frank Langella was hornswoggled into appearing in this movie is likelier a testament to Kelly's skills of persuasion than it is an indictment of Langella's judgment, Cutthroat Island notwithstanding.)
|Langella and Diaz|
As Steward's limo pulls away, Arthur notes the license number, which he later discovers is registered to the NSA (National Security Agency).
The menacing bookworms eventually trap Arthur in the town library, where Steward's spinsterish wife--whom we haven't seen till now--informs Arthur that the only way to escape the evil eggheads is to step into one of three vertical columns of cheesy-looking digital water effects.
"What happens if I choose the wrong one?", Arthur asks, seeming far less baffled than he should be under circumstances, and certainly far less baffled than the audience is by this time.
"Eternal damnation," the spinster says ominously.
It's confusing, I know.
There is a moment in the film when Arthur, who is a technically-minded guy, becomes curious about how the button works. Opening up the unit, he is disappointed to find nothing inside.
Having seen The Box, I know exactly how he feels.
Rent Donnie Darko instead.