Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Richard Kelly, director of Donnie Darko, sucks

In my first blog post, I promised to explain my reasoning for not liking director Richard Kelly. Kelly made a name for himself is 2001 with his directorial and writing debut, Donnie Darko. Today, Oct. 26, is the ninth anniversary of that film. Donnie Darko is both ambitious and mind bending, forcing the viewer to figure out for themselves the story being told. This I have no problem with, films don't have to be easy to understand. Donnie Darko is a really cool film and I was a big fan of it when I first saw it in middle school. It would go on to become my defining film experience, showing me that movies can not only be entertaining but thought-provoking. I am even guilty of making friends borrow my DVD copy. I have since had to buy a replacement copy three separate times because my friends suck and keep losing it.

Richard Kelly making money off of my friend's irresponsibility.

So why is it now that I am so disenchanted with the filmmaker that created what was once my favorite film? It's because Kelly turned into a hack. The reason why Donnie Darko was so inexplicable is because Kelly doesn't know how to tell a story. This becomes apparent when Kelly tries to explain the meaning behind Donnie Darko. His explanation of the plot is a mess.

Vocabulary he made up, like tangent universes, artifacts, manipulated living and fourth dimensional constructs, are all pointless additions to what should be a lot simpler of a film. While the film might briefly touch on this vocabulary, the only way to understand anything in the above sentence is to read the director notes. I'm all for stretching a film across different mediums, but to hinge the director's whole point on a separate, fictional pseudo-science book is inane. It's like he was daydreaming one day and thought of all these rad concepts. So he decides to shoehorn them into a script idea he had. He should of dropped these concepts a long time ago when they became irrelevant to the plot. I use to think Donnie Darko was cool because everybody came out of the film with a different understanding. Now I know this is because nobody on Earth, not even Kelly, has a full understanding. It's impossible because Kelly didn't have a straightforward idea to begin with.

Donnie Darko would go on to become a huge cult hit and have massive DVD sales, bolstered by pseudo-intellectual teenagers (such as myself) who went crazy over the film. A director's cut was even released, allowing Kelly to take a semi-comprehensible film and making it even more muddled. His license to re-edit the film as he saw fit made it even more over-bloated and pseudo-intellectual. While I can still stand the theatrical cut, which thankfully had people other than Kelly editing it, the director's cut did nothing but infuriate me. It just proved how much of the movie's awesomeness was an accident.

Reading more about Kelly, I discovered the fact that he was originally hired to write a script to Holes. Holes was a kids books written by Louis Sachar, and a favorite for many people my age. It's a story about a boy who is wrongfully sent to a camp where boy delinquents are forced to dig holes all day. Although there are flashbacks to frontier times, the story mainly takes place in modern day. Kelly decided to use his genius to take a perfectly good story that kids already enjoyed and destroying any semblance to it. Kelly's tale is a dark allegory about futuristic freedom fighters and nuclear war. For those that loved the book as a kid, there is nothing in the story that even hint to futuristic freedom fighters. To make the connection between the two is horrible and the writer who made the abomination in script form is a horrible person. Yes, they deserve to die. I hope they burn in hell. Thankfully the original author decided to write the screenplay and Kelly was fired.

This book was the best.

Kelly's followup to Donnie Darko was 2007's Southland Tales. Now with enough artistic freedom to put whatever crazy things he wanted on film, Southland Tales became an overwrought, over-thought disaster. It stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as an action star with amnesia who sets out to save the world from some jabroni who creates a new form of energy. There's something else about Sarah Michelle Geller being a porn star and Sean William Scott playing twins but you never really get a handle on any of the characters. Each person is nothing more than a voice to dispense Kelly's half-baked thoughts. There is no more depth than that. Oh yeah, Mandy Moore and Justin Timberlake are somewhere in it too. The cast list looks like some crappy imdb message board post from 2000. Fans of the film say that its all one big satire that demands repeat viewings, however the first viewing was hard enough to sit through. It made for a film striving to say something deep but instead turns into pointless drivel that isn't sure what it's trying to say. There is no direction. It's not that I don't get it, there is nothing to get. The worst part is that I was actually excited for this when it first came out.

Stay away from this movie.

Next came The Box in 2009 which, to be honest, I haven't seen. The reviews were really bad though and I believe them. If The Box signaled an end to Kelly's career I would be fine with that. He not only had one chance but many chances. He was lucky enough to have his big break early in his career and let his "genius" get in the way of making an actually good film. This anger towards Kelly does not stem from anything other than his inability to create a film. It is not resentment or jealousy at him for becoming such a young director. I gave up any aspirations I had of becoming a filmmaker when my stop-motion Lord of the Rings remake fell through in middle school. My friend's brother wouldn't let us play with his toys anymore and that swiftly ended production.

It would of been awesome.


  1. Donnie Darko (DD) is one of my favourite movies, but I could not agree more. Kelly had no idea what he was doing. It seems as though he had all these cool ideas, threw is all together, and it somehow worked.

    After seeing the theatrical cut, many people went about trying to make sense of what happened. Kelly's biggest mistake was throwing his interpretation into the mix; a definite no no! If you have a hit that causes people to come up with their own interpretations you don't put out an 'official' interpretation. Kubrick didn't explain 2001; Kelly shouldn't have TRIED to explain DD. The funny thing is; Kelly's interpretation of DD is the WORST interpretation out there.

    A good interpretation of DD has to explain a bunch of things:
    (1) where did the jet engine at the beginning come from.
    (2) Why is he seeing Frank and why do events happen that seem to be determined?
    (3) Why will the world end?
    (4) Why does Donnie send the engine back in time; and how will that save the world?
    (5) What does it mean when you say back in time? (and back in time in the same possible world or back in time in different possible world?)
    (6) Why does Donny die at the end?

    Kelly's interpretation fails to explain all those things and he posits ridiculous assumptions (manipulated dead?.... come on!). I don't think he's heard of Ockham's razor!

    Luckily I am still content with the movie because I feel I have an explanation that explains all the above points on the fewest assumptions. So my advice to people who see the movie is this: watch the theatrical cut and ignore Kelly's and everybody else's interpretation out there (almost all of them are poor explanations anyway), and come up with an interpretation that you are content with.


    1. read all those questions, what do they have in common? only end of the world and a fucking jet engine.

  2. "...the director's cut did nothing but infuriate me. It just proved how much of the movie's awesomeness was an accident."

    Omichrist yes. How anyone thought the DC was an improvement or a clarification is beyond me.