Walls of Light/Dark Space September 2022: Stupid Men's Suits: Di Donnie Darko by Lindsey Romain

Walls of Light/Dark Space September 2022: Stupid Men’s Suits: Di Donnie Darko by Lindsey Romain

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We are pleased to offer an excerpt from the September 2022 edition of the online magazine Bright Wall/Dark Room. Their theme this month is “Time Travel,” and in addition to the excerpted essay below by Lindsey Romain on “Donnie Darko,” the new issue also features essays on “La Jetee,” Richard Linklater’s “The Before Trilogy,” “Blade Runner,” “Grease,” “Irma Vep,” “The Velvet Underground,” “Shirkers,” “Christine,” and more.

You can read our previous excerpts from the magazine by clicking here. To subscribe to Bright Wall/Dark Room, or look at their most recent essays, click here. The above art is by Tom Ralston.

I remember, with reverence, the day I stopped believing in God.

Tenth grade, biology class. We were talking about dinosaurs and I wondered, out of nowhere: how do we really know they existed? Like, for real? That Earth didn’t manifest with bones in the dirt—macabre shards of white like little deathly seedlings. That the stars themselves didn’t plant them there in the Big Bang, ripe for excavation and befuddlement—an arrogant joke.

I raised my hand and asked the teacher this question, expecting a fruitful response—like maybe I’d impress him with my critical thinking skills. But instead, he stared at me with insolence or quite possibly resentment. I was rocking the boat.

“That’s not even a scientific hypothesis,” he said. “Just absurdist nonsense. How does anything exist, if that’s your way of thinking?”
That kernel of thought planted seeds not unlike those ghostly dino bones, buried somewhere in my crown chakra topsoil. I could not stop thinking stupid things like that. Like, how do we know that every scientific conclusion isn’t collective delusion? Is it gravity that holds me to Earth or the invisible strings of a cosmic puppetmaster? Is anything real or is life simply a simulation or mirage, flimsy as silk or dust? Could I run my hand through it and watch it fold away and disappear?

I think of this now with a bit of shame, recognizing how closely this logic aligns with dangerous conspiracy. But the difference is this: I had no interest in proving a thing. Had no desire to point and yell “gotcha.” Instead, I was rather comfortable submitting to that which I couldn’t identify. I was suddenly aware of and quite comforted by the great absurdity of life. How positively erroneous it is that anything happens at all, that any of us are alive and stay alive and that things keep happening beyond our control and we just have to walk around, pretending we don’t know we’re all going to die.

It was around this time that I first saw Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, a film I discovered the way I have many great loves of my life: by walking through a video store and choosing the weirdest box cover. (In this case, matte black punctuated by eerie blue faces and a Rorschach-esque rabbit head.) As I’m sure you can imagine, the movie lit a fuse somewhere inside me, put words and songs and visuals to all of the matterless, existential junk clattering in my brain. I saw myself in Donnie, a teen both disaffected and yet uncannily principled. A young man seeking ownership of his intellect in a way I admired, and, in turn, emulated. But unlike my fatuous science-room questioning, Donnie wasn’t intellectually dishonest in his hypothesizing. His wonderment was based in theory, philosophy; an anchor in an encasement of preposterousness. Because in Donnie Darko, it’s only Donnie Darko who makes any kind of sense. I felt that.

I can’t tell you how many times I popped in that VHS and let myself access Donnie’s world. Dozens upon hundreds. And much like my own submission to the uncanny, I never aimed to crack its code, but just let it wash over me. I crawled right up inside of it and wore it like a stupid man suit.

Donnie Darko opens like a dream. Donnie wakes up in the middle of a winding road at dusk, his bike splayed beside him. Beyond the rope of concrete is a sweaty mauve sky, cresting over suburbia: green trees and lavender hills and dots of white real estate. He awakens, eyes glazed, and the world unfolds. He looks far past his bearings and into the pastel valley. He is at first puzzled but then amused. He laughs and hops on his bike while Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” fires up—synth like sepia transmorphing us to Oz.

Suddenly, we are in Middlesex, Virginia. A wealthy suburb where every home has an ivory façade and a ripened lawn. Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives here with his parents, Rose (Mary McDonnell) and Eddie (Holmes Osborne), moderate and congenial; older sister Elizabeth (played by Jake’s real-life sister Maggie Gyllenhaal), a Dukakis-voting party girl on her way to Harvard; and younger sister Samantha (Daveigh Chase), a precocious member of a local dance troupe called Sparkle Motion. It’s October 2, 1988. George H.W. Bush will soon be president. There is an air of foreboding in the humdrum of this place. Every hedge a looming threat. Turmoil festering in everyday routine.

Donnie Darko opens like a dream. Donnie wakes up in the middle of a winding road at dusk, his bike splayed beside him. Beyond the rope of concrete is a sweaty mauve sky, cresting over suburbia: green trees and lavender hills and dots of white real estate. He awakens, eyes glazed, and the world unfolds. He looks far past his bearings and into the pastel valley. He is at first puzzled but then amused. He laughs and hops on his bike while Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” fires up—synth like sepia transmorphing us to Oz.

Suddenly, we are in Middlesex, Virginia. A wealthy suburb where every home has an ivory façade and a ripened lawn. Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives here with his parents, Rose (Mary McDonnell) and Eddie (Holmes Osborne), moderate and congenial; older sister Elizabeth (played by Jake’s real-life sister Maggie Gyllenhaal), a Dukakis-voting party girl on her way to Harvard; and younger sister Samantha (Daveigh Chase), a precocious member of a local dance troupe called Sparkle Motion. It’s October 2, 1988. George H.W. Bush will soon be president. There is an air of foreboding in the humdrum of this place. Every hedge a looming threat. Turmoil festering in everyday routine.