Thursday, January 3, 2008

Donnie Darko: On Not Saving the World

I don't think it's possible to "save" the world. I don't think it's a good idea to even try. Usually -- maybe always -- it involves wars and other destructive coercions of the State. "Saving the world" is just a rationalization for trying to conquer it, usually so we can try to remake it in our image. As both an Aesop's fable and the Bible points out, tyrants always call themselves benefactors.

The closest anyone can come to saving the world is to stop trying to club people into being good, and just leave them alone to work out their problems. Any help they want they can ask for. George Washington had it right in his Farewell Address: trade with the rest of the world, but otherwise stay out of its political problems. But certainly don't try to "save" it. Such good intentions, as the wise old saying teaches, are the road to Hell.

A current example of trying to save the world? Our attempt to "save" Iraq, in order to impose the leftwing, anti-American delusion of "democracy" on it. It has resulted in nearly going-on-4000 American deaths, and many more wounded, some permanently. It has cost tens of billions of dollars, with more to come. It has caused the deaths and wounding of tens of thousands of Iraqis. And now we've got a bunch of sadistic, dim-witted white-trash hillbillies making piles of naked prisoners and jumping on them--and taking pictures of it. That's saving Iraq , all right. God forbid we try to save the rest of the world using the same methods.

However, I think it's possible to save individuals -- family and friends. What Edmund Burke called those "little platoons" of family and neighhood. The famous saying about this is, "No man hath greater love than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends." There's not a word in that saying about laying down your life for country (which almost always means government) or "society" (whatever that is) -- just your friends (and that also means your family). Excluded is "saving" the world, which always backfires anyway.

Saving friends and family is something good artists understand, even if only intuitively. The inability to save the world is something politicians, court intellectuals and "You fight and I'll watch" armchair warriors don't, no matter how many times reality smacks them in their faces. Because of this, I'll pay more attention to an accurate movie than to some pompous twit with three names who has a Ph.D in Political Science from Harvard or Yale.

The last movie I watched that dealt with the ability to save a few people, and the inability to save the world, was Donnie Darko. This movie, which has become something of a DVD cult classic, works on several levels: it's a science-fiction alternate/parallel universe story, a brutal but accurate satire on public high schools, and a tale about a (maybe) disturbed teenage boy redeemed by love.

The satire I can write about without spoiling the plot, but not the rest of the movie. High school is portrayed as a dungeon. Kids snort coke in the halls and carry switchblades. One good teacher is fired; another tells Donnie he cannot discuss religion because "I could lose my job." The principal is a clueless bureaucrat ("We're losing these kids," a new teacher tells him. "I'm sorry you've failed," he responds, as oblivious to reality as a stuffed bird under glass.). Another of the teachers is a human version of fingernails on a blackboard. The writer and director, Richard Kelly, said these things were based on his experiences in high school in the '80s.

Now I'll have to spoil some of the plot to explain the rest of the film. It doesn't matter, because the movie doesn't make much sense with just one viewing. It makes the best sense if you read the fictional book mentioned in the movie -- Roberta Sparrow's "The Philosophy of Time Travel."

Donnie is a teen-age boy, about 16 years old (the movie never gives his age), who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. I wonder about that, though. Mostly he is highly intelligent, and has the added ability to see all the emperors who have no clothes. Put a kid like that in a public high school, and is it any wonder he's considered bonkers?

Here's where things get weird. Donnie is in bed one night when he hears a voice. He goes outside to find a six-foot-tall rabbit (named Frank) waiting to talk to him. As he's talking to Frank, a jet engine falls through the roof of the house into Donnie's bedroom. Had he not been outside talking to the Frank, he would have been killed.

Here's where I have to spoil the plot for everyone. When Donnie got out of bed, the universe split off into a parallel universe. Everything that happens after Donnie gets out of bed is in a parallel (or as it's called, a Tangent) universe. The problem with the Tangent Universe is that it's not supposed to exist, and unless Donnie (and only Donnie) can merge it back into the Primary (or original) universe, the world will be destroyed.

Yet when Donnie is informed the world will be destroyed, he says, "Cool." He doesn't care, because it means nothing to him. Why, then, does he spend the rest of the movie trying to make things right and merge the Tangent Universe back into the Primary one?

He does it to save a girl whom he has just met, with whom he has fallen in love. Unless he merges the two universes, she dies. At the end of the movie, after the universe is put right, Donnie is back in bed again, with the jet engine falling toward him. He doesn't get out of bed, because if he does, the Tangent Universe splits off again, and the whole mess starts anew. The woman he loves will die. He'd rather die than her. Yet, for the first time in his life, he is at peace. It's the first time in the movie he smiles.

The movie can be summed up in that saying, "No man hath greater love than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends." Only in Donnie's case, it's for the woman he loves. He gives his life to save her. Otherwise, as far as he's concerned, the Primary Universe can go to Hell. What saves it from Hell is Donnie's love for one person, not some non-existent "love" for humanity.

That is the main message of the movie -- you can save a few people, especially the ones you love, but you cannot save the world. Change has to be done one person at a time, not the whole world at one time. The "whole world at one time" is the fantasy of lunatics, whose hopeless attempts at change always involve war and destruction.

Even though Donnie technically does "save" the world, it's still a mess, consumed with violence and lies. It's not "saved" at all, except in the physical sense. The only thing truly saved is his girlfriend. For that matter, Donnie is also saved from his problems by his love for her. And even though Donnie doesn't survive (at least in our fallen universe, the Primary one), it is still very much an uplifting film.

It's a shame that an obscure film-maker in his first film has more of an understanding of reality than the crackpots who almost always make their way to the top of the heap known as the State. Advanced degrees, decades of experience and high salaries (on the public dole, of course) -- who needs them? The track record of those kind of people is ghastly, with bloody wreckage strewn across thousands of years. They'd be better off -- and us, too -- if they bought an $25 DVD player and watched at least one funny, poignant, perceptive -- and wise -- movie.

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