Friday, November 14, 2008

MM’s Belated Halloween Meme

Okay, I was tagged by the Anonymous Production Assistant to list Top 10 Halloween film selections. I’m afraid my list would be terribly clichéd, filled with such obvious greats as Aliens, Alien, Terminator II, Silence of the Lambs, The Exorcist, Psycho, Vertigo, Jaws, Poltergeist, The Fly, Misery, Se7en, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Halloween. I’d also offer a few classics, like the silent, German expressionistic landmark, Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (in other words The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), Nosferatu, M, Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Freaks, Island of Lost Souls, The Invisible Man, Cat People, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, Rosemary’s Baby, and a few others like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, and Ghostbusters.

That’s, like, a couple more than 10.

I will confess that I get sucked into films with seemingly impenetrable mysteries. I’ve already written extensively about
Eyes Wide Shut. Here are two more with some interesting analysis…


Mulholland Drive

I read
Ebert’s 4-star review before seeing this film and he gave the first tantalizing clue: “There have been countless dream sequences in the movies, almost all of them conceived with Freudian literalism to show the characters having nightmares about the plot. Mulholland Drive is all dream. There is nothing that is intended to be a waking moment. Like real dreams, it does not explain, does not complete its sequences, lingers over what it finds fascinating, dismisses unpromising plotlines. If you want an explanation for the last half hour of the film, think of it as the dreamer rising slowly to consciousness, as threads from the dream fight for space with recent memories from real life, and with fragments of other dreams--old ones and those still in development.”

There is also an article at Salon called
Everything you were afraid to ask about Mulholland Drive. I have nothing new to add to the analysis that isn’t already exhaustively explored in this fabulous piece put together by Bill Wyman, Max Garrone and Andy Klein. Here’s a taste:

What the fuck is going on in this movie?

Well, it seems that Diane had her girlfriend murdered. Then, in a masturbatory fantasy cum fever dream in the moments before she commits suicide, she reimagines her ruined career and failed relationship with the woman she loves.

The dream begins with Camilla/Rita miraculously escaping the hit Diane had taken out on her. From there, Diane, a product of Hollywood, imagines the story in cinematic fashion: She sees herself as the naive wannabe starlet Betty, who succeeds on sheer talent and solves whatever problems are thrown her way. She even gets the girl!

Thematically, Lynch seems to be working out a number of things: the enticing but empty imagery of the movie screen; the accompanying imagery that is used as stardust to cover up the unpleasantries of the movie-making process; the imagery that the ambitious use to reimagine and remake themselves; and the imagery and imagination actors put to work to create their characters.

Other sites of note:

Lost on Mulholland Drive

Anthony Kusich’s explanation of
the 10 clues inside the DVD box.

The Script


Donnie Darko

Needless to say, there is another fabulous article at Salon called
Everything you were afraid to ask about Donnie Darko:

What the hell just happened?

The vast majority of Donnie Darko takes place in a parallel universe. From the moment the clock in the Darko house strikes midnight, 10 minutes into the film, right up to Donnie's hysterical laughter in bed, the setting of the film is Tangent Middlesex, a parallel dimension, spontaneously created, which exists only during the 28 days that cover the majority of the film's action. The through-line of the film is Donnie Darko's quest to erase the Tangent Universe before it destroys the world.

To understand what actually occurs in Donnie Darko, it helps to have read "The Philosophy of Time Travel," by Roberta Sparrow. This is difficult in that the book is an imaginary one, written by a fictional character. Luckily, much of the book's text is included on the film's Web site and DVD and is now incorporated into the director's cut.

"The Philosophy of Time Travel" explains that time, while usually stable, will occasionally become corrupted for reasons unknown to all. When this happens, a Tangent Universe is created -- an alternate reality parallel to the primary universe in which we all live. "If a Tangent Universe occurs," Sparrow writes, "it will be highly unstable, sustaining itself for no longer than several weeks. Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence." During that collapse, a time-space vortex will form that leads back to the birth of the Tangent Universe.

You can actually read the pages from “The Philosophy of Time Travel”
at the Cellar Door, which also offers Donnie's poem, the “Dear Roberta Sparrow” letter, and other Darko goodies.

The Stainless Steel Rat has a nice
Q&A section on Darko.

Finally, there is also a fabulous
essay by Emerson at

The first dialog scene in the movie begins with an attempt to provoke political sparks at the family dinner table (first line: "I'm voting for Dukakis," stated as a challenge to her parents by Donnie's older sister). And from there it switches into an exchange of obscene insults between Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his sister Elizabeth (played by the lead actor's real-life sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal). (Aside: on the original DVD commentary, director Richard Kelly remarks how special it was to have Jake's real-life sister in the role. Why? He doesn't say. But it does add a little extra-forbidden sexual tension to the film.) Elizabeth, enraged at a crude childbirth reference Donnie has made in front of their younger sister, calls him a dick and tells him to "Go suck a f---k!" Donnie sarcastically replies, "Please tell me, Elizabeth, how exactly does one suck a f---k?" She sees his bet and raises: "You want me to tell you?" Donnie cups his hands to his ears and silently mouths, "I'm all ears!"

The primary motifs of the movie are laid out in this first scene, and the sexual back-and-forth between brother and sister is freighted with a peculiar tension that goes deeper than just typical family tiffs and teenage foul language. We soon learn that Elizabeth has stayed home from college for a year to be with her boyfriend Frank. (We don't know it at first, but we see Frank's red sports car zooming past Donnie in the opening sequence.) Later that night, Donnie has a vision of a rather tall, erect rabbit named Frank -- or, rather, a person in a fuzzy bunny suit with a grotesquely contorted metallic mask over his head.

So, the question arises: Why a bunny? (and you thought maybe the question was "Why a duck?") Throughout the movie, sweet little bunnies and other stuffed animals are associated with childhood, and specifically with Elizabeth when she (and Donnie) were little. In one scene we see Donnie lying on the couch (where he sleeps after his bedroom has been squashed) in front of a framed photograph of a little girl -- Elizabeth -- and a bunny. In the last scene between Donnie and his sister, he comes into the house to find her sleeping in a chair, and a stuffed bunny just to the right of the frame.

There are other bunnies and stuffed animals (and Smurfs and cartoon rabbits from "Watership Down" in the deleted scenes and "Director's Cut") throughout the movie. But the big one is, of course, Frank. Donnie knows his sister isn't just sleeping with her cuddly stuffed bunny anymore -- she's sleeping with a full-sized and (relatively) hairy man. That Frank has the body of a stuffed animal and the head of a vicious metallic animal seems to be an indication of Donnie's mixed-up feelings toward him (fear, arousal, rage, respect, envy), as the male who's bedding his sister. The only time bunnyman Frank appears in front of another waking person is when Donnie is under hypnosis with his therapist (in which he reverts to a childlike way of speaking, much as he does when sleepwalking), and Donnie is clutching a stuffed animal -- a doggie with big floppy ears this time -- like a child.

For Donnie, the idea of attributing sexual characteristics to childish things -- say, asexual kiddie cartoon characters (like a slutty Smurfette, about whom his friends enjoy spinning pornographic fantasies) is particularly infuriating. And yet, he concludes his let's-set-the-record-straight outburst about the Smurfs on a melancholy note: "They don't even have any reproductive organs underneath those little white pants. That's what's so illogical about, y' know, being a Smurf. What's the point of living if you don't have a dick?" The innocent sexuality (or asexuality) of his childhood is giving way to a more complicated post-pubescent incarnation, fraught with moral questions for Donnie.

Frank is a manifestation of that ambivalent aspect of Donnie's own erupting id, his stifled/frustrated hormonal urges, his feelings of being trapped in his own body and his own brain between childhood and the full-blown sexuality he so desires but knows he can't act on (with Elizabeth, anyway). How appropriate that he's attending Middlesex High School; when it comes to sex, he's stuck in the middle. When Donnie taunts Elizabeth about how to "suck a f---k" while miming that he's "all ears" -- well, whether he knows it or not, he's conjuring up a prescient image of Frankenbunny, whom he no doubt imagines engaging in all kinds of polymorphously perverse activities with his sister.

Happy belated Halloween. Hehehe



Mark said...

How about Peter Medak's 'The Changeling' starring George C Scott?

A fine ghost story.


nestori said...

It would be interesting to read a script comparison of the Mulholland Dr. original tv-pilot script and the movie/shooting script - *wink, wink*. (The link you put up seems to be to the pilot version.) Just to see how Lynch's mind works. He said that he got the idea for the feature version while meditating.

Racicot said...

I've been a 'Darko' hater this whole time - not understanding it - thinking it was 'weird' for weirdness sakes... Although I thought the 'feces' joke was LMAO funny.

I'll watch it again because of you MM. Thanks.

Mystery Man said...

Mark - Hehehe...

nestori - I thought the same! Actually, you should do that and e-mail it to me. I'll post it here *wink, wink*. Hehehe...

racicot - I wouldn't fault you for hating it. That's perfectly understandable. It is a cold film with mostly unsympathetic characters. But you're very kind. So very nice to meet you.


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