Saturday, July 13, 2013

Donnie Darko, Time Travel, Alternate Universes, and Memphis

Mississippi River From the Shores of Memphis, TN
Why Memphis?  

I was asked that before I left.  I have been asked that while here.

Simple questions sometimes have simple answers.

I'll let Donnie Darko explain.


Is it a spoiler if I talk about a movie that came out over ten years ago?  Well, just in case:  


If seeing Donnie Darko has been on your To Do List for over a decade, don't read this blog.  

Anyway, there is this scene in the movie (one of the best movies ever made, by the way), when Donnie asks Frank, a futuristic, time-traveling, rabbit-costume-wearing man, why he's wearing a stupid bunny suit in the first place.

Frank retorts, Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?


I have always thought this was a seminal moment in the film, deconstructing who we think we are/what we are supposed to be.  And, in sum, turning perspective on its head.  Moments later, in fact, Donnie ends up burning down Patrick Swayze's house, which seems downright mean, until we find out that this esteemed character maintains a kiddie porn dungeon. I'm not sure what that is exactly.  Not sure I want to know...but it sounds pretty bad.

In the end, Donnie's actions were justified -- depending on how you look at it -- in this alternate universe.  We just needed the proper perspective.


Beale Street
Fried Chicken

Her name was Bouvase, and the first time I heard it, I thought she said her name was Blow J.  I figured her name couldn't be a line from American Pie, so I asked her to repeat it.


Clearly, I wasn't the first person to have a problem with it.

I met B-O-U-VASE after a long day of exploring Memphis, Tennessee.  I did everything someone, I presume, is supposed to do.  I went to Graceland.  I ate BBQ.  I had fried chicken.  I went to Beale St.  I watched the duck parade. I went to the Mississippi River.


But what was I even doing in Memphis?  Why had I even come?


There is another part of Donnie Darko that I feel is often overlooked involving a minor character named Cherita, who is an overweight, linguistically-challenged, Asian-immigrant student.  Few people give a shit about this character, which is actually ironic!  She is integral to the who the F are we and why do we do the things we do plot!  No, really.  She is!

One of the few things (besides cynicism) I took away from stupidly(?) majoring in English in college is to notice any sort of character sensory removal.  If someone goes blind, loses a hand, can't hear...THIS is something to pay attention to...and later write a fifteen-to-twenty-page paper about.  Hurray!  

Anyway, Cherita has MULTIPLE self-induced, quasi-sensory deficits going on, so we should be watching her carefully.  First of all, she doesn't want people to talk to her; she tells them to chut up when they do.  This reaction is clearly warranted as some other characters (not Donnie) constantly berate her with racial slurs.   Eventually, she dons ear muffs -- even though it looks to be about 80 degrees outside -- in attempt to stop hearing what people say to her since the whole chut up angle doesn't seem to be working.  She ALSO ends up entering the school talent show and performing an interpretive dance, dressed as an overweight-angel-like figure, which leads the audience to snicker at her silent rendition of innocence.

No one, it seems, understands Cherita or any of her not talking/not wanting to be talked to antics.  

Poor Cherita.  Poor, poor Cherita.

Anyway, towards the end of the film, another important moment happens between Donnie and Cherita, when Donnie confronts Cherita and tells her he wishes things could have been better for her.  She, on cue, tells Donnie to chut up as she runs away -- even though he said something nice to her -- dropping her school books in the process.  

What do we discover?  She has WRITTEN (one of the means of communication that she has not lost/removed) Donnie's name on her book cover, showing love or admiration for him (I'm not going the god or god-figure route here, even though she was dressed like an angel during the talent show and Donnie clearly has god-like superpowers in this alternate universe.  I'm thinking teenage crush).  

So, Donnie is left holding her ear muffs in is hands as she runs away, removing Cherita's ability to block out others, but adding to Donnie's!  And we see Donnie wearing them in the next scene...showing a direct, physical connection to Cherita.  Both can be seen as outcasts:  

  • One being a slowly-going-insane, bunny-seeing, man-suit wearing time traveler, 
  • The other an interpersonal-issue-having, overweight-dancing, ear-muff-in-hot-weather-wearing immigrant.

If we look at them from this perspective, they are pitiful characters.

But from another, we can see them as being the only two truly redeemable characters in the entire film (don't get me started on Gretchen).  They, it seems, truly understand each other because when Donnie dies and saves the "real" universe, only Cherita smiles at her alternate universe interactions with her peer/savior.

Get all that?

It just depends on how you look at it.


I Didn't Visit This Place.
During my conversation with the about six-months-pregnant bartender, B-O-U-VASE, I discovered many things about her:

  • She hadn't been to California since she was 13, over 14 years she said.  
  • She's divorced. It seemed like her parents were, too.  
  • She'd been to a nude beach before, and didn't like what [she] saw.  
  • She loved Arkansas...the western part, only.  
  • She had been bartending for many years.  
And when I let her know that I don't particularly like tourist spots, and I wanted to go where the locals go...she gave me a knowing smile and suggested some places, and to let Mouse and Beavis know that Bouvase had sent me when I got there.

It should also be noted that she told me not to give any money to crackheads.  And she meant it!  


I have enjoyed every second of getting to chat with people I, otherwise, would have never met.  

I have enjoyed eating food I, otherwise, would have never eaten.  

I have enjoyed seeing things I, otherwise, would never have seen.

Why the heck did I come to Memphis? 

I'm not sure that is the right question.  I'm not sure at all.


Kate said...

If anyone was ever questioning that you were an English major in college this befuddling post is sure set them straight.
Seriously, why did you go to Memphis? Inquiring minds want to know.

Mark said...

Still not the right question. =)