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Dante Darko

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  • Video
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by Claire Donato

Donnie Darko is a cult cinematic reverie that debuted in movie theaters on October 26, 2001, just a month and a half after 9/11. Deemed a “critical and theatrical flop” by the Australian Center for the Moving Image, the film “made back only $1.2 million of the $4.5 million budget at the box office.” And yet, the film “managed to build a dedicated cult following.”

I was 15 years old when Donnie Darko was released. I cannot remember where I first watched it... at a sleepover? By the time I was 17 and Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut was released, I was a rabid fan. Like many of the film’s early devotees, I drove hours from the small town where I lived (Clarion, Pennsylvania) to the nearest metropolitan city (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) to watch the Director’s Cut at an independent movie theater, the only place showing it near me. Three years later, I would begin working for minimum wage at the movie theater where I saw Donnie Darko. The unconscious mind is a powerful force which remains a mystery to me to this day, much like Frank the Rabbit is to Donnie in Donnie Darko.

On December 1, 2021 at 12:06am, I began writing “Dante Darko” in a Google Doc shared with my cousin, Anastasios Karnazes. I cannot recall whether Anastasios was watching me type in our shared document, or whether I was alone in the file. Nor can I recall whether I was writing the piece, which was ultimately interpreted as video art—or, some might argue, cinema ;)—for the Poetry Project’s 2022 New Year’s Day Marathon, as a handsomely paid commission. I also cannot remember if, whether or not, in the end I was paid.

The abecedarian poem “Dante Darko”—the video’s voiceover—is appended below for your readerly consideration. An abecedarian poem is a poem whose lines’ first letters proceed per the letters of the alphabet: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. The moniker abecedarian, in a sense, mirrors the form itself, as the word travels from a to b to c to d and beyond. If the alphabet made a sound, one could do worse than argue the word abecedarian to be onomatopoeic.

On a stylistic note, “Dante Darko” (the abecedarian poem)’s disaffected tone is interspersed with the occasional arrow through the heart → <3. In stanza 15, Kitty Farmer addresses her child dance group Sparklemotion. In stanza 23, the interrogative sentence Why are you wearing that stupid man suit? is gleaned from a moment in the film wherein Donnie Darko, Gretchen Ross, and Frank the Rabbit are sitting together in a darkened movie theater. And in stanza 25, Gretchen Ross flirts with Donnie Darko by telling him: You’re weird.

(At what point did weirdness become the dominant trait of the attractive male? I’m sorry to my 15-year old self for ever watching this film, and for inscribing Donnie Darko’s character into my mind atop a pedestal of sexual primacy. For years, upon noticing any goofiness, aloofness, or the slightest tendency to non-sequitur from a male in a public space, I became inebriated by this childhood passion erected from celluloid. Now I am 36.)

The final illustration at the end of the video—of Claire Donato, Frank the Rabbit, and Donnie Darko as a throuple—was painted by me as a tribute to my cousins Anastasios Karnazes and Nikolas Slackman, the latter of whom is now my beloved. It is superimposed over video of melting glaciers and stock sound of at least two people heavily petting. Ice, heat, heart. Snow, sorrow, ecology. Sex! The end of the wor(l)d.

Ergo, Dante Darko is not mere ekphrasis capturing the dialogue, ensemble, mise-en-scène and soundtrack of Dante Darko; nor is it an experiment in poetic thought in which the speaker entwines autobiography with formal explorations of the line. Instead, it exists upon a linear continuum drawn between the affective phenomena FEAR and LOVE.

Dante Darko

A young man played by Jake Gyllenhaal is hot and schizophrenic.

But he may already be dead!

Clearly, we the viewers do not yet know this.

Donnie Darko is the full name of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character.

Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” is on the soundtrack.

Frank, a rabbit in a mirror, begins to manipulate Donnie to commit several crimes.

Gary Jules covered Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” for the soundtrack.

Hahahahahaha → Donnie Darko laughs on his therapist’s couch.

I loved Donnie Darko so much that, at age 16, I drove two hours to see the Director’s Cut at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.

Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is also on the soundtrack.

Knowing how much I love Donnie Darko did not deter my COVID-19 paramour from saying how much he hated it.

“LOL!” But this is not one of those poems that adopts contemporary digital slang for the mere sake of cleverness.

My god, I hate that shit as much as my COVID-19 paramour hated Donnie Darko.

Nevertheless, I am enacting it?

Okay, now, girls. I want you to concentrate, Kitty Farmer says to her child dance group Sparklemotion. Failure is not an option.

Production stills from the film depict actress Beth Grant, who plays Kitty Farmer, standing in front of a chalkboard whereupon a linear continuum is drawn between the affective phenomena FEAR and LOVE.

Quickly, the mind turns toward the Halloween party scene during which Donnie Darko and Gretchen Ross, his girlfriend, have sex after the camera cuts away.

Richard Kelly is the film’s director.

Set in October 1988, Donnie Darko follows Donnie Darko, a troubled teenager who narrowly escapes a bizarre accident and has visions of Frank, a mysterious figure in a rabbit costume who informs him that the world will end in just over 28 days.

This is all so America.

United States of

Virulent COVID-19 strains and strained COVID-19 relationships.

Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?

XOXO → the sound of Donnie Darko and Gretchen Ross making out before they consummate.

You’re weird, Gretchen Ross says while seducing Donnie Darko. That was a compliment.

ZZZ time for bed! Hope you watch Donnie Darko.

is the author of several books, most recently Kind Mirrors, Ugly Ghosts (Archway Editions, 2023) and Woebegone (Theaphora Editions, 2023). Currently, she is the Acting Chairperson of Writing at Pratt Institute, where she received the 2020-2021 Distinguished Teacher Award, and is also a candidate at Pulsion: The International Institute of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychosomatics. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Woebegone.

(@airpodlatte113) is the editor of Dante Darko.