Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Craig Milne reviews his ten favourite films, Part 4

USA 1950

Director: Henry Koste
Screenwriters: Mary Chase, Oscar Brodney
Runtime: 104 min
Certificate: U
DVD Distributor: Universal Studios Home Video

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase, Henry Koster directed this simple, light-hearted comedy starring James Stewart. Stewart plays alcoholic Elwood P. Dowd, an eccentric, polite gentleman who lives with his sister Veta (Josephine Hull), niece Myrtle-May (Victoria Horne), and Harvey. Harvey, Elwood’s best friend, is a six-foot three white rabbit visible only to Elwood, much to the alarm and confusion of the people around him. As his nervous socialite sister tries to have him committed to a mental institution, chaos ensues as his disarming demeanour allows him to unwittingly evade capture time after time.

This movie was one of my grandfather’s favourite films, and while I was brought up on a diet of classic westerns, war-films and lots of noirs from the forties and fifties, Harvey was always my favourite. It is endearingly innocent in the most hilarious way, with the ever-pleasant Dowd ambling along in a carefree daze, while the ‘sane’ protagonists fall apart around him. Returning to the film later in life, I found it had not lost any of its charm, but instead inspired thoughts about the treatment of people deemed mentally ‘unwell’, and how society considers ‘insanity’.

James Stewart’s Elwood remains one of my all time favourite movie characters. His unfaltering good nature and innocence are rare things in a hero, and when played with such genuine charm by one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, it is a wonder that this movie remains so criminally underrated.

Donnie Darko
USA 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Screenwriter: Richard Kelly
Runtime: 113 min
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

From one invisible rabbit to another, this one a little more sinister than Harvey. Richard Kelly’s debut feature is a masterpiece of cryptic storytelling and somewhat of a philosophical conundrum. Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an exceptionally intelligent teenage boy with ‘emotional problems’, who sleepwalks, hallucinates and is quite possibly schizophrenic. After a hallucination where Frank the giant rabbit saves him from dying in a bizarre accident, he informs Donnie that the world will end within a month and coerces him into committing a series of apparently random crimes.

The beauty of Donnie Darko, aside from the acting, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the darkly engaging script and the esoteric comedy, is the lasting effect it has on you. No matter how many times one watches it, there are still innumerable unanswered questions by the conclusion. Any explanations held up soon crumble under the weight of the paradoxical, impenetrable plot. Even the most intelligent sounding philosophical clarifications can be invalidated due to the sheer number of contradictions within the film. Watching it under the influence merely leads to the delusion that you understand, only to later discover that you were just not thinking it through. One reviewer described it as possessing ‘infinite meanings’, but surely anything with infinite meanings is simultaneously rendered meaningless? See, even talking about it leads to nonsensical ramblings.

Whatever the intentions of Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko is a spellbinding film, which captivated my entire psyche for much longer then the two hours it lasts. Inspiring all manner of absurd conversations between my friends and me, it is still as much of a mystery now as it was when I first saw it. Either a work of unfathomable intellect, or a brilliantly conceived philosophical joke, it is still an undeniably beautiful and ingenious movie.

Read the final Part 5 tomorrow!

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