Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s sudden feminist fascination this week with Santa Barbara murderer Elliot Rodger is not her usual modus operandi. A little searching shows Hornaday had nothing to say about other recent mass shooters like Jared Loughner (Tucson), Aaron Alexis (D.C. Navy Yard), Adam Lanza (Newtown) and certainly not Malik Nidal Hasan (Fort Hood) or Ivan Lopez (Fort Hood II).
In fact, Hornaday easily could have explored Loughner’s movie obsession was with the 2001 film Donnie Darko with Jake Gyllenhaal playing the lead, a film Hornaday adored as a secular's humanist Passion of the Christ (and adored even more when a director’s cut was issued in 2004):
As a character, Donnie joins Holden Caulfield as one of the great standard-bearers of adolescent disaffection; he's kind of a scary kid, and when he's in the middle of one of his hallucinations it's difficult to tell whether he's sanctified or demonically possessed (Gyllenhaal has a terrific face for projecting such ambiguity, turning his charm on and off just with the faint downward tilt of his head). Kelly encourages the confusion right up to the film's whopper of an ending -- the kind that prompts viewers to go back to the box office, buy another ticket and watch the movie all over again.
Without giving too much of the game away, that ending also suggests that Donnie Darko might be The Passion of the Christ for the secular humanism set. (It's interesting that both films were released by the same distributor.) But it's also just as meaningful for believers.
Like so many of his counterparts in Hollywood, Kelly shoots fish in a barrel when he makes fun of moral hypocrisy and Christian fundamentalism (embodied by a self-righteous busybody wearing a "God is Awesome" sweat shirt and a creepy self-help guru played by Patrick Swayze). Yet, in perhaps his boldest move as a filmmaker, he isn't afraid to give Donnie's scientific inquiries spiritual meaning.
As Brent Bozell explained, the film is one strange trip:
As he’s told the world will end in 28 days, Donnie Darko (played by actor Jake Gyllenhaal) floods the school, steals his father's gun, and burns the home of a motivational speaker, where firemen uncover a "kiddie porn dungeon." The film ends with Donnie laughing in bed as a falling jet engine crashes into his bedroom.
No network news anchor was blaming Richard Kelly, the cult film’s writer and director, for filling Jared Loughner’s disturbed mind with more apocalyptic visions. That would be unfair. That would be oppressing an artist with a “chilling effect.” But blaming a Palin map with targets on congressional districts (or TV and radio talk shows that Loughner never watched or heard) isn’t just fair game. It’s an urgent national priority.
In her self-defense video after being counter-attacked by Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, Hornaday claimed “I wanted to tease out that the movies we watch that are primarily created by men and primarily pivot around male fantasies of wish fulfillment and vigilante justice, how that might inform not only someone suffering under a really terrible mental illness, but the culture at large in terms of conditioning our own expectations about what we think life is and what we feel we deserve from it.”
How does Donnie Darko not fit that indictment?
PS: Hornaday did write about James Holmes (Aurora, Colorado), but not about his favorite films. She wrote about how difficult it was for the theater patrons to disengage from the movie into the very real shooting that unfolded.