Tales of Despair: Falling Through the Roof

October 2nd, 1988.

An airplane engine falls through the roof of a teenage boy’s home, and should have killed him: should have, had he not been lured out of the house by an enormous rabbit.

Sound familiar? Then you’ve probably seen Donnie Darko. It is a masterpiece of dark cinema, a mind-bending trip into the world of insanity, and it does so in the most realistic of ways: by making the insanity appear sane. For ultimately, this is what we think, isn’t it, those of us whose grip on reality is tenuous? It’s the world that’s gone mad.

The rabbit plagues Donnie; the rabbit tells Donnie the world is going to end in twenty eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds. And oh, Jake Gyllenhaal does such a good job of believing it, never doubting it, and descending into the madness that comes with the freedom of knowing it’s all going to end. Yet all the while, we remain rooted firmly in the real world. School goes on; work goes on; life goes on. The rabbit is an illusion; the rabbit is real.

Certainly, the world doesn’t seem like it’s going to end. Nor does it for any of us, of course. Almost certainly, when the end does come, it will be abrupt, it will be instant, and we won’t know any different. But Donnie…oh, Donnie knows.

And it is despair that comes with this. The knowledge that any thing, any action, is meaningless. He burns down the principal’s house, and it is meaningless. A vile secret is unearthed because of it, and it, too is meaningless. He falls in love…and it is meaningless.

The story behind this film unravels the very nature of what is real and what isn’t, and in a very Descartian way dissects the meaning of armageddon. For if we end, the world ends, and there is no way of knowing otherwise. It is an end of life, an end of existence, and most importantly, and end of self.

And in the face of this ending, the destruction of self, Donnie is given a choice, and the choice is this: to let the world end…or to let the world end.

Few people will be given the chance to learn of their death before it comes. Fewer still will make the choice to roll over in bed, and let the engine fall through the roof.

Tales of Despair: The Darkness of Crows

A young man and a woman live, poor, in the slums of Detroit, deeply and madly in love with each other. They harbor a love of the gothic and the dark, and they plan to wed on Halloween, October 31.

The eve of their vows, there is an attack: their apartment broken into, she is raped, beaten and stabbed. He walks in – desperate, he cries out for her, and she for him. Moments later, he is executed before her eyes. Later, under the blinding glare of flashing blue and red, she dies. The girl she cared for and the cop who found her look at each other, and in a moment, their lives are forever changed.

So begins The Crow, the 1994 film that changed the lives of goth kids around the world, and ended the life of Brandon Lee. I was one of those goth kids, and I first saw The Crow in the bitterest depths of my depression, when I believed all hope had gone. I watched it every night for a month, and shed tears each and every time. There are some, I’m sure, that will see this film as little more than the comic book-inspired action movie that it claims to be, but for me there has always been – and will always be – a far greater depth.

Eric Draven, murdered in cold blood before his beloved’s eyes, is raised from the grave one year later by a solitary crow, his strength and guide in his resurrected afterlife. He has returned, and seeks but one thing: retribution for the tragedy wrought upon his fiancée. One by one, he hunts down the four men who ended their lives, and returns their favor to them.

All the while, Sarah, daughter of a drug-addicted prostitute, has learned to live, and rely, on her own, seldom seeing her mother other than for money for food. Her only companion is the defeated and washed-out cop, Albrecht. Gradually, she comes to know of Eric’s return, and seeks him in the ruins of their old apartment. Though they meet, their friendship cannot be rekindled – he is not living.

There is a tone of utter despair to this film, complete futility; even as he takes revenge upon the monsters that destroyed his life, Eric knows it serves little purpose, for the past cannot be changed. In returning, he has brought nothing but hurt to all those around him, inspiring hope in Sarah and then equally crushing it. From the outset, we know that, even should he succeed, he has still lost: his life remains forever gone, and his beloved forever dead.

There is, naturally, a final dramatic battle between good and evil, ending with the beautifully gruesome death of “Top Dollar” atop a ruined cathedral, and the inspiration of hope with the redemption of Sarah’s mother and the reunion between Eric and his long-lost, ghostly Shelley. The most touching scene for me, however, is the meeting between Eric and Albrecht, in Albrecht’s apartment late at night. Albrecht lived Shelley’s dying moments, and through his eyes Eric lives it also. In a touch, every hour of pain and torment fills Eric’s mind, and he recoils, aghast.

What touches me most about this scene, however (I’m tearing up just writing about it!) is what we learn about Albrecht. Against his career, against his home life, against everything he held dear, he remained with this dying girl, this complete stranger, staying by her side and with her hand, until she died. Knowing it was inevitable.

This movie is infused with darkness and despair, gothic tragedy and loss, and yet holds a human compassion beyond many that I have seen before or since. It was everything I needed, and the tears I shed were a sweet, sweet relief.

It is yet a further, well-known tragic addition to this film that Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee and Linda Lee Cadwell, died whilst filming when real bullets were substituted for blanks. As such, the film has become as much a eulogy to this bright and emerging actor as it is a piece of dark, gothic cult art. They say no parent should bury their child, and this film – a piece of trite entertainment, comparatively – proved the most terrible loss a person could ever bear.

R.I.P. Brandon Lee
1965 – 1993

Thought of the Week: Rowling’s Labryinth

My son and I just recently finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I have to admit that, considering the book is several hundred pages longer than its three predecessors, I wasn’t quite sure what was filling up all those pages. It got good – very good – at the end, but I can’t help feeling that it was, compared to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it felt somewhat bland. Other than a whole lot of prepubescent love interest, nothing really happened.

We may not read the rest of the books for a while. Goblet of Fire noticeably takes a turn into darkness, and I’m not sure if we’re ready for that (ironic, considering the nature of the story I’m writing for him). Nonetheless, we enjoyed it, finished it, and moved on. We’re revisiting The BFG at the moment (which is pretty darn dark in its own way!).

Another ritual he and I have is Friday movie nights. Netflix has become an invaluable instrument in our weekly film fix, and we’ve watched anything from the awful Jackie Chan movie Spy Next Door to the slightly better The Accidental Spy, among others. This week we watched The Dark Crystal for the first time. I had not seen it before, and I must say, I was swept away by the story, the beauty and the sheer dedication of the animatics in the movie. It was made in 1982, and puts Team America: World Police to shame. In more ways than one.

Before that, we watched another Jim Henson masterpiece; one that I remember well from my own childhood: Labyrinth. Does anyone remember a terribly young Jennifer Connelly and a terribly camp David Bowie? Must have been heaven for her, I’m sure! It was a real treat to visit this surreal, acid-trip vision of my youth, and I couldn’t help pausing the movie from time to time to point out particular things to my son. Imagine having to explain David Bowie. Whew.

In the proceedings, I noticed a few other things as well. Things that rang a bell from elsewhere.

Hoggle…or Hogwarts?

As you may have noticed at the head of the post, I have placed side by side (top by bottom?) a still from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Labyrinth. Does anyone see a resemblance? Now, surely mazes aren’t particularly uncommon – there’ve been plenty of movies and stories that have featured them, The Shining and Alice in Wonderland amongst others. Both of these predate Labyrinth and Harry Potter. In truth, at first I didn’t even see any connection.

But then, a couple of other things happened. Remember Hoggle? A grumpy, self-depricating and ultimately heroic little dwarf who guides Sarah through the maze. When we are first introduced to him, Sarah in her distraction mistakenly calls him Hogwart. Hogwart – really? This was the first coincidence I picked up on, and pointed it out in laughter – imagine they both came up with the same name!

A little later, my suspicions were raised. Remember the big, hairy, somewhat dimwitted monster that befriends Sarah and has some bizarre power to control rocks? Name’s Ludo. Yes, Ludo. Just like Ludo Bagman, the Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports.

Ludo Bagman…maybe.

They say you need at least three points to plot a graph. I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say Ms. Rowling took inspiration from Labyrinth; however, it feels these are a few coincidences too far. Two characters that share names with Rowling’s universe, and a giant maze that serves as the testing ground, and ultimately the transformation from child to adult, in both stories? I just don’t know…

Anyway, it turns out I’m not the first one to think of this, as a quick Google search will tell you. Some people see the coincidences; some dismiss them. I don’t necessarily want to make a claim either way, but just bring it to your attention: what do you think?