Film Influence No. 1: Donnie Darko

        What’s real, and what’s imagined?  And does the answer to that question even really matter if, in the end, we all die alone.  Welcome to the world of Donnie Darko.  It’s a “Mad World” indeed.  In the film, Donnie Darko, who is the title character, is either a paranoid schizophrenic who sees the future and changes it for the better, or he’s just a boy who dies alone in a freak accident.  Personally, I’m a firm believer that the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.  Of course when it comes to fictional stories, the truth may lie anywhere.  I suppose that is why I like films like Donnie Darko so much.  Unlike our boundary-filled world, in a fictional universe one can explore the depths of the Universe without limits.

        Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about String Theory, Quantum Mechanics, and the Big Bang, itself, quite often.  The more I learn, the more I understand that there is so much that humanity just doesn’t know.  As I mentioned in a previous post, currently scientists know and understand about 4% of how the Universe works.  Put another way, we do not understand how 96% of the Universe around us works.  As a teacher, that means the Universe gets an A and we have a F and need to boost our understanding by 56% just to get a D.  Of course, for us just getting to 5% would be an improvement.

        In the film, Darko says: “I can do anything I want, and so can you.”  While discussing the short story “The Destructors” in his English class, Darko also says: “They just want to see what happens when they tear the world apart.  They want to change things.”  With these lines, it becomes clear that Darko doesn’t believe in limitations.  Specifically, he doesn’t believe that we are all trapped in the present.  Instead, he sees time as an illusion that can be manipulated by the mind.  Given the major theme of my poetry collection, it should come as no surprise that I find Darko’s beliefs to be fascinating.  Perhaps, fascinating enough to explore in another project….

        Before writing about my film influences, I hadn’t realized that two films on my list were produced by Newmarket Films.  Of course, I also didn’t realize that The Rum Diary was produced by Johnny Depp’s production company Infinitum Nihil (getting ahead of myself I suppose, literary influences don’t begin until next week).  It’s amazing what you’ll find when you pay attention to the details.  You might be surprised where you’ll find interesting clues about the future.  For now, though, go ahead and watch the trailer for Donnie Darko.

Film Influence No. 2: The Men Who Stare at Goats

        You’ve got to love a film that starts with the line: “More of this is true than you would believe.”  Of course, when it comes to a military that this year alone out spent its nearest rival (China) by more than half a trillion dollars, well nothing’s really that unbelievable.  With that kind of money, I’m sure there isn’t much that the U.S. military hasn’t explored at one point or another.  Plus, I just love the idea of the Army trying to create Jedi warriors.  It doesn’t hurt either that the film has an all star cast including: George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and Ewan McGregor.

        One of my favorite exchanges in the film comes between General Brown and Brigadier General Dean Hopgood.  During the exchange, Hopgood explains that the Russians started doing psychic research based on the belief that America was already doing psychic research, which at the time was false but based on the Russians belief that is was true, subsequently the U.S. couldn’t afford to let the Russians lead the field in the paranormal.  The logic behind that exchange seems so absurd that I probably wouldn’t believe it, except that it has to do with military intelligence.  When it comes to a military that spends nearly 700 billion dollars annually, what’s not to believe.  By contrast, the U.S. Department of Education is due to receive about 72 billion dollars this year.  That’s about 90% less than the Department of Defense.

        When it comes down to it, though, what I like most about this film is the path that it lead me down.  After watching the film, I wanted to know more.  That thirst lead me to read the book by Jon Ronson of the same name (I’ve always been a fan of gonzo journalists).  Afterward, I read another Ronson book Them: Adventures with Extremists.  Eventually, I even put Boston’s song “More Than a Feeling” on my iPod.  For some reason I just couldn’t get it out of my head, but I suppose you already knew that.

        In the end, the path, or unbroken chain as I like to refer to it, that I’m on began long before I watched The Men Who Stare at Goats.  That being said, the film provided for an entertaining and interesting detour along the way.  Just another link in the chain.  Like Kanishka, and others, I am not afraid to veer from time to time.  I suppose it’s time to close things down for today.  In the meantime, I leave you with the trailer for The Men Who Stare at Goats, and a portion of the final monologue:

“And that was it.  That was the only bit of my story that ran anywhere.  And it was a joke.  And if I ever needed proof of how the Dark Side have taken the beautiful dream of what a nation could be and had twisted it, destroyed it.  Well, that was it.  But I won’t stop.  I won’t give up.  Because when I look at what is happening in the world, I know that now, more than ever, we need to be all that we can be.  Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.”

Film Influence No. 3: Memento

        What is real, and what is imagined?  Scientifically speaking, reality depends a great deal on the inner workings of our minds.  Since our mind processes what we see more quickly than what we hear, our brain constantly adjusts reality in the effort to synchronize our perception of the world.  That being the case, we are always a split second away from true reality.  This, of course, means that reality has a great deal to do with perception.  Now imagine that you are Leonard Shelby, the protagonist of Memento, and you no longer have the ability to make new memories.  What would your reality be?

        As you may have noticed, I’m a big Memento fan.  One of the reasons that I liked the film so much, is that it kept my mind working trying to figure out what was going to happen next.  A great deal of the intrigue has to do with the nonlinear narrative structure.  In the film, there are two different sequences (past and present) flowing in different directions.  The sequences meet at the end of the film bringing the story together.  I found the technique to be very intriguing, which is probably why I incorporated a similar structure into A New Beginning….  When it comes to my story, though, two sequences just wouldn’t do.  No, I needed one sequence more (the future).

        Speaking of my story, I suppose I had better get to work.  The summer is almost over, and I still have work to do (like Christopher Nolan, I have another project in my back pocket that would like to be born some day).  In the meantime, enjoy the trailer for Memento.  If you haven’t seen the film yet, I would suggest doing so.  I believe you’ll like it.  Oh yeah, while we’re on the topic of the inner working of our minds you might as well enjoy the video for “Hurricane” from MS MR as well.

Film Influence No. 4: Dazed and Confused

        I’ve always been fond of of anything that explores the topic of what Pete Townshend called the “teenage wasteland.”  In fact, my poem “The Wasteland” probably has more to do with my formative years than the dusty Central Oregon landscape.  In my mind, Dazed and Confused is one of the best films to ever explore the topic.  It also doesn’t hurt that the film has by many accounts achieved cult film status, and features a number of actors and actresses who went on to become stars.  One of my favorite lines in the film is spoken by the character Cynthia: “You know, I’d like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else.”  I couldn’t agree more.

        When it comes to “A New Beginning…”, there’s definitely a “teenage wasteland” component.  Divided into three parts, “A New Beginning…” delves into the past, present, and future.  Sound familiar?  The past, of course, is where the “teenage wasteland” component comes in.  By contrasting that component with both the present (middle age) and the future (old age), I explore the human psyche in its three most prominent forms.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes I feel like my writing process is a psychological experiment gone awry.  That, of course, is what I’m going for and what makes it fun.  Every now and then, though, I have to take a break and just enjoy life.  I’m on a deadline, however, so I suppose I should finish up Part Two.  While I’m working, enjoy the “Baba O’Riley” video below:

Film Influence No. 5: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

        When it came time to narrow down my top five film influences, I had no idea how difficult that would be.  Given what passes for movies these days, I would have thought it would have been a much easier task.  I was wrong, however; I’m not sure why that keeps happening.  Oh that’s right, I’m human….  In the end, I reworked my list several times and even wrote a post about a film that I had to cut.  That brings me to my mantra for this post:  I love to write, it’s the rewriting that’s a pain….

        I suppose it’s time to discuss a film that did make the cut, which is Cave of Forgotten Dreams.  I loved this film.  I’ve watched a lot of good documentaries lately, (I Am Bruce Lee, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and The Buddha, just to name a few) and this one tops the list.  One of the reasons that I liked it so much is that I have always been a history buff.  Personally, I believe history deals with the central question of asking yourself what it means to be human.  As you may have noticed, historical references pop up from time to time in my poetry.  History has always fascinated me, and the story of the Chauvet cave in Southern France is quite amazing.  The film captures the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind, which I find to be astonishing.  Admittedly, though, history isn’t for everyone, nor is this film.  The film blew me away, but my wife and daughters all fell asleep and we were watching it in 3D.  I would have thought that would have kept them awake.  It didn’t bother me that they all fell asleep, though, because I know that everyone has their own tastes.  Whether it be food, music, films, fiction, poetry, religion, or really anything else, we all have our own preferences.  As long as you’re not harming anyone, I believe people should be free to express those differences; even if it means falling asleep during a film that I find to be enthralling.  I am no Caligula….

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

        Another reason that I liked this film, is that I like caves.  There are just so many good metaphors that can be drawn from a cave.  That’s probably why I included a poem titled, “The Dark Cave” in “A New Beginning…”  It is one of the five lost poems from “The Past, Present, and Future” that crossed over into the novel.  It’s probably why I also describe my writing process as crawling into a tunnel in my mind.  I’ve also had some very interesting real life experiences in caves.  Those stories, of course, are for another day….  Today, I would like to leave you with a pair of questions.  In the film, the archeologists discuss the fact that one of the cave artists had a crooked little finger.  Naturally, I looked down at my hand and noticed that my little finger is in fact crooked.  I then asked my wife about it, and her little finger is crooked too.  I looked it up, and according to a 1964 study only 1% of healthy newborns are identified as having bent, or crooked, little fingers.  Admittedly, to be counted the little fingers had to bend inward at an angle of 15 to 30 degrees.  I’m not sure if mine, or my wife’s, bends that much.  Still, though, I find the whole topic to provide an interesting link to the past.  That, of course, brings me to the questions: Is your little finger bent?  If so, does that mean anything?

Musical Influence No. 5: “Radioactive”

        I’ve always been interested in apocalyptic themes, which is probably why such themes show up in my writings.  This interest may also explain my fascination with the new song from Imagine Dragons titled “Radioactive.”  According to the song, “this is it, the apocalypse.”  Just last year, many people believed that the apocalypse was in fact upon us.  Aside from generating a few hokey movies, the Mayan apocalypse that was supposed to materialize was a bust.  Fortunately, for writes such as myself, apocalyptic projects still seem to be very much in vogue.  This year alone, films such as Oblivion, World War Z, and This Is the End have or will hit theaters.  There’s also a chance that Jaden Smith’s performance in the post-apocalyptic film After Earth will actually cause the apocalypse.

        My best apocalyptic work has come in the form of “Population Zero,” and “The Empire Falls.”  I also have a few apocalyptic story ideas floating around in my brainstorming notes.  A New Beginning…, though, doesn’t focus on apocalyptic themes.  Similar to my collection of poetry, they exist but only on an ancillary level.  Like the poetry collection, A New Beginning… is a coming-of-age story about a boy and his dog.  OK, I couldn’t help but crack a joke since I didn’t get to do that much in my poetry.  A New Beginning… is an existential journey about awakening the humanity within us all, of course, with a little bit of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll mixed in for good measure.  Speaking of which, I have some writing to do….  For now, enjoy the Imagine Dragons video for “Radioactive” below: