October 2nd -- Time Travel

Donnie Darko (2001) -- Theatrical Cut
Directed by Richard Kelly

Looking into Jake Gyllenhaal’s bewildered eyes as he stabs at the near-tangible fabric of time and space resonates highly in Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly’s metaphysical defragmentation thriller. Everything terrifying about the film is gathere into one scene: the malleable fabric of space, the visage of the prophetic psycho-bunny Frank, and the swirling psychosis within Donnie’s mind. Many might not find tinkering with the metaphysical fabric of time and space as frightening, but when foresight into the future of a full family’s livelihood comes into focus, it becomes more than terrifying -- it becomes a weighted philosophical mindscrew.

My preference lies in the theatrical cut of Donnie Darko, though both experiences are highly engaging. But watching Kelly’s alternate director’s edition is a lot like experiencing a storyteller who has taken a solid story and taken explanatory liberties with the details. Little is left a mystery in his second crack at a story rife with neurological twists and discussions about the dangers of time travel. His original, in its twisted and barely-explainable nature, renders one of weightiest and inexplicably chilling essences that you’ll come across. Donnie Darko’s troubling analysis on a bizarre boy’s possession in the hands of time travel’s complexity, no matter how you take it, will leave you pondering reality in a shaky stupor. Much more can be dissected within Kelly's film, but that'll be another day at another time.

The Butterfly Effect (2004) -- Director's Cut
Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber

When you start to physically change your future, like in The Butterfly Effect, it becomes a maddening game of Russian roulette that can lead to proliferation or claustrophobic anarchy. Ashton Kutcher has never -- ever -- impressed me in anything else he’s participated in; however, in this labyrinthine time-travel horror story, he’s surprisingly adept. Maybe it’s due in part to all the attempts at controlling an anarchistic rhythm of fate, or the shards of a child’s painful memory flying about in his performance that masks any negative attributes of his singular talent, but his portrayal of Evan is surprisingly vivid.

Kutcher works perfectly as a tormented guy trying to navigate through suppressed memories via his journals. It brings up an interesting concept: referring to written memories before and after a major event, then reflecting on the captured memories to fill in gaps where we don’t remember. In ways, that’s a reassuring point within The Butterfly Effect that illustrates our capacity to remember by guided stimulation. However, trapping ourselves momentarily in that gap to alter the entire line of concentric afterthoughts that occur, following a slight “tailoring” of the universe’s ideals about reality, presents a wholly terrifying and cataclysmic element. It has its flaws, without question, along with a whole slew of plot holes, but The Butterfly Effect works alongside Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko as fantastic dives into the malleable outreaches of our predisposed history.

Thoughts on the Evening: As a side note, The Butterfly Effect's Director's Cut is much stronger in a thematic sense; it reflects statements and ideas that are referenced earlier in the film much more than the diluted finale in the theatrical version. Unlike Donnie Darko's alternate cut, it actually makes the narrative more complex and eschewed from conventionally digestible concepts. However, even though there's much more concrete thought and analytical material in Richard Kelly's film, both display their own style of cringe-worthy thrills regarding the essence of time's path. Great one-two punch for a chilling evening of philosophical horror.


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