I don't think Donnie Darko was even on my list of time loop movies to watch in regards to the Groundhog Day Project but it definitely involves a time loop, one big one from beginning to end. And, I'm watching it as I write today's blog entry. I will watch Groundhog Day after.
I don't intend to blog the details of the movie like I recently did with Haunter, mostly because a) I've seen this movie before, so I would not be writing about it anew and b) since it results in more than contains a time loop, there wouldn't be much to say probably. I will mention things worth mentioning as they come up. In the meantime, some asides:
A friend of mine--one of the students on the speech time for which I coach actually--Pablo has a blog he's recently started dealing with photography. Yesterday, he ended "with a question to think of for tonight. Where are you in your life today and where do you see yourself in five years? I know it's a common question, but do we ever REALLY think about it?"
My initial thought was not to answer the question, because, well, that would be normal. My impulse was to think about Phil Connors. He tells Rita the following:
I think people place too much emphasis on their careers. [Gosh,] I wish we could all live in the mountains, at high altitudes. That’s where I see myself in five years. How about you?
He's lying, of course. He's saying what he thinks Rita wants to hear. I wonder, though, if late- or post-loop Phil would agree with this sentiment as a honest description. I don't think that Rita would actually see herself in the mountains, (implicitly) away from people, even though she tells Phil that she agrees; after all, she is looking to do bigger and better things as a producer...
It occurs to me, Phil thinks he's better than Channel 9 Pittsburgh, and we're supposed to think he's full of himself for thinking so. But, Rita also thinks she is better than Channel 9 Pittsburgh; Phil tells her on "god day," "You like producing, but you hope for more than Channel 9 Pittsburgh." Is Phil's problem that he brags about how a "major network" is interested in him? In response to Phil, Rita says, "Well, everyone knows that." Does she brag about leaving also? What makes it wrong when Phil wants to do something more but not wrong when Rita wants the same?
Donnie Darko has been compared to Groundhog Day before, as a "time-travel" movie, as an "existential" movie... For example, Mike King (2014) references the "bardo worlds" of movies like Groundhog Day--
I've mentioned before, bardo (here, quoting Spiritual Travel) isa general term which literally means "in-between" and in this context denotes a transitional state, or what Victor Turner calls a liminal situation. The bardo concept is an umbrella term which includes the transitional states of birth, death, dream, transmigration or afterlife, meditation, and spiritual luminosity. We focus, in this essay, on the bardos of death and transmigration. For the dying individual, the bardo is the period of the afterlife that lies in between two different incarnations.
The limbo of the time loop, in Groundhog Day and in other films and stories, then, would one of these bardos. I think I've linked this before to the Pirahã tribe's concept of xibipíio. Dr. Daniel Everett explains in the New Yorker, 16 April 2007:When someone walks around a bend in the river, the Pirahã say that the person has no simply gone away but xibipíio--"gone out of experience" ...They use the same phrase when a candle flame flickers. The light "goes in and out of experience."
In a strange way, this idea twists right into Phil Connors living in the moment... though I've mentioned before how he does that in two very different ways. Pre- and early-loop Phil lives in the moment because he really doesn't know how to take seriously thought about the future. He complains, "Someday somebody’s gonna see me interviewing a groundhog and think I don’t have a future."
But, film Phil, I don't think, really doesn't know about his future. He feels discontent in his present, certainly, and he grabs at now every chance he can, but not to make his life better in some well-thought-of future but to escape some ill-thought-of past. We don't know much about Phil's past. He went to high school in Cleveland, he became a weatherman at some point. There isn't much else in the details, but we still get a clear sense of Phil Connors as a man who isn't... sure about his place, not just his literal place in Pittsburgh, at Channel 9, but his spiritual place, his existential place, who and what he is. Ultimately, though, Phil still (or maybe again lives in the moment late- and post-loop, but it is different. He lives in the moment, in planned moments, because he can make the future a better place than the present. It is not the same shallow pursuit of hedonistic joy but real, substantial betterment of the world around him. Unlike the Pirahã, Phil has a concept of the past and the future, events unobserved by himself. Everett explains (in the aforementioned New Yorker article) that, "because the Pirahã accept as real only that which they observe, their speech consists only of direct assertions." Phil has a unique position because of the time loop, and he can not only make "direct assertions" about things he shouldn't otherwise know, but can act on his unique knowledge to effectively create reality itself in the manner in which he sees fit.
He is, in fact, a god.
King (2014) refers as well to "the filmic form of 'rubber reality'--a vehicle for the exploration of spiritual crisis" (p. 118). "In Gnostic terms," King writes,
we have, arguably, an agent in each case that acts as the demiurge: in Jacob's Ladder it is the army experiment; in Donnie Darko it is the engine strike; in Groundhog Day it is the inexplicable onset of eternal recurrence; and in Vanilla Sky it is the software agency that constructs the virtual world. Each of these agencies are effectively oppressive, or at least ensnaring, but are at the same time accompanied by indicators of the way back to the Godhead or liberation. (p. 118)
Donnie Darko, of course, exists within a single loop of time, and it only happens once. SPOILERS AHEAD. Imagine Groundhog Day if when Phil Connors died, the loop did not reset. And, at the end of one resumption, he managed to kill himself at the beginning of the next. This is Donnie Darko. A darker-toned single slice of Phil Connors' much longer journey. Phil, of course, cannot die, so his experience is all the worse.
And, I have become sidetracked from my point, and even from another aside I had intended.
I think that at the end of the time loop Phil Connors would not particularly care where he would be in five years. He would be content most anywhere. He has found balance, emotional, spiritual. Me--I imagine my life in five years will be much as it is right now. At least one of my kids will likely have moved out, but I figure that I will still be teaching, coaching. I will still build with LEGO blocks when I can find the time. I will still obsess about movies... maybe not the same movie time and time again, but I've been obsessing about movies for years; I don't figure that will stop anytime soon.
It's actually an interesting, and maybe a little humbling, thought--to think that my life five years from now will be a lot like it is right now. I imagine Phil saying "I'm happy now" and I wonder if I am happy now. When I began the Groundhog Day Project I thought myself in a relatively happy place. My life had been through a series of upheavals, and would undergo another a couple months into the project. But, I felt good about who and what and where I was. More recently, of course, I've gotten a little more... not discontented, exactly, but I found myself wanting something more in my life. I don't imagine that wanting more is automatically a bad thing. It isn't bad for Rita.
And, it isn't bad for Phil.
But, even more recently, I've been thinking--or maybe trying to convince myself--that I don't need anything more, necessarily. My graduate education will turn into something more; that is its design. My kids will grow up and do new things, great things. That is their design. Life will better regardless of what want or don't want.
And, that is a surprisingly positive attitude for a cynical bastard like myself to take...
But, I take it.
I take it.
Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to just be, to just live, and let matters take care of themselves.