Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly Explains Southland Tales
by Alex Billington
November 7, 2007
Arriving in theaters in just a few weeks is Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly's next movie, Southland Tales. This long-awaited post-apocalyptic film has gone through over a year of editing since a rough working cut debuted at the Cannes Film Fest in mid-2006. It's been described as incredibly complex, often confusing and even a mess, which is why we've got Richard Kelly himself to explain just exactly what happens in Southland Tales. The first step: pick up a copy of the graphic novel that Kelly wrote and read through that.
Secondly, here's where Richard comes in and does some explaining. He starts with his inspiration and the basic story of what's going on, which to be honest is a bit of helpful clarification. The original script was written 6 years ago just after Richard and his team returned from Sundance. Donnie Darko had just debuted there in January of 2001 and as soon as he got back, Richard started writing Southland Tales.
"The original inspiration, I think, was the T.S. Eliot poem The Hollow Men. And the last words of that: 'This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.' And I thought, let's flip that, and let's do a big LA comedy with a bunch of crazy LA eccentric characters. And then it was like the Hindenburg over downtown LA, I had that image. That it ends up with a big blimp and the riots. And it was like a big comedy about the city self destructing."
"I think in the original draft, the architecture was all there with the movie star, the twin, the cop, his brother who was an actor who's impersonating him, and there's a porn star, and there was a scandal… The neo-Marxists were more of an acting troupe, they weren't political and it was just a blackmail attempt to try to humiliate a movie star."
Richard goes on to spoil some of the ending, but jumps back in where things start to get interesting. All that was previously mentioned was written before 9/11, then after that Richard decided to take it in a different direction.
"So that architecture was always there. And after 9/11, I was like okay, I have this apocalyptic comedy that ends with rioting with the city on fire. With all these crazy characters, I thought, okay if it's really about the end of the world, let's try to take it to the next level and make it about something much more than just making fun of LA, trying to blow up LA. And I thought about all these ideas about homeland security and alternative fuel, and I just made it more of a science fiction, near-future kind of satire."
Now if you've started from the beginning, you're probably still scratching your head wondering who the movie star, the twin, the cop and his brother all are. Well here's where the studio takes over and has provided their own brief intro and synopsis, including explaining who plays which character.
Los Angeles, 2008: The city stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. Southland Tales is an epic story set over the course of three days that culminate in a massive 4th of July celebration.
A large ensemble cast of characters include Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson), an action star stricken with amnesia, Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an adult film star developing her own reality television project and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy.
And with that, the rest is up to you to interpret and enjoy. As with Donnie Darko, there is so much to analyze and take away from Southland Tales, that no one explanation can be provided. Of course it's sometimes confusing, but this isn't a film meant for everyone, it's meant for those of you who are looking to take something away from the cinematic experience. Southland Tales arrives in theaters starting on November 14th.
Reader Feedback - 34 Comments
So, by the last few sentences of this article I can assume you have seen Southland Tales and liked it ?
TheGuyInThePJ's on Nov 7, 2007
TheGuyInThePJ's on Nov 7, 2007
Man, the cast of this film is horrid. As much as I liked what Richard Kelly did with Donnie Darko, I don't think I could stomach this cast for 2 hours.
John on Nov 7, 2007
It is an interesting film indeed,only surpased by "Donnie Darko".This film is nothing like the mindless crap that we are used to, but to understand it you must really SEE it ,not just watch it!
Pavel on Mar 14, 2008
Absolute crap. Absolute crap. I wasted an hour and a half. im sure it'll get some sort of "cult" following. But donnie darko was much much better than this peice of absolute shit. IMHO
Mickie Darko on Mar 14, 2008
you're all idiots without reason and understanding. this film was fantastic. congrats mr kelly you are the man. fuck the rest of you, watch it again and try to understand it.
t-huff on Mar 22, 2008
I agree with Pavel. It's nothing like the stuff we're force-fed to watch these days. Films such as Donnie Darko, Southland Tales, and some might even say Cloverfield are a new revolution. It's such a relief to have movies such as these that take leaps and bounds away from the way society thinks all movies should be.
Colby on Mar 23, 2008
i liked it i just didnt get it ide like 2 figure out what the hell happened but it was entertaining and it kind of made me want 2 take acid
josh on Apr 1, 2008
I would like to propose that this movie is definitive evidence of the growing ego of a small minority of cinematic self-proclaimed messiahs. This movie is about as deep as Mt everest. Watching it, you can immediately tell that either the idea was created in a smoked filled crack house, or on the shag rug of a hippie liberal(no offense...HA) I watched the movie twice and it didn't just grow twice as bad, it grew infinitely worse. I enjoyed Donnie Darko, it was a masterpiece, fraught with deep meaning and sense. I like to equate this movie(SouthLandTales) with individuals perspectives about art. Some people like abstract, some like realism, but who watches an abstract art piece for more than 15 minutes. Money goes down the drain. We could all take a lesson from this movie, with vast amounts of time and marijuana, and the help from our trusty Alzheimer's side kick, we too can create abstract plot lines with the hopes of self-righteous "intellectuals" supporting our dimensionless movie.
EBPoncho on Apr 29, 2008
this movie rocked if u didnt like it u didnt get period !!! and by the way on the dvd there is a lil 10 min story about humanity and fuck is it true!!!
G on May 18, 2008
This is absolute art. This movie works the brain. Most of you people are use to the most simplistic of movies. Scared to broaden hour horizon and open your mind to the infinite potential in society.
jeremy on Oct 28, 2008
I saw Southland Tales last week. Then by coincedence, I saw Donnie Darko. So just now, after seeing both movies, I googled them, and came here, and found out they were written by the same guy...no surprise, I suspected that. The movies are written in such a way like those famed psychological inkblot experiments...just a random spattering of thought-provoking ideas, or ink, for which the viewer might derive their own meaning, or act like it. The real goal, ofcourse, is to do nothing more than draw the attention of a large following to watch the movie, and make money. Nothing more than that. There is no real logic tying the ideas together, nor hidden meaning ultimately behind the events. For example, *****SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDINGS********************* In Donnie Darko, Donnie ultimately goes back in time, and saves his Mom, his sister, his girlfriend, Jim Cunningham, and even Frank, by allowing himself to get crushed by the Jet Engine, in the past, that was ripped from the airplane, which his mom and his sister were flying home (but somehow entered the worm hole). The movie does nothing to explain how Donnie goes back in time (to the beginning of the movie), nor how airplane engine goes back in time to the events that follow Donnie's return; other than offering a red-herring narrative of Donnie's recollection of his teacher's glazed pseudo-explanation of time travel involving worm holes and a space craft traveling at light speed, and suggesting the "end of the world" a that was being prophesized to Donnie throughout the movie and shown as a wormhole towards the end of the movie. Furthermore, there are inconsistencies. "Frank", or the bunny, appears to be an evil alterego, then is presented as a seperate person who lives after Donnie's demise. Donnie is unable to kill him with a knife at one part of the movie, yet is able to shoot him with a gun (which is suppose to clarify why Frank has a wound in his right eye when he visits Donnie in the movie theatre). There are plenty of other inconsistencies in the movie that I simply don't have time to type about. Then in Southland Tales, it attempts the same nonsense (and even using a couple of actors from the movie before), and tries to add more religious and biblical allusions with updated special effects. In the movie, some "illuminati" group comes up with a technology called liquid karma that as a semiperpetual engine using the ocean, is able to offer mankind an alternative energy source to oil from the mideast, and ends up being used to even open up wormholes. That same agency tries to bring about the "prophesized" end of the world by having Roland Taverner, a war vet (who saves himself and the druggie army buddy played by Justin Timberlake who narrates the events of the movie on and off), drive Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) through a wormhole, and have Boxer Sanataros be the "Messiah", and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott) meet his former self, which is suppose to trigger the end of the world. Again, pretty much just a Donnie Darko movie, but revamped with heavier religious allusions, tones, and perhaps some attempts at satire. Also in both movies, the screenwriter makes repeated attempts to present ideas and imagery pertaining to synchronicity and "signs", schizophrenia, mutliple personality disorder, and taboos such as fornication and drugs, and major events related to the presidential elections and the "apocolypse". Do these issues having anything to do with each other? Yes, they all pique curiousity. That's it really. And as for the all the people out there pretending to silently understand the subtle meaning of the movie, my response to them is that "you've been duped".
Aftab Bukhari on Nov 2, 2008
Oh, yes, I also forgot to mention time travel.
Aftab Bukhari on Nov 2, 2008
Man, I thought it was slow at the beginning but I THOUGHT I kind of understood it. I thought that Boxer (the rock) who had this retarded story idea (about the world coming to an end) went through a wormhole, and blah blah blah...And then Sean William Scotts character finds his 'former-self' and Boxers (the rock) plot somehow became truth when he went through the wormhole. In his plot he talks about people acting very crazy and out-of-sync, and the end of the world - in the movie people act crazy and loopy, and then at the end the world appears to be ending (Sean William Scott and his past-self trigger the end)... Does this explaination do any justice to a possible "meaning"?
David Copp on Nov 20, 2008
Illuminati ....................Kill the Illuminati
Barak saddam hussein Osama bin Obama on Dec 10, 2008
Falujah is the Land of the Brave..........Becouse America follows the Anti-christ, thats why you see the lucifer eye on top of the pyrimed on the 1 doller bell, and to make it clearer the guys keept say'n Falujah and everybody knows that the only ppl who fought America and its armys are the brave muslim warriors of Falujah, then its clear Islam is the Only TRUTH and bush is the devil, free masons, skull and bones and all the secret illuminati societys serve the Anti-christ thats why they went to war with Islam becouse islam is the only TRUTH, and we well free jerusilem from the zionests and we well destroy the Anti-christ, Falujah is my hometown BB we gon kill ya'l
Barak saddam hussein Osama bin Obama on Dec 10, 2008
southland tales? more like southland lolols...
lolol on Dec 15, 2008
comment 17 your desperate blowing yourselves up and you aint gonna kill nobody cuz if your that sincere to your county you would have blown yourself up already bitch.
america baby on Jan 12, 2009
Worst movie I have ever seen. I just watched it on STARZ and I'm glad I didn't pay one penny for it. Hell, I even want my 2.5 hours back. This dribble should have never have been produced. How in the hell did this even get produced? This couldn't have been cheap since it has several big names and a lot of Special Effects, but they all can't save the horrible script and BS plot. I hope Kelly never makes another movie. He obviously can't produce cohearent sentences to make a decent script, let alone a complete movie. Donnie Darko was good, but obviously a one hit wonder for this no talent clown. Do yourself a favor and skip this movie. I'd rather watch a guy vomit for 2 hours then watch this movie again.
Now Completely Brain Dead on Feb 1, 2009
One of the best movies ever. I really love it. Actors were great. Everything was so surprising. If someone says that film sucks.. Then the film was too difficult for him to watch and understand. Actors were great, I really enjoyed their performance.
YO on Feb 4, 2009
I am a huge fan of Donnie Darko. It was a great movie with an amazing cast. While both Donnie Darko and Southland Tales do have similar ideals, Southland tales falls horribly short. I see that many other comments say that if you did not like it than you just didn't understand it. Well that is not the case. The fact is that it just wasn't good at all. If you liked it then that is absolutely fine, but don't presume that someone does not understand it simply because they don't agree with your opinion. I personally thought it was a huge disappointment. But I got it. Did you?
darkofan on Apr 29, 2009
It took a few views of Donnie Darko for me to fully understand it, and I'm sure it's the same with Southland Tales. I've seen it once, and am a bit confused; but there really doesn't seem to be one all-purposeful meaning. I think it's one of those movies that leaves something to the imagination, and everyone has a different depiction of it. It was more like a dream, where things don't make sense in a logical way, but they somehow fit together anyway. I, personaly, loved Southland Tales. I'll have to watch it again, sober, too see how I really feel about it.
Tinsnip on May 12, 2009
This movie is instant greatness because it has Booger in it.
Anomoly on May 21, 2009
I just saw Southland Tales for the first time. I agree with "23", it was more like a dream. It was what I would expect if I dreamed the American sociopolitical environment from the summer of 2001 right up to the election of 2008. It was very entertaining and did get me to submit this comment.
SilverJungle on Aug 9, 2009
everyone must realize that cinematics whether demanded or produced are solely for entertainment purposes or to distribute information on multiple subjects through a vast interconnected highway of media.this movie is for entertainment.a good friend of mine told me you can learn something new from everybody and by reading all your futile attempts to massacre this movie and build it up is only the representation of an anarchistic mindset.take what you want from this movie and move on.open your mind to the absurd,realize what could happen or the potential for disaster.people bridge ideas on dreams and people die on dreams.Richard Kelly,regardless of his cinematic portrayal of his thoughts,his job in this world is to entertain you.this film was entertaining to me.the satire was impeccable.he entertained this shit out of me and at least for a second he entertained you......with a recognizable face,situations based on present and past events,even with immense sexual innuendos which would turn anybodys head towards the screen.wake the fuck up for me please.everyone of you has a voice.especially the terrorist for comment 17.your quest to find peace through destruction will only end your own suffering not mine.im fortunate to live in a free nation.i can do whatever i want as long as i follow the rules.make sense...no.ok ill break it down for you i do not have to carry weapons on me because i am safe.im safe because i keep myself safe.i keep weapons in my home for when the day comes i have to defend my own freedoms in accordance to your massachistic will.this movie is a representation of a road not taken because this is reality.stay safe and ignorant,stay wth me.make sense...no.ok
mikey m on Aug 12, 2009
Southland Tales was very complex and confusing, but I enjoyed it 🙂 I just watched it for Sarah Michelle Gellar. I love her 😀
nightmare on Aug 12, 2009
Wow, the people who think this movie is a masterpiece... they are really reaching. How can you be so in love with Richard Kelly? Donnie Darko had its moments, but this movie was like one big run-on sentence that trailed off in to nothing. The characters were poorly written. The dialogue was horrible. The plot was made up as they went. Truly horrible. I think that the people who "got" this movie are just kissing Richard Kelly's ass and trying to be non-conformist and original. It is just like the people who listen to music that has the same time signature and rhythm as a jackhammer being thrown down seven flights of stairs while some dude in girl pants screams at the top of his lungs. Talent does not make an appearance. Just because you pull every favor you have to stuff your movie full of celebrities, that does not make it a success. Its like dipping a turd in chocolate; it looks good on the surface, but underneath it is still pure shit.
Justin T on Sep 1, 2009
horrible! waste of time and intellect. I hate when some who have the means dictate what is art and what should be chic and the line of sanity and truth. This was gobudigook bullshit. Like some performance artist who has a garbage bag and dental floss telling me that his portrayal of life lost is the answer. Enuf said. My advice to ANY ONE who asks - better off watching your compost pile. Have at it, idiots.
la la boy on Oct 5, 2009
OK, REGARDLESS WHETHER YOU LIKED IT OR NOT, IF YOU DIDN'T GET IT - IT'S SIMPLY RONALD/ROLAND TAVERNER'S ATTEMPT TO WORK THRU HIS GUILT OVER WOUNDING PILOT ABELINE WITH FRIENDLY FIRE BY BY CREATING A UNIVERSE IN HIS MIND WHERE THE WORLD'S ON THE BRINK OF DESTRUCTION. THE "ANTI-CHRIST'S" FORCES EITHER WANT HIM TO COMMIT SUICIDE OR STAY DELUSIONAL (STILL NOT QUITE SURE ABOUT WHICH), WHLE PEOPLE LIKE BOXER SANTAROS AND THE COP PLAYED BY JON LOVITZ WANT HIM TO FORGIVE HIMSELF AND WAKE UP FROM THIS DREAM REALITY. WHEN YOU REALIZE THAT THE NAME OF THE TOWN THAT GOT NUKED WAS ABILENE TEXAS AND THAT TIMBERLAKE'S CHARACTER IS MORE THAN LIKELY FROM TEXAS IT BECOMES PAINFULLY OBVIOUSTHAT THIS IS WHAT THE MOVIE'S ABOUT. TIMBERLAKE'S CHARACTER WAS A DEVOUT FOLLOWER OF THE BIBLE - HENCE THE BIBLICAL REFERENCES THROUGHOUT THIS TRIPPY DREAM GOING ON INSIDE ONE MAN'S PSYCHE. IF YOU DIDN'T LIKE THE MOVIE CUZ YOU DIDN'T GET IT, I HOPE YOU READ THIS AND GIVE IT ANOTHER CHANCE. IF YOU UNDERSTOOD AND STILL DIDN'T LIKE IT, THEN SORRY - THIS IS NOT HE MOVIE FOR YOU
CINEMASEVANT on Oct 27, 2009
LOL I only saw this movie because The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) was in it.
ITDOESNTMATTERWHATMYNAMEIS on Nov 1, 2009
In reply to comment number 15... in the end, the Megazepplin gets blown up...you then see the sky clear up. In the beginning the narrator says, I'm going to tell you the story of Boxer Santaros, and his journey down the road NOT TAKEN...the movie is a warning to current times that if things don't improve, the world will end/be full of anarchy and craziness.
Shane on Dec 15, 2009
I loved the cast and some of the scenarios were blatantly amusing, but, considering the multiplicity of so many serious topics of human concern, (Are we still humanistic or I am just naively wishing?), I think Richard Kelly stretches too far, too many provocations for reasonable consideration. Oh, by the way, I'm really sick and tired of the endless dogma of "End Times" because according to historical records dating prior to any of the religious doctrines of the past 2 millennia, Mankind has NEVER proved capable to strategize the empiric consummation of our biological experiences. Eventually, WE ALL DIE, MAN.
A PAW KO LIPS on Mar 21, 2010
Great movie. Richard Kelly is the Vincent Van Gogh of Films. He is going to die broke and unappreciated and become a posthumous film icon, the first in history.
Good on Mar 28, 2011
Sorry, no commenting is allowed at this time.