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.