Sweet and Low: Richard Kelly

The director of 'Donnie Darko', chooses his best and worst scenes of all time

Interview,Jennifer Rodger
Friday 01 November 2002 01:00

Best scene: '2001: A Space Odyssey' (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

The greatest sequence of all time is the dawn of man sequence. There's prehistoric man, in the form of apes, quietly living on an African plain and they stumble across a huge monolith that they touch and it inspires them to pick up a bone and start bashing each other over the heads with it. The sequence finishes with the greatest match-cut of all time that has humour, tragedy and horror. One of the apes throws a bone in the air and it turns in to a nuclear missile and then a space-craft orbiting the earth. This is a haunting idea of what happens when a tranquil world is given the inspiration to be creative. It's both a catharsis because it's the awakening of the ape's intelligence, and horrific because with intelligence comes violence and nuclear weapons. As well as its idea, I also really love the way it's filmed. Kubrick put men in ape suits and had them jumping around and still it's absolutely the most realistic portrayal of prehistoric man I've seen in a film. When I first saw it I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. He was ahead of his time – his collaboration with Arthur C Clarke, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, his minimalist dialogue, his choices for sound design or lens design – and I think you have to see this film at least five times to start to understand it all. I've seen it at least 30 times, and I'm only just starting.

Worst scene: 'A Time to Kill' (Joel Schumacher, 1996)

This is a film that bothers me for political reasons. Carl Lee Hailey's (played by Samuel L Jackson) child is brutally raped. When the two red-necks guilty of the rape are bought to court he goes in there with an automatic sub machine gun and shoots them as well as accidentally shooting one of the court guards. The scene I really dislike is when Carl apologises to the guard, who is in hospital after having had his leg amputated because of the shooting, and he says, "That's OK, you had every right. I forgive you. I would have done the same thing". It's an endorsement of revenge killing as a solution, that it's justice as opposed to letting our justice system deal with criminals. Clearly you're sympathetic for anyone whose child has been raped, and clearly the guilty men deserve to die but they don't deserve to die in a violent shoot-out in a public courtroom. And then the film takes a worse turn because Carl isn't convicted for the revenge killing on the grounds of an appeal for racial harmony. This turns it in to liberal posturing for endorsing what is pretty much a terrorist viewpoint of revenge killing. It's completely preposterous.

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