Television

Darkon

The film points out that, absent the flat swords and shields, role-playing is hardly unusual.


Darkon

Airtime: Monday, 9pm ET
Cast: Skip Lipman, Kenyon Wells, Daniel McArthur, Beckie Thurmond, James Iddings, James Shirk
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: IFC
US release date: 2007-11-12
Website
Trailer
Amazon
I like Danny, but sometimes Danny doesn’t have the balls to do what Danny needs to. I am afraid to go up to girls, but in here, we're all more or less equal. We're all the same type, but we're all individuals.

-- Danny McArthur

"I've always felt that I was born out of time," says Skip Lipman, "that the skills I have don't go well as far as being successful in this civilization. I feel like I have some great destiny... and I look at all the tasks and all the things that I do as an important piece to the puzzle that puts me where I need to be." One of the pieces to this puzzle appears on screen as Skip ends his self-introduction: he keeps a full suit of knight's armor in his basement. Skip is a player in the game "Darkon."

In Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer's documentary, Darkon, Skip is one of many Baltimore-based role players. His story is more or less typical: a stay-at-home dad whose wife works "in the computer industry," he does laundry and feeds the kids when he's not planning the next battle in which his character, Bannor of Laconia, will lead the allied rebel forces against the empire of Mordom. His counterpart, Keldar of Mordom (Kenyon Wells), has weathered upstart resistance before. Both sides lay claim to "American" values. Skip finds a sense of "control" in the game, a means to rework his own experience: following an argument with his older brother Max (apparently, he hit Max in front of other employees), Skip had to leave his family's "wholesale war games distribution business" and now holds a grudge. He's redefined himself in glowing, nationalistic terms: he and his fellow wannabe heroes believe in "the same things that make America great: we're explorers, we want to push the boundaries of the frontier and we want to do something new." Kenyon defines heroism in language borrowed from his real-world office job: "I care a lot about this country," he says. "I've devoted 16, 17 years of my... life to it, and it's paid huge dividends to me." His mother adds, "He wasn't a people person at all," but Darkon helped him "develop relationships" and "take charge."

The film points out that, absent the flat swords and shields, role-playing is hardly unusual, and moreover, that our understandings of roles -- heroes, victims, "treacherous dark elf mercenaries" -- emerge from our cultural backgrounds. As Mike, Halcon of Albion, puts it, "You role-play your entire life. You role-play being, you know, the clerk at McDonalds. You don't really want to be there, you're just playing the role because you're trying to make money." The roles in Darkon are more rewarding, as borders between in-character and out-of-character experiences can be intriguingly blurred. The film's battle images recreate the players' excitement and transportation into another world with handheld camerawork and a soaring period-style soundtrack.

Along with the fantasy, Darkon exposes diverse emotional realities. For Bill, Creed of Mordom, explains the relationship between his two identities. "Bill just wants to be a nice guy, just have a good time," he says. "Creed wants a little bit more. He wants to be an imperialistic bastard. He wants to hunt down his enemy... He's revenge, is what he is. He's revenge upon whatever pisses Bill off." Andrew, Shapwin of Laconia, finds the game's appeal less personal, more ideological. Taking a somewhat dimmer view of "American" values than Skip espouses, he says, "Some people just want more. Some people are tired of working their ass off to keep their internet access going, working for material goods." He sighs. "Everything that was once noble and good is gone and replaced with Wal-Mart and McDonalds and Burger King. That's how it is in America, you know." To effect his escape, Andrew practices sword-fighting in his bedroom, the high-angled camera emphasizing the cramped space of his diurnal life, the difference between this rehearsal and the "real" conflict on the field.

Also seeking escape from a life where she feels confined, Beckie Thurmond, single mother and former stripper, finds solace in Darkon. As Nemesis of Caldonia, she says she feels "in control," even as the film shows her on the field and in bountiful-bosom costume, coaxing her young child, wailing and clinging to her. "Mommy has a job to do," she smiles, "and I really do need you to give my arm back." Apparently, the women players play traditional women's roles, supporting their warrior men rather than leading forces into battle themselves. By the end of the documentary, when Beckie moves into her own home with her kids, she's looking as pleased with this new world -- a bedroom for her son, sunlight streaming through the windows -- as she has with any event in Darkon.

The men of Darkon appear more inclined to traverse the boundaries between their worlds. The effects are various: as much as Kenyon credits his imperial leadership for his success making "million-dollar deals" in his office job, Skip begins to redefine his role as a rebel along moral lines. Beyond the battlefields where men wield colorful banners and plastic weapons (transported in minivans), Darkon, he says, is "a very political place." And in this, it's actually quite like the "America" understood by its players as either good or bad.

Kenyon asserts, "Over time, playing Keldar helped me become the man I wanted to be, in real life." Just so, his mien turns imperial and intimidating when he rejects Bannor's questioning of Mordom's increasingly vicious expansion tactics. Keldar mocks Bannor's coming "late to morality," declaring, "Yes, we are an imperialistic power; yes, we conquer other lands. And we're fucking honest about it. We admit our motives and our goals." He leaves Bannor with a warning: resistance will mean trouble. (Along this line, the film includes several references to Mordom as a stand-in for the U.S., including a background television that shows "The Battle for Fallujah"; though Skip ignores it, intent on his preparations for battle, viewers may be reminded of the trouble that comes with resisting a dominant force.)

As tenuous or resonant as such allusions may be, the focus for Skip is consistently personal. The film's primary narrator, he brings the camera crew along when he meets with his longtime friend James, Eliphas of Laconia, a previously dependable ally to Bannor. When James announces he means to change his role, to break off from Laconia and "go my own way," Bannor/Skip is distraught. Their sit-down at Denny's ends badly, as James is unable to alleviate Skip's earnest dismay: "It's just a game," he pleads. But Skip is adamant about what matters to him. As they part ways in the parking lot, he declares, "The little world is as real as the big world."

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.