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Have you ever seen a portal? by Winona Bechtle

Forgive me Gyllenhaal for I have sinned.

I know that I’ve done wrong through my thoughts, my actions, and my covetousness of your image in the early 2000’s. I have gone my own way and no longer put you at the center of my life. Please help me to follow you more closely every day as Southpaw approaches, and live a life which gives glory back to you. I pray this in Maggie’s name, amen.

I used to include Jake Gyllenhaal in my prayers, back when I said prayers in an originally misguided and ill-informed attempt at religion, kept up by force of habit for 5 or 6 years. I never actually went to church but I was decidedly unwavering in my dedication to the same nightly prayer of my own invention. There in my bottom bunk with only my young thoughts to guide me, I would routinely include Jake Gyllenhaal in the part of my prayer that went “and I’d like to thank God for my Mom, brother, family, and Jake Gyllenhaal.” However he managed to work his way in there, he stayed, and for some time too.

(exact image of my idol that was carefully taped on the wall next to my bottom bunk)

I can tell you the precise moment my adoration began, and it was with a midday screening of the 2001 film Bubble Boy on Comedy Central (back in the era when they would do back to back screenings of Joe’s Apartment and Soul Plane). I was charmed with his blue eyes and black hair in a way Robert Redford couldn’t even touch, and at the time I was in my The Natural (1984) phase which is, I’d say, one of Redford’s most enticing. It must have been just after Donnie Darko came out, because I remember my Dad purchasing the Donnie Darko DVD right around the time purchasing DVD’s was becoming a big thing, and the two of us sat down together to watch it over pizza and cream soda.

It was fair to say, and it is still fair to say that Donnie Darko BLEW MY MIND in a way no film has since BLOWN MY MIND in that all-caps kind of way. It was one of the first times my world was opened to vast underbelly of fan theories and forums and director’s cuts (and if you haven’t seen the director’s cut of Donnie Darko, I’ll argue with you at length why it’s the only version worth watching). It was the first time I had felt that a film was “deep,” the next time being that Shins scene in Garden State, and you all know what I’m talking about. It might have singlehandedly been Jake Gyllenhaal who inspired me to “watch more deeply” as I like to think of it, and we went on some really fun journeys together. Together, Jake and I explored my first dark dramedy in The Good Girl, we ignited a lifelong love of the disaster film genre with The Day After Tomorrow, and we discovered Ang Lee during a late night screening of Brokeback Mountain, a film I made my mother take me to on the day it came out.

Through Jake, my love of film grew in all directions due to the experiences I was exposed to via an obsessive interest in his career. The four years between Donnie Darko and Jarhead were arguably the most intense film watching years of my life, years where my only weekend activity was going to the movie theatre to see two, sometimes three movies in a row. I went through my Dad’s 300 or so VHS tapes, and when I finished with those I aggressively accompanied him to Costco so I could choose only the most select camp from the dollar bins. I learned so much following my initial exposure to Donnie Darko that by the time Jarhead came out in 2005, I had some real opinions about it. I wasn’t digging Jake’s hair, or lack of it, and the movie failed and still fails to strike a real chord with me. I just didn’t like it! For once, Jake hadn’t done it for me and there was much less excitement when Zodiac came out, and I have still never even seen Prince of Persia (maybe I’ll skip this one yet).

But, there is still something that happens to me when I see Jake has a new movie on the horizon. The trailers for Southpaw don’t particularly excite me, but I had perhaps my most riveting movie experience of the year when I went to see Nightcrawler. Anyways, the way I feel when Jake is working on a new project is almost exactly how I feel when I hear of a distant relative’s college graduation, or a friend of mine from high school getting engaged or married. It’s a kind of abstract happiness for someone that I used to know, someone I don’t talk to much anymore but once cared deeply about. I still go back and watch Donnie Darko every few years, and I have to admit I enjoy it just as much as I did the first time I saw it.

I see more experimental and arthouse film now than I used to, and there have been more than a few moments when I pause before answering the “top 5 favorite film” question that gets asked from time to time. Should I include Donnie in that ranking? It would only be honest to do so, but Jake kind of embarrassed me in that boy band sort of way where you can only say that you love the Backstreet Boys in an ironic sense where you’re aware of it being totally stupid. But that would be more of a lie than just including Donnie on my list, and I don’t omit it anymore. Jake’s not stupid, and I wasn’t stupid, and, okay, maybe Prince of Persia is more than a little stupid but I no longer feel like I have to defend or apologize for my love of both Gyllenhaal (the man) and Gyllenhaal (the actor). Though I may have forgotten where I put that torn out magazine page that used to be taped up beside my bed, I haven’t forgotten what Jake taught me while I was eating that pizza in 2001, and in terms of my journey with film Donnie was right in more than one way when he said to me “The sky’s gonna open up.”



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