Escapism takes an extreme Dungeons & Dragons form in Baltimore, where a group of men and women—unhappy social outcasts, in one way or another—gather every other week at high school soccer fields to dress in costumes and armor, wield Styrofoam weapons, and act out elaborate Lord of the Rings fantasies. Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer’s documentary Darkon focuses on this titular game, which involves warring factions of knights, magicians, and elves, all of whom are consumed by a war brewing in the medieval land of Darkon between an imperial power and a revolutionary force, and most of whom are embodied by working-class folk with mundane and/or miserable personal and professional situations. In Darkon, participants enjoy a brief respite from their everyday discontent, whether it be game bigwig Skip, a stay-at-home dad still bitter over his brother’s takeover of the family business, Beckie, a former stripper and single mother living in her parents’ basement with her son, or Daniel, a lonely, overweight guy desperate to find the courage to speak to a girl. Neel and Myers’s subjects recognize that role-playing is a means of temporarily getting to be the heroes (or villains) they secretly wish they were, and though the directors’ aesthetic is raggedy (faux-Peter Jackson aerial shots included) and their camera occasionally lingers too long within given scenes, they never resort to mocking their often goofy and pitiful interviewees, even when the urge must have been strong. Attempts to link the war in Iraq and Darkon’s fundamental preoccupation with combat and military strategy are undercut by the clichéd nature of the game’s establishment-versus-rebel narrative. However, in an argument between Skip and a friend, the film perceptively addresses the intertwining of fantasy and reality, which eventually seems so pronounced that one senses players are acting out their dreams of either being, or striking back against, bullies. The portrait painted by Darkon is of low self-esteem and a consequent retreat into immature imagination, and its depiction of grown adults playing pretend is unavoidably funny. Yet to Neel and Myers’s credit, it’s ultimately—as with a prolonged, YouTube-ready clip of Skip’s young son vigorously swinging a sword in the family living room—the type of laughter that feels like it could quite easily turn to tears.
- IFC Films
- 90 min
- Andrew Neel, Luke Meyer
- Skip Lipman, Kenyon Wells, Daniel Mcarthur, Beckie Thurmond, James Iddings, James Shirk, Domenic Prince, Andrew Mattingly
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