Darkon (USA, 2006, Director: Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer, 89 minutes): An immersive film about an immersive hobby. Darkon shines a light into the little-known world of Live Action Role Playing (LARPing). Darkon is a fantasy world where groups of people gather every two weekends and fight real battles over imaginary land. Dressed in armor and armed with foam swords and shields, they do battle as an escape from their everyday lives. While there are plenty of laughs in the film, they’re never at the expense of the people who play the game, who turn out to be regular folks searching for a little excitement in their lives. People play to let off steam, to connect with the big themes of good and evil, honour and bravery, loyalty and betrayal. One of the recurring themes is that people in today’s world feel pretty powerless. They’re part of a society that tells them what to do and how to do it. In Darkon, many of these individuals feel in control of their lives for the very first time, and while it can seem a little bit sad, they’re having a blast.
Unavoidably, real life seeps into the game, and people’s characters are often informed by the things shaping them in their lives outside the game. When stay-at-home dad Skip Lipman (or Bannor of Laconia, as he’s known in the game) decides to lead other small nations in a revolt against the imperialistic nation of Mordom, it’s hard not to see him avenging his own exclusion from the family business by an older brother. And it comes as no real surprise to learn that Mordom‘s arrogant leader, Keldar (Kenyon Wells), is actually in management at his company.
Some of the best scenes in the film are the battle scenes. Though often looking like something out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they’re shot with mock epic seriousness, with the players reciting lines of awkard Arthurian prose. With the addition of a stirring score swelling behind them, the battles actually look pretty exciting.
Though I’ve never participated in a Live Action Role Playing game, I was an avid RPG (role-playing games) buff for several of my teenage years. I feel like I have some level of understanding for the subculture, and it provides a much-needed community for people who often feel outside the mainstream. The film preserves their dignity while still allowing us to laugh a little. After all, it’s a game. And it’s play. And play is supposed to be fun.
9/14/07 UPDATE: The film is finally getting a limited theatrical release in the US, only 18 months late! Go and see it on the big screen if and while you can.