Bunnies, Brad Pitt, and Imaginary Friends
How movies make illusory characters seem real.
In this installment of “I’ll Believe It When I See It,” we take a look at how three very different films, Fight Club, Harvey, and Donnie Darko, remain unified in their depiction of imaginary characters. Made back in 1950, Harvey, which is based on a play, makes no attempt to visualize its imaginary six-foot rabbit (outside of an oil painting). Lead actor James Stewart simply smiles and talks to the air. Flash forward from this charming comedy to 2001 and the release of Donnie Darko. Here, the director physically depicts Donnie’s imaginary rabbit friend in what is a chilling touch. 21st Century viewers are sophisticated, and we understand that even though we can see the rabbit with Donnie, no one else in the film can. In that sense, it is simultaneously real and illusory. With Fight Club, though, David Fincher did something different. Why, for example, does the director make it so that the audience can see Tyler Durden, but security cameras cannot? Oddly enough, the perfect answer to this question is already there in Harvey.