For some reason, Donnie Darko is a film that I chose to elude many times over. It was not that it triggered any indifference or emitted any bad vibes; it was just that once within the walls of a rental store, my interest was always drawn elsewhere.
I honestly cannot remember how many times I walked into my local Blockbuster, passed the D’s in the drama section, and locked eyes with Donnie Darko. Its black and blue cover always seemed to draw my attention and give rise to my wonder. I must have read both the front and back covers ten times or more before finally clutching a copy in hand, striding up to the register to pay, and exiting without a second thought. Finally, three years after its initial release and two years after it was originally recommended to me (by two different people on two different occasions), I can say without one ounce of hesitation, that Donnie Darko is a surefire contemporary classic that should not be avoided by any means.
From first time writer and director Richard Kelly comes a film that took five years in the making. With its in-depth and intellectual storyline – all underneath the label of a psychological thriller – Donnie Darko creates an experience that is unforgettable and reaches a level that is unquestionably paramount. It’s an unconventional picture, and it’s an amazing achievement under such a low budget. Donnie Darko indubitably rises to the top in its genre.
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a textbook troubled teen growing up in the 80’s. He is a very inquisitive and likeable guy, yet underneath, he has emotional problems. Donnie sees a psychiatrist (Katherine Ross) weekly and has been on prescribed medication for quite some time. Just after Donnie takes his pills the night of October 2, 1988, he begins to envision a six-foot tall demonic-looking bunny rabbit named Frank. The rabbit wakes Donnie in the middle of the night and instructs him to follow him outside. After he leads Donnie to a golf course, Frank tells him that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. Donnie passes out and wakes up startled the next morning on a plush green. He then travels back to his house to discover that while he was gone, a jet engine fell from the sky and crashed into his bedroom. Upon his return his family is comforted to see him, but is also concerned about where he was during the night.
As Donnie attempts to juggle both Frank’s words and the jet engine’s destruction, he decides to share his visions of his new “imaginary friend” Frank with his psychiatrist. After listening to Donnie’s talks about the rabbit’s apocalyptic revelations, the psychiatrist declares Donnie a confused teenager and a possible case of paranoid schizophrenia. Donnie then searches elsewhere for answers in both his English teacher Mrs. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) and his science teacher Mr. Monnitoff (Noah Wyle). Hoping to learn something helpful, he speaks to Mrs. Pomeroy about irony and to Mr. Monnitoff about time travel. Now, with both his newly acquired knowledge and his “friend” Frank still haunting him, he attempts to put the pieces of the puzzle into place—hoping to realize the “Master Plan” that awaits.
Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely brilliant as Donnie—making this a far better acting affair than his other 2001 one endeavor, Bubble Boy. His depiction of the aggressive high-schooler, who is apparently detached from reality, is one of the best examples of his work to date. Jena Malone is also equally excellent—making her a wonderful and delicate garnish to an already top-quality cuisine. In addition, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, and Maggie Gyllenhaal all facilitate in adding further zest to the perfectly-cast pair.
Donnie Darko is a film that works in the spirit of Final Destination and (at times) has the feel of American Beauty. Not only does this picture have the texture of American Beauty now and again, but it is also just as comparable to the “Best Picture” winner in stature. Simply stated, if Donnie Darko has any flaws, they are far too minuscule for me to find.
What makes Donnie Darko a complete package is that it’s frightening, it’s innovative, and, surprisingly, it’s funny. It’s brilliant in respect to time travel because it makes the use of a brain (Stephen Hawking) apparent, and it’s packed with elements of faith, love, fear, and God—making it all-the-more desirable. Every scene, every camera angle, and every step that the film takes, makes for a step in the right direction. When all’s said and done, it results in a powerful film that packs one heck of a punch.
Donnie Darko is oddly mysterious one minute, then utterly captivating the next; it keeps you guessing up to, and even after, its knock-your-socks-off ending—which is slightly open for interpretation. In that sense, Donnie Darko is like a roller coaster—not because it has peaks and valleys, snaking turns, or radical changes of pace, but because when the ride is over, you recap the rush you just received and you’re ready to experience it all over again the instant you exit your seat. Donnie Darko is one motion-picture that will have your mind blown for days and cause so much of a hubbub in your heart that nothing will stymie you from sharing this film with everyone you encounter. (**** out of ****)