Edythe Smith 11/02/2015
Donnie Darko is one of the quintessential cult film of the 21st century. It maintains style and story while simultaneously asking the most existential questions relating to God, good and evil, purpose and place. All the while it presents the music, pastimes and feel of the '80s better than films made during the time did. More realistically, at least. It also showcases and/or introduces the talents of an ensemble cast and has a truly righteous soundtrack.
Our protagonist shares the same name of the film. Donnie, the middle child of a wealthy family in Middlesex, Iowa, stands out from his peers and community in many ways. His earlier years, we later discover, were quite troubled. He sees an expensive shrink twice a week and takes medication. He's bright, though hard to discipline in school. He sleepwalks, ending up all over town in various places - compelled by an imaginary man in an eerie rabbit costume who calls himself Frank. One particular sleepwalk allows him to cheat death when a mysterious jet engine crashes into his bedroom on the same eve. The event changes Donnie's life and the lives of everyone around him forever. This is the film's skeleton, more or less. The flesh is much more enticing and can be considered a religious fable of sorts, where Donnie could easily represent Christ and all supporting characters provide an amalgamation of arch-angels, prophets, messiahs, and the anti-Christ.
On the eve mentioned, Frank delivers a prophecy of a precise point in time when something unthinkable will occur. This prophesy propels Donnie to figure out his place and power within this time frame and use his awareness of it for a greater good – thus, perhaps, understanding God's will and manipulating a realm of existence that most people are not privy to. In short, he grows to understand and acknowledge martyrdom. But since navigating the pangs of youth is hard enough without such a task, young Donnie can't help but reach out for guidance. It comes from various places, including his shrink – who starts to second-guess Donnie's supposed schizophrenia. Two of his teachers (Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle), both liberal and passionate, are intrigued by his existential and metaphysical hangups. The last is more of a compass, similar to Frank – an elderly woman, whom the local kids have nicknamed Grandma Death.
The films takes place in the early '80s, starting roughly on October 2nd and going through Halloween, making it an oddball choice of films for the holiday but perhaps one of the more eclectic. Outside of the Darko family (which includes actual siblings Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal) there's a wonderful supporting cast that provides plenty of heartfelt dramatics and/or dark comedy. The new girl, Gretchen, is not only a kindred spirit to Donnie but someone accustomed to the mundane. Patrick Swayze plays a spiritual philanthropist held in high-regard that spreads proselytizing motivational dialog in the school and community. Even two bullies have a role in the larger scheme of things, one of whom is played by Seth Rogen.
There are two cuts of the film and a lot of hubbub surrounding the differences. The theatrical cut, for most fans of the film, is recommended. Perhaps this one is best suited for the elitist or for those who prefer to ponder the meaning of things more so than have them revealed. The director's cut (which I saw before the theatrical), is the exact same film except for one element; pages of a book featured in the plot are transposed over certain scenes. They explain what is happening both for the lead character, and the audience. As someone who loves research, I enjoyed and felt included (if that's possible) in the mystery by reading these passages alongside Donnie. I also feel that they enhance suspension of disbelief because they incite involvement and provide fluidity - two things that, if maintained poorly, can easily break a film's spell.
Outside of the plot, the acting, and the superb soundtrack (consisting of Joy Division, INXS, The Church, Tears for Tears and more), my favorite thing about the film is the fact that it exists. Drew Barrymore was an executive producer and, for this being Kelly's first feature film, I feel that her involvement was crucial. It was released shortly after 9/11, causing box office sales to be quite bleak. Yet somehow it prevailed and grew into a cult classic. There are so many subtle details in the film that make it enjoyable to re-watch. It gets better as you get older and come to understand certain things that are referenced; I see something new each time, and that says a lot since I've watched it several times for over a decade. Highly recommended, and not just for Halloween.
In the tradition of Stir of Echoes and Final Destination, Donnie Darko is an edgy, psychological thriller about a suburban teen coming face-to-face with his dark destiny. Jake Gyllenhaal leads a star-filled cast (including Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze and Mary McDonnell) as a delusional high school student visited by a demonic rabbit with eerie visions of the past and deadly predictions for the future. This "excitingly original" (Entertainment Weekly) nail-biter will keep you on the edge of your seat until the mind-bending climax.
- Starring: Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Katharine Ross, Jake Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Mary McDonnell
- Format: Color, Dolby, DVD, NTSC, Widescreen
- Language: English, French
- Subtitles: English, Spanish
- Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Number of Discs: 1
- Rating: R
- Label: Twentieth Century Fox
- Release Date: 02/17/2009
- Run Time: 113 minutes
- Catalogue #: 3642
- Director and Actors Commentary
- Deleted/Extended Scenes with Optional Director Commentary
- "Cunning Visions" Infomercials
- The Philosophy of Time Travel Book
- Website Gallery
- "Mad World" Music Video
- Art Gallery & Production Stills
- Cast & Crew Info