Donnie Darko

08/06/2019 06:28

Film: Donnie Darko

Year: 2001

Director: Richard Kelly

Writer: Richard Kelly

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone and Mary McDonnell



This was a film that I remember catching part of in college. My roommate at the time was a big fan, so I sat down and checked it out for a bit with him. I’ve now seen this three times, with the last two times at the Gateway Film Center. The synopsis is a troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a man in a large rabbit suit who manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after he narrowly escapes a bizarre accident.

We start this with a young man waking up in the middle of nowhere. His name is Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal). He has his bike next to him and he was sleeping in the road. He’s been sleep walking and biked all the way out to where he is the previous night. He goes home where we meet his father, Eddie (Holmes Osborne). His older sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) comes out to ask him something. Donnie rides by and goes to the backyard where his mother, Rose (Mary McDonnell) is reading Stephen King’s It. Donnie goes inside where a note is left on a whiteboard asking where he is.

Through a dinner scene and some things at school, we learn that Donnie is troubled. He is on medication and is forced to see a therapist in order to get to the root of his problems. Apparently, he burned down an empty building and went to jail. He is from an affluent neighbor and the school he goes to is private. His parents want to help him.

The next night he sleepwalks again, but this time something happens. Both of his parents are woken up by a loud crash and Elizabeth just got home when it happened. The engine of an airplane crashed into his room, but him being gone, he survived. It is at his next therapy session he tells Dr. Lilian Thurman (Katharine Ross) about his new imaginary friend, Frank. He appears to him in a rabbit suit and tells him what to do, which made him sleepwalk the previous night.

At school he befriends a new student Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone) who is dealing with her own trouble past. Donnie is also interested in time travel when Frank tells him some things. He asks his science professor, Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle) about it. Frank starts to make him commit crimes, which brings his English teacher’s curriculum into question; this teacher is Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore). He also doesn’t buy into the new fad that Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), the gym teacher, is pushing on them from Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze).

He loses control when Frank tells him the world is ending. This leads Donnie to a book that Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland) wrote, who she is better known to the kids as Grandma Death. With this knowledge, Donnie tries to find a way to stop it and ensure that it doesn’t come true, but in the most peculiar way.

Now when I went in to see this film, I wasn’t necessarily sure if I would write this review, because I’m not necessarily sure it was horror or not. It does appear in The Horror Show Guide: The Ultimate Frightfest of Movies, the encyclopedia that I’m working through. Upon finishing the film, it does have a lot of the elements. I’ll dive more into this, but this film is extremely bleak.

Something I want to kick this off with is how bad I feel for Donnie. From what we learn in this, he is extremely intelligent. His IQ is pretty much off the charts, which makes sense. Those with an IQ like him tend to have issues fitting in. Not only that though, because of the crime he committed and needing therapy, he’s on medication. This looks to me like the dose he’s on or the type isn’t working for him. He doesn’t feel like himself and he’s losing touch with reality. I wanted to go back to what my roommate told me. Afterward, he informed me there was a director’s cut that is more of the science explanation where the theatrical cut focuses a bit more on the religion of the events. Now I haven’t seen the director’s cut yet, but I can say, I like his general outlook on life as it’s like my own.

The problem becomes though is that Donnie is ruining the lives of those around him without necessarily meaning to. Some of the people deserve it, some people don’t. An example here is that he accidently gets Karen fired. Now part of it is here and what she is teaching. I don’t have an issue with it, but it is the community. Kitty is one of the worst people around as she super religious and rubs it in everyone’s face. I do love seeing Donnie stand up to her and what he does to make her world crumble with what he does to Jim. The problem is that he hurts his mother in the process. He does seem to help Gretchen as they have good times together and he’s there for her, but in the end it doesn’t matter.

This film also has the concept of time travel in it, which I love. I’ve heard some podcasts talk about how time travel can’t work, because of where the Earth would be from when you try to go back into time, which messed with my head. This film version of this concept is a little bit different on what they do with it though. There are wormholes and with how the film uses them, could work. It is interesting what Frank meant about the world ending and how Donnie becomes the sacrifice to stop it.

Now that last bit is where I want to go. This most recent viewing I got more of the religion. I see Donnie almost as Jesus. He must decide to die to prevent some of things from happening. This movie is pushing the idea of religion vs. science while also melding them. Donnie while talking to Kenneth is taking the science that his teacher is telling and trying to incorporate what he is experiencing. He brings religion in. I take it that his professor doesn’t follow that and doesn’t want to lose his job either. I did enjoy this quite a bit. It enhances the movie for me to explore.

Going from there, I want to move to the pacing of the film, which is good. It moves at a good clip and never gets boring for me. I was trying to look for things in the background, because I still feel like after two viewings, I still don’t fully understand it yet. I think that seeing the other version might help that, but it does takes more of a religious approach to what is happening as I was saying. I like the events that happen and seeing the effects of them. At the end, seeing the aftereffects of all these events is quite interesting and I dug it. I think the film does well at building tension as the ‘end of the world’ approaches.

Something else that really helps the film is the acting. Jake Gyllenhaal was great in this. It is crazy to see him this young and to see the talent he has. He comes off as super smart, but because of his medication, he also plays it like a zombie. It is quite impressive. Osborne is funny as is Maggie Gyllenhaal. McDonnell is one that I loved as the mother who is there for her kids. She is empowering and just wants the best for them, but I love her standing up to Kitty. James Duval is Frank and he appears in the creepy rabbit costume which also worked for me. Barrymore is good in this film as the teacher who is trying to enlighten her students despite the parents wanting to censor her like its Fahrenheit 451. For this I’m really referring to Grant, who I think her performance is great. When the truth about Jim comes out and how it crushes her is wonderful vision of him. It is fitting how she is pushing her beliefs on to everyone. There are some good cameos by Swayze, Seth Rogen, Malone and Wyle as well. I would say the rest of the cast rounded out the film for what is needed.

There are some interesting things here done with the effects. There is some CGI with this wormhole like things that come out of people’s chest. It is quite interesting how early into CGI we are and even though they don’t look great, they don’t look too bad. I was impressed by that, especially with how much of the effects from the era tend to not hold up. The practical effects were well done. What I also like is that there is a lot of foreshadowing with things that as a writer really makes me happy. The film is shot brilliantly if I’m going to be perfectly honest.

The last thing to talk about is the soundtrack. It is so bleak and depressing that it fits the film very well. I think that really helps to set the mood, especially when we are looking at Donnie who is just kind of coasting through life trying to figure things out. He is the only one who wants to deal with things it seems. I also have to shout out the cover of ‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules. He takes the song into a whole other direction and I love it.

Now with that said, this film is deep in what they’re trying to say. It brings up things like free will, time travel and how our decisions influence those around us with the butterfly effect. The bleak and depressing nature of this young man is really something that well done. Some might question it in horror, but I think some of elements including how scary Frank is and the ‘end of the world’ qualifies it enough. The atmosphere as well. The pacing of this film is good and it never really drags for me. The acting is great as well. The effects are CGI mostly, but surprisingly look good. The soundtrack is quite amazing as well. With each viewing I seem to understand even more. I still want to watch the director’s cut. At this time though, I recognize it is good and I would recommend it highly. My rating does have room to come up with some research.


My Rating: 9 out of 10