donnie darko20th Century Fox
2001
R

“Twenty-eight days. Six hours. Forty-two minutes. Twelve seconds. That is when the world will end.”

Set in 1988, suburban teenager Donnie Darko wakes up one morning on a mountain ridge with no idea of how he got there. That’s really just the beginning of the weirdness. In the course of the entire month, his world literally gets turned inside-out: A mysterious jet engine falls through the roof of his house into his bedroom, he starts sleepwalking again, he starts getting visits from a six-foot-tall rabbit named Frank, and the time-space continuum is starting to become visibly tangible to him. Oh, and Drew Barrymore is his Literature teacher. Is Donnie going insane? Or is there a much more fantastic reason for this weirdness going on? Two words: Cellar Door. Whatever that means…

The mark of a truly great movie is when you can watch it over and over again, and it still holds you fascinated. Donnie Darko is one of those rarities that flies under the radar to get a straight-to-DVD (or video, however you likes your format), but should have deserved better treatment. Much, much better treatment. A fascinatingly dark and edgy psychological mind-trip, Donnie Darko takes you down the rabbit hole (so to speak) and messes with your movie-watching sensibilities. On the surface, the movie seems to be merely a quirky drama about a kid with schizophrenia. Dig a little deeper, and you realize that it’s a facade covering a much darker reality…one that involves alternate realities, time travel, and sleep bridging the gap between what’s real and what’s not. Words cannot do justice describing this movie. This is not a movie you watch, it’s a movie you must experience…

What fascinates me is that the movie was shot for only $4 million. They obviously squeezed as much as they could and then some out of that. The acting is superb. Given to lesser, less motivated actors, it would have been a mess. Fortunately, it didn’t end up that way. As the titular character, Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect. He can do intelligently earnest and creepy and pull it off with much realism. I bought it hook, line and sinker. All of the characters nailed everything: Donnie’s family (with Jake’s real life older sister in the cast), girlfriend, friends, bullies, and the teachers all felt real, which effectively made the fantastic elements all that much more disturbing. Patrick Swayze was perfect as the motivational speaker with a dark secret. No, I’m not telling. And while I’ve heard people thought Drew Barrymore’s inclusion as the Lit teacher was unneeded, I thought she pulled off the role nicely. I may be a bit biased because I’ve had a crush on her since The Wedding Singer, but then again I also had that kind of intense and a bit weird Lit. teacher in high school as well, so I can relate. Also, just because I’m old, I dug on the subtle drops of 80s pop culture- the Stephen King books, the songs from Tears For Fears and Duran Duran (I just about jumped off the couch when the first strains of “Notorious” started playing…prompted a rather odd look from Nex), the clips from Evil Dead, even some of the cheesy slang from the era (“Groadie”? Haven’t heard that in…forever…). Let’s see…October of 1988, I would have been a Freshman in high school. So I’d be Donnie’s age…coincidence? Yeah, pretty much…

Really, you could watch this movie over and over and still find something new to contemplate. Once you listen to the commentary with the director and Jake Gyllenhaal, it sheds some light on a lot of what’s going on, but that just serves as a catalyst for more questions. Donnie Darko is a great film that needs to be in your collection…