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Donnie Darko

USA 2001
produced by
Adam Fields, Nancy Juvonen, Sean McKittrick, Christopher Ball (executive), Drew Barrymore (executive), Casey La Scala (executive), Hunt Lowry (executive), Aaron Ryder (executive), William Tyrer (executive) for Flower Films, Gaylord Films, Newmarket Films, Pandora Cinema
directed by Richard Kelly
starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase, Mary McDonnell, James Duval, Arthur Taxier, Patrick Swayze, Mark Hoffman, David St. James, Tom Tangen, Jazzie Mahannah, Jolene Purdy, Stuart Stone, Gary Lundy, Alex Greenwald, Beth Grant, Jena Malone, Seth Rogen, David Moreland, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, Kristina Malota, Marina Malota Darling, Carly Naples, Tiler Peck, Patience Cleveland, Katharine Ross, Lisa K. Wyatt, Rachel Winfree, Jack Salvatore jr, Lee Weaver, Phyllis Lyons, Ashley Tisdale, Alison Jones, Jerry Trainor, Joan Blair, Sarah Hudson, Fran Kranz, Scotty Leavenworth
written by Richard Kelly, music by Michael Andrews, special effects by Amalgamated Pixels, The Effects Group

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Teenage boy Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives with his family - mom (Mary McDonnell), dad (Holmes Osborne) and 2 sisters (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase) - in typical smalltown America. And as if that wasn't already bad enough, he's on medication and is in therapy (with doc Katherine Ross) because his emotional problems (which once prompted him to burn down a house) cause him  to sleepwalk and constantly wake up outside, and to have visions of a giant rabbit called Frank that tells him the world is going to end soon, among other things. And somehow small disasters happen around him, from his school being flooded to an airplane engine crashing into his bedroom (while he's out, fortunately). Soon it seems clear to Donnie that time travel is the key to all of this. Eventually, Donnie stumbles upon an absent-minded elderly local, Grandma Death (Patience Cleveland), who has written about it all when she was younger and even described the wormholes Donnie sees emerging out of everybody like some liquid columns. Unfortunately, besides his girlfriend Gretchen (Jena Malone), who with her mom is on flight from her abusive stepfather, no one believes him - everyone just thinks only more medication could be the solution to his problems, or even phony self help guru James Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). 

But then Donnie, at Frank's request, burns down Cunningham's house, and among the rubble evidence of that man's involvement in a child porn ring is found and he is arrested. Despite this small success for Donnie though, according to Frank the end of the world is still approaching - rapidly. Eventually, at a Halloween party no less, Donnie thinks he has finally figured everything out, with the world having a mere 6 hours to spare, and he and Gretchen race to Grandma Death's house to avert disaster - but instead it seems disaster strikes only even more fiercely ...

Drew Barrymore plays Donnie's sympathetic English teacher.

 

Donnie Darko, a weird mix of coming-of-age story, psycho drama, science fiction, fantasy, thriller, and probably half a dozen other genres, has become a fan favourite/cult classic almost instantly, first and foremost probably because it dared to be different and unpredictable, and its tale of a weird misfit really struck a chord with nerd culture. On closer inspection though, one has to admit that the film isn't really the masterpiece it's often hailed as, its supported by a not very steady narrative arc, many of its subplots remain sketchy and don't seem to serve much of a purpose, and most of the characters, including Donnie himself, lack actual depth. At the same time, the film works perfectly well as a trippy cinematic experience where ideas are just thrown at the audience for the sake of entertainment rather than philosophy, where things don't have to make perfect sense as long as they manage to entertain, and where things should actually be taken with a grain of salt, as if it was a secret comedy. And seen that way, Donnie Darko is indeed perfectly enjoyable and bears re-watching just to catch all the crazy details.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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