Directed by Richard Kelly
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle
What does one get when they cross the philosophies of time travel, paranoid delusions, the trappings of private school, and an adult-size bunny with a demonic head predicting the end of the world? I’m still scratching my head over it, but all these bizarre, seemingly unrelated circumstances intertwine in Donnie Darko, perhaps one of the most overlooked, standout achievements in filmmaking of the last year.
Donnie Darko wakes up on October 2nd to hear this overgrown bunny named Frank warn him that his world will come to a screeching halt on October 31st. Moments after, a piece of an airplane comes crashing through the roof of his parents’ house, setting of a chain of perplexing events and vignettes that only coalesce once the film ends. If David Lynch cared a little bit more about character development and more cohesive narrative, Donnie Darko just might have been the result. Only the man responsible is first-time writer/director Richard Kelly, a 26 year-old who weaves an intricate story supported by elements of horror, dark comedy, tinges of sci-fi and teen drama subplot.
Jake Gyllenhaal (October Sky) is our protagonist, and portrays the role with such a steady, calculating veneer, he completely consumes the part by the middle of the film. Patrick Swayze leaps back from obscurity to play a Tony Robbins-like motivational speaker with a dark secret, while Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore play less prevalent roles as teachers in Darko’s school.
The film follows the events of the crash with Donnie slowly falling in love with a broken home case (Jena Malone), while spiraling into delusional madness, or is he? Gradually, time travel enters the fray, with Darko becoming obsessed with a book on its philosophies and how to stop his impending fate, only the book is written by a woman everyone considers to be the town nut. Kelly’s script allows us to see the characters interact in a reality-based environment, while perfectly mixing in the supernatural so as no to make one overshadow the other. The viewer is only snapped back out of the mindwarp when the present date and how much time left to Armageddon intermittently appears. But it isn’t until the last half-hour that this thriller boils over with suspense, only you probably won’t fully get it until it’s over.
Richard Kelly has proven that you can make a subconscious-rattling movie focusing on teens without carelessly showering it with gags, cliched dialogue and vapid, obnoxious characters. Donnie Darko not only entertains, but makes statements about the puritanism that still exists in our educational system, the debate of science versus religion, and that some bunnies don’t just provide us the service of eggs. Gyllenhaal is obviously the driving force of the film, having redeemed himself after starring in the dreadful Bubble Boy. Choosing his scripts more carefully, I only wish he could teach American Pie’s Jason Biggs to do the same thing. For a more unique deviation from your routine film viewing, don’t be afraid of Donnie Darko.