I’m crazy, they say,
Since I see things that they
Cannot see, know, or even believe.
I’m crazy, although
I know which domino
Will destroy all that we now perceive.
I’m crazy, of course,
There’s no spirit or force
That could show me the things I have seen.
I’m crazy, perhaps,
But when things do collapse,
Maybe then they’ll all know what I mean.
MPAA rating: R (for language throughout and brief violence)
Well, it’s about time I got to see this movie. Considering its cult popularity, I’m surprised how hard it was to find a copy through my usual sources, a search that delayed this review as my intended October Blindspot. So now that I’ve watched Donnie Darko, what do I think of it? I’m honestly not sure! I can’t pin down exactly how I feel about this independent favorite. Not since Cloud Atlas has a film left me so befuddled, but at least that movie impressed me enough to know I liked it.
Along with October Sky, Donnie Darko helped establish Jake Gyllenhaal as a rising star of the early 2000s, and they certainly proved his range. While his Homer Hickam in October Sky was all starry-eyed inspiration, Donnie Darko is a rebellious and mentally troubled teen who is told the world will end by a man in a demonic bunny costume. You can’t get much more different than that! Although I much prefer October Sky, Donnie Darko is consistently, um…I guess the word is interesting. I found myself engrossed in what would happen next simply because I wanted to know what the heck was going on with this teenage malcontent and his delusions of a bunny man named Frank.
There are a lot of disparate elements and compelling side characters in Donnie Darko, and I’m not convinced they all come together as they should. There’s Donnie’s budding romance with the new girl in class (Jena Malone). There’s a local motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze) whose positivity methods are derided. There’s a committed English teacher (Drew Barrymore) whose literature choices are denounced by the self-righteous gym teacher (Beth Grant). There are a bullied oriental girl who Donnie sympathizes with and a senile old woman (Patience Cleveland) who keeps checking her mailbox and once wrote a book on time travel. And in the midst of all this is Donnie, antisocial, prone to cynical outbursts, and a regular with his hypnotherapist (Katharine Ross). A special mention too for Jake’s sister Maggie Gyllenhaal as his sister in the movie as well. It may seem like I just listed all the characters for no reason, but that’s kind of how I felt watching the movie, as if each of these characters only mattered when they interacted with Donnie and didn’t go anywhere without him.
Surrounded by a general sense of gloom, Donnie’s visions are intriguing as we wonder whether they’re real or just a product of paranoid schizophrenia, and there are plenty of memorable scenes, whether from Donnie’s sardonic barbs, the dreamy moments of destruction, or the well-utilized soundtrack with songs from Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, and Echo and the Bunnymen. (Get it, Bunnymen? It is set in 1988, after all.) I had a vague idea of how it would end, but I’ll admit that one scene totally shocked me and the final scenes were unexpectedly poignant, even as I wasn’t sure how much I really understood.
Donnie Darko is a lot of things at once: an angsty teen drama, a sci-fi thriller version of Harvey with psychological underpinnings and brilliant foreshadowing, a critique on holier-than-thou hypocrites, a black comedy with some weirdly funny dialogue. That bizarre Smurf conversation could only come from an independent movie. As I came to terms with my belief that the plot only makes sense if it’s all a delusional premonition in Donnie’s head, I did some research and found that there’s a much more complicated backstory with tangent universes and manipulated dead that isn’t really touched on in the film (at least the theatrical version I saw) but offers plenty of food for thought in trying to justify this overly complicated version of events. I guess it all comes down to the fact that what ends up happening had to happen, but I think the real “why” to this convoluted tale is only really known to writer-director Richard Kelly.
I’m not decided on how much I actually liked Donnie Darko, but it certainly got me thinking, which is always welcome. I can see why it earned a cult following, at least among those who enjoy the effort of trying for it all to make sense.
Best line (or at least the one I got a kick out of): (Emily, to her sister Susie) “Beth’s mom said the boys’ locker room was flooded and they found feces everywhere.” (Susie) “What are feces?” (Emily) “Baby mice.” (Susie) “Aww.”
Rank: List Runner-Up?
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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