Donnie Darko

The world is going to end in a little more than twenty-eight days. Donnie Darko knows this because Frank, the human-sized rabbit he hallucinates, told him so. Donnie Darko is the provocative new movie from first time writer/director Richard Kelly. This movie defies any normal sense of categorization. It has elements of teen comedy, wicked satire, horror, suspense, science fiction, and various other genres all colliding into one, bizarre, compelling, and very watchable movie. The year is 1988, and the Darko family lives in the midst of suburban Middlesex. Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal, Bubble Boy, October Sky) is troubled. He is schizophrenic, not taking his medication, and up to this point, is prone to antisocial behavior and sleepwalking. This all changes when a jet engine crashes into the Darko residence. The only problem is that no commercial airliner is missing an engine. The Darkos world is turned upside-down, foreshadowing even greater events for Middlesex.

Donnie Darko is so fascinating because there is no point in the film where it is clear where Kelly is going. One moment, he will have the characters vigorously discussing the sexual habits of Smurfs, the next moment he will have other talking about the wormholes and the possibility of time travel. Time travel does figure prominently in the story, although its actual implications emerge later in the film. The beginning of the film deals with Donnie, and his efforts to comprehend Frank's message. Frank also compels Donnie to act in odd ways, causing acts of strange acts of vandalism. Aside from his mental problems and violent tendencies, Donnie is different frpm other kids. He can see beyond the superficial, and possesses the ability to think. That's why he vehemently dislikes his teacher Kittie Farmer (Beth Grant, Rock Star, Pearl Harbor) and her blind adoration of self-help guru Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze, Get Bruce, Black Dog), who partitions the world into love and fear. As the purported end of the world nears, Donnie's condition worsens. His hallucinations are more vivid, and his actions more dangerous. He is either on the verge of losing his mind or on the breakthrough of some grand epiphany.

Gyllenhaal lends a chilling performance to the film. His face exudes that of innocence, so when he looks menacingly into the camera, it is truly eerie. Watching him with his head bowed, eyes looking up and holding an axe is just great. He combines the varied emotions of rage, loneliness, and angst into a good portrayal of one messed up kid. It seems that Darko's only anchor to the real world is his girlfriend Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone, For Love of the Game, Stepmom). Maybe because she's new to town, she accepts Donnie and all his eccentricities. Kelly's oddball story gets away with much. Come on, a life-sized talking bunny? By combining such disparate elements, he keeps the viewer on edge. Nobody knows what to expect next. The purpose of the Cunningham character, aside from poking fun at self-esteem, is almost purely for laughs. He contrasts some very funny humor with excessively dark imagery, and it works. Kelly also refuses to talk down to the audience. He throws in some heady concepts with minimal explanation, expecting the viewer to know what he is talking about. The ending may let some people down, but overall, Donnie Darko is an unsetting, highly original movie that deserves a look.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 2 minutes, Rated R for some drug use and violence.

Back to Movies