Donnie Darko (2001)

I’m not sure what to think about Donnie Darko. On one hand, I’m less confused than I believed I would be after finishing my viewing of it, but on the other hand, I’m not satisfied with the conclusions I drew from it. I wasn’t happy with the ending, as it used one of the clichés that I dislike the most in films, but then I thought and realized that it had circumvented the part I normally dislike.

So, I guess, in a sense, Donnie Darko cheats. It does it throughout the entire film. Whether it be from our lead character maybe or maybe not hallucinating a deranged, 6-foot tall rabbit named Frank, to a jet engine falling from the sky into his room, the film cheats in never giving us a concrete explanation as to everything that happens during it. You are forced to draw your own conclusions, and whether they are right or wrong will allow you to have fun debating the film with others for a long time.

Set in the Autumn of 1988, the story centers on a young male named Donald “Donnie” Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal). Donnie has some sort of mental disorder–he’s put on pills and has many therapy sessions throughout in an attempt to treat this–but acts much like a normal kid the majority of the time. It’s usually at night when things start to go wrong for him. He is visited by the rabbit I mentioned earlier, named Frank. Frank tells him to do things that go against societal norms, like flooding a school.

What’s most surprising about Donnie Darko is the way that normal movie archetypes and tropes go unused. For example, just being told that there is a dark and troubled teenage boy in the house would normally lead you to believe that the boy’s home life must be unhappy. This isn’t the case. His mother and father are supportive, his older sister is, well, an older sister, while his younger sister is the curious little kid that younger sisters are. His home life is fine, and he’s fairly adjusted at school too. He has friends, and even picks up a girlfriend as the film progresses.

I like the fact that risks were taken with Donnie Darko. Playing it safe, in this case, wouldn’t have sufficed. It’s little details like Donnie’s home-life that make the difference, I believe. If it had archetypical characters and story, it wouldn’t be the fascinating piece that it ends up being.

To add to the weirdness of the film, about half way through, Donnie begins seeing astral projections coming out of everyone’s stomach. These translucent streams of energy more or less show the exact path that someone is going to take in a matter of moments. I don’t know why they only appear in a couple of scenes though, because they seem like an interesting element to explore. Oh well, more food for the debate, right?

The aspect that I don’t like, mostly because it’s the hardest to understand, is the time travel part of the film. If there was something to spark debate, it is this. Seriously, the explanations for some of the things that occur in the film–the ones that involve time travel–are absurd. Time travelling doesn’t even play that large of a role within the film, and you can explain everything that happens without it. I mean, it changes the meaning of some scenes, but that’s what “open to interpretation” means, right? Personally, I like to think of the film like time travel is still impossible, rather than improbable. That statement will likely make more sense after you see Donnie Darko.

If there is a weak element to Donnie Darko, it’s in the acting department. That’s not to say much of the acting was terrible, but nothing was great or standout in any way. Gyllenhaal is a weak lead, I still firmly believe that, but it seemed that much of the supporting cast was just as bad, if not worse. Line delivery was the worst part. While the script wasn’t written terribly, characters delivered many lines awkwardly and without emotion. This was especially true early on, but did slightly improve as the film progressed.

Even after writing this review, I’m still not sure of what I thought about Donnie Darko. I certainly enjoyed myself while watching it, I was captivated, for the most part, but I’m still just very confused. Not even about the plot, but more about what I drew from the film, which wasn’t all that much. I mean, it’ll still be a film I’ll think about for a while, and I got enjoyment, but I feel like I missed something.

Regardless, I have to give Donnie Darko a big recommendation, because, I believe, that if a film left me so confused in my own feelings towards it, it has to have done a good job. I know I enjoyed myself when watching it, and I know that it’s a film that people can discuss after it concludes. Its plot isn’t all that confusing if you decide to blissfully ignore the time travel aspect of it, and whether you do or not doesn’t actually matter; it’s a fascinating film regardless.

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Comments

  1. I feel the same way. I’m torn between it being one of the best films ever made, and it being so strange it shouldn’t have been made! I think overall I did enjoy it, as it’s gloriously ambiguous and open to a number of interpretations. The time travel aspect is hard, however I do think it was a necessary part to the film as it talked about quantum physics, time-travel philosophy, etc. Overall, a great film, howeever slightly strange.

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