Quick Hit: Mind-blowing in its storytelling.
It had been a long time since I had watched this movie – probably nearly ten years. So it was as close to going into a film that I’ve already seen fresh as I could get. And while some of the aspects in the movie probably hit me just as hard as when I was Donnie’s age (like the portrayal of high school, which I still think is scarily accurate), there are other scenes that seemed a bit out of place. The film, however, still packs a solid punch. By the way, this will be a review with SPOILERS. If you need 17 years to watch a movie, that’s fine, just don’t read any further, or skip to the final paragraph where I give the rating.
The plot boils down to this – we have a typical American family. We have a young man, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has some mental issues. For one, he’s seeing a large demonic bunny at times (named Frank, because of course). He also discovers a book about time travel written by the crazy lady next door (nicknamed Grandma Death, because… of course).
There’s a LOT in this movie to breakdown. It’s one of the reasons where I broke down and said that there would be spoilers in this, because I think something like this is difficult to absorb without looking at it in the full picture. Otherwise, you just get a crazy guy who sees a weird bunny thing. First, I’d like to talk about the adults in this picture. Often times when you see a movie where the teenager is the main character, the adults come off a bit like caricatures – they’re there, but not much substance to them. One of the reasons that I really enjoyed watching this movie as an older adult is that you can instantly see the adults better. The Darkos are just trying to raise their increasingly troubled son in a world that doesn’t understand him. This creates stress on them, particularly when you consider that they don’t understand his issues themselves, and they have other children, like a daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is about to start at Harvard.
There are also the teachers, which run the gamut from fanatic (Ms. Farmer) to slightly inappropriate but well-meaning (Ms. Pomeroy – played by Drew Barrymore) to the science teacher just working to help one of his talented students understand a mind-blowing concept like time travel. Oh yes, did I mention that this movie takes one of my favorite subjects and freaking RUNS with it? Yeah.
Once you start to put the pieces together (for me, it usually happens in the theater scene), the whole movie turns into a bit of a punch in the gut. It completely puts into perspective Donnie’s entire actions regarding Gretchen (an extremely young Jena Malone – Catching Fire and Nocturnal Animals), and actually turns what has been really disturbing film into a well-written love story. It’s great writing by Richard Kelly, who also directed the film.
The whole thing also has a very particular look, and Kelly isn’t afraid of spoofing other teenage films, like the famous John Hughes films of the 80s. When Donnie first enters the high school, we’re given what is nearly a montage of teenagedom (there’s even dancing cheerleaders – I nearly expect “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to come on at this point every time). But it’s the scenes involving Donnie’s visions that truly make Darko a film worth watching. Everything is dark and ominous, but it often involves switching scenes back and forth rapidly. This gives a gentle confusion of the story while still showing us that there is something obviously wrong with Donnie. I really like the… how do you describe the… energy beams that lead Donnie different places inside his home. It literally moves the story forward. There’s also the gentle progression of the book on time travel that helps to issue the story along.
One more thing – Jake Gyllenhaal is one of those actors that is amazing in everything and somehow doesn’t get recognized enough. His Donnie Darko is a creation that is one of the best acting performances of his career. He is disturbing enough that you want to keep your distance, but not so much that you are truly scared of him. That’s a fine line to walk, but Gyllenhaal does it flawlessly. And don’t get me started on some of his creepy looks in this film.
So after 750 words, I think it’s pretty obvious that I like this movie. I didn’t even cover someone like Patrick Swayze, who comes in and plays exactly the role you would expect in this, but that’s ok – maybe I’ll go back in time and hit it in the tangent universe. In this one and in all others, Donnie Darko is an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"