Saturday, November 13, 2010

Donnie Darko (2001) Review

Donnie Darko

Director: Richard Kelly
Year: 2001
Country: USA

The mystery/suspense, science fiction and psychological thriller cult film Donnie Darko might be one of the most bizarre and unusual films I have seen in my entire life. If you come to think about it, there are only a few that are weirder than this (2001: A Space Odyssey, Un Chien Andalous, Mulholland Drive are the ones I can think of). But I have been considering that probably 2001 was a year full of bizarre films such as this. We had David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, another pretty unusual psychological thriller; we had Christopher Nolan's Memento, just another psychological thriller that goes backwards; and you can even consider A Beautiful Mind, a movie about a man who suffers from schizofrenia, though the weirdness is toned down in that film, making it not as bizarre as these ones I have already mentioned, but still being a little strange. Back to Richard Kelly's debut feature, this is a very but very strange film that has numerous interpretations and is probably one of the greatest films of the last decade.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an average teenager, probabl more somber than most. He has a family that, although drives him crazy, love him and he loves them back. He attends school, has a girlfriend and goes through the troubles of being a teenager. But he then starts having very unusual visions, as one day he sleepwalks out of his house to find a very weird rabbit (whom he later calls Frank) who tells him "28 days. 6 hours. 42 minutes. 12 seconds. That's when the world will end". From here, Donnie will start having troubles at school, but not normal troubles like facing bullies or problems with teachers (though he still has of those, only they aren't the ones I'm reffering too), but being a suspect in vandalism acts and going to the extreme of needing psychological help. All the chain of events that start to unfold are triggered by Frank, his imaginary rabbit friend who is telling him to do the things he does, becoming what many may consider a psychopath.

Donnie Darko's world is a very unusual one, where the unexpected is expected to happen and possibilities like time travel or seeing the future exist. As I said, it is one of the most bizarre films I've seen, and probably one of the weirdest I may come across to. It is a very weird, dark, thought provoking and yet entertaining piece of filmmaking. It is definitely one of the best films of 2001 and probably of the last decade.

Its strength lies in Richard Kelly, director and screenwriter. He creates the Darko world so meticulously, giving the effect he wants to give it, proving his skills as a director and screenwriter. His screenplay displays all these characters, tormented with onething or another, putting them together in a world full of darkness and madness. The situations going on can be the most unexpected in the last 10 years, but yet they are wonderfully written and shot. The characters have a depth and developement, growing into each of us viewers, and we can project the feeling we have to give them easily, weather it is hate or likeableness. And the dialogues are very well written too, smart and funny, adding to the story and entertaining. And the film's tone is wonderfully dark, perfectly fitting for this tale of madness. The director creates the mood for the film in a perfect fashion, becoming what can be one of the best directorial debut's of the last decade.

But there's also power in the performances. Jake Gyllenhaal plays what could be his best role, or second after Brokeback Mountain, as the troubled and tortured Donnie Darko, giving his character emotion and depth, becoming one of the most unlikely heroes and unusually dark characters of his career. Mary McDonnel plays his mother Rose, who doesn't know what to do with Donnie's attitude. She's very credible as a mother as we see her trying to go through Donnie's problems and facing them in the best way she thinks is possible. Drew Barrimore also gives a very powerful performance as Donnie's teacher, driven with emotion and sparked with wisdom. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jake's real life sister), Holmes Osbourne, Katharine Ross and the rest of the cast also do an excellent job with their roles.

The film's themes can be hard to interpret, nontheless I have a few theories of my own which I would like to explain. Probably, if you haven't seen the movie you'd like to skip to the next paragraph so you won't be spoiled of anything. I repeat, this section may contain spoilers, and if you're planning to watch it then it is better to skip this paragraph. You've been warned. So Donnie is probably crazy or is probably sane, seeing thins which are actually there but no one else can. While I'm leaning to the former, I think there is a chance of the latter of being truth. The director himself has given his interpretation by saying that there are two different universe, which collide at the beginning and then at the end of the film (which is also the beginning). He said that it was Donnie's fate to die to be able to solve or rather fix the problem of the two universes, making Gretchen and Frank to stay alive. He also said that the Frank he sees is a future dead Frank, who contacts Donnie to make him fulfill his destiny. I think this theories might be very accerted, and it was the writer/director who said them, so they're probably the final word, but still there is room to debate weather he was crazy or really having those visions. I think that may be these possibility may be true. Here is what I think: he is clearly a disturbed child, so when he starts having these visions he doesn't know how to interpret them, and goes on by doing the wrong thing. So basically, he's both crazy and going through all this. Because after all, the ending did happen, right?

Donnie Darko is a very dark, complex and open to interpretation fantasy-psycho thriller film. It has excellent writing and direction, very fine performances and disturbing themes. I also want to mention Gary Jules' cover at the end of the film of "Mad World", which is perfectly fitting for the fim's dark tone and complexity. So, Donnie Darko is not only an entertaining film, but also one that makes you think. Its great aspects make it one of the best of 2001 and the decade of 2000s.
My recommendation: Though I can personally recommend it highly, it may not be a movie for everyone.
My score: 94%


  1. Very good review,

    I saw this film recently and wasn't very impressed, I might see it again or maybe see the directors cut just to be sure, but I still think that it's just not my kind of film and that it will never be one of my favourites...

    A very underwhelming and disappointing film for me, which is a shame.

  2. That's too bad, it can be a very good film for some people, including myself

  3. I have heard so much about this movie but haven't seen it. I don't know why, just haven't. Great review. Maybe you have motivated me to finally see it.

  4. Thnxs Sparky, glad I did and I hope you like it :)