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another review of: Donnie Darko

November 2002                                          SITE MAP   SEARCH
Donnie Darko
cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, and Katharine Ross

writer and director: Richard Kelly

113 minutes (R) 2001
Fox NTSC video retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Midnight, 2nd October 1988. In a leafy American suburb, bright but world-weary teen Donnie Darko is lured from his bed by an apparition of a giant rabbit. "Twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds," it warns him. "That is when the world will end."
   Now admittedly, Donnie hasn't been taking his medication recently - but who can blame him? All the adult world has to offer is psychobabble, cheesy mottos of aspiration, and political posturing. Parents ban books, teachers can lose their jobs for even mentioning God, and communication across the generation gap is impossible. Perhaps he is slipping into the shadows of schizophrenia - or perhaps this has something to do with time travel, sleepwalking, wormholes, and the strange old woman known as Grandma Death...
   Writer and director Richard Kelly's debut is one of the most ambitious and original films of recent years. Raising questions of temporal physics, philosophy, the existence of God, and the meaning of life, it grounds them in the painful personal struggle of a teenager to whom the normal world is a parade of half-truths and meaningless postures.
   Perhaps the definitive scene is the visit of the local inspirational speaker to the school. After hours of Orwellian slogans and bland reassurances, smoothing over the pupils' genuine insecurities and fears, Donnie seizes the microphone and demolishes adult pretence in a few words, dispensing the only good advice anyone receives during the film. His reward? He's dragged away as a deranged troublemaker. The questions he wants to ask, the search for meaning he's engaged in, are so alien to his elders and betters that madness is the only way they can explain them.
   Jake Gyllenhaal's superb performance grounds the shifting narrative firmly in reality; awkward and sleepy-eyed, distraught at the decisions life is presenting him with, he seems constantly surprised by his own actions, his own power. Donnie is a sleepwalker waking up to his real potential; but this is a world designed for sleepwalking, and we can see all too painfully that there's no place for him in it. Perhaps the world needs to end, to make a place for him; or perhaps the only way he can save the world is by destroying himself...
   Donnie Darko is not an easy watch, intellectually or emotionally. Kelly delves deep into the pain of teenage insecurity and of mental instability, the plot is almost wilfully obtuse, and the bitter, ambiguous ending is anything but a crowd-pleaser. Yet its sheer ambition and twisted brilliance make it one of the most extraordinary films about adolescence ever made.