Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko ★★★★½

Psychologically impactful, thought provoking and generally well acted. Watched Donnie Darko with my buddy Carson this passed week in Raleigh. I think he’d claim this film to be one of his favorite movies. I get the appeal, it’s a fresh feeling story, albeit with a slightly convoluted plot, but an early Jake Gyllenhaal performance that was an initial glimpse at his talent. Wow does Jake look like a baby in this movie!  

We did some contextual research surrounding this film because we heard it didn’t do well at the box office, yet it has garnered a bit of a cult following. I was shocked to discover Donnie Darko pulled in a grand total of $110,000 opening weekend at the Box Office. The reason for that being: teen violence and plane crashes hit a little too close to home with people in 2001 following 9/11 and the Columbine shootings. It’s amazing how, 20 years later, those factors never even crossed my mind. In 2021, I was able to appreciate a star studded movie that was clearly ahead of its time in terms of both effects and plot content. What I mean by progressive plot content is that, it’s a dark movie with strong language coming from a young cast. Not terribly scary, but psychologically thrilling. This would have been a new flavor of movie in the early 2000s. 

Carson and I watched the Directors Cut. I am a strong proponent of watching Directors Cuts and this is a prime example of a movie that was made better and clearer with the 20 extra minutes of the Director’s creative insight. For example, the movie is broken into chapters with textual explanations. Given the Time Travel/Worm Hole themes tackled in this film, this editing device was immensely helpful when trying to wrap my head around the temporal aspects of the plot. It was pretty cool too because this movie adopted a sort of “vector” style interpretation of time. Donnie was gifted the vision of the “bubble tube” which protruded from the chests of those around him, indicating their determined movement through time. This style of “determinism” slowly revealed itself to Donnie as the movie went on. In his climatic moment at the end of the movie his vision of events allow Donnie/Jake to make the ultimate sacrifice. 

That being said, Donnie Darko is obviously a Christ Figure. This is made very obvious in the Directors Cut when Donnie walks out  under the theatre billboard with the film title “The Last Temptation of Christ” hung above him. He’s on his way to burn the Perverts house in a final attempt to destroy the “anti-christ”. When he realizes that the current temporal trajectory brings about the deaths of many of his loved ones, he hops in a wormhole and ends his life in the alternate timeline. This plot was meaningful and fresh but just slightly over seasoned with complexity. The writings of “Grandma Death” are just an example of overcomplexity. You’d honestly need to take a Philosophy of Space and Time class to wrap your head around it. 

Gyllenhaal is fantastic as Donnie and his portrayal of the psychological turmoil of a teenager is captivating. This cast is loaded! From the Gyllenhaal siblings, to Drew Barrymore to Patrick Swayze (his passing just a decade later was such a sad realization for me). The fact that this bombed in the box office and has established a cult following is such a fun comeback story! 

Bottom line is that I was locked into this movie from start to finish. My biggest qualm was that the sound mixing makes the dialogue almost inaudible at times. That combined with Carson’s staunch opposition to subtitles made things a little hard to understand. I’ve seen parts of this movie before but never all the way through. Definitely a film I’d only recommend to certain people, I don’t really think everyone would love the plot or the dark vibes. Again, not horror, but disturbing at times. Donnie Darko definitely has a high re-watchability coefficient so I might be revisiting soon. I’ll be adding it to my Blu-Ray collection as well!

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