Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko ★★★★½

When I was a teenager, I was downright OBSESSED with this movie. I saw it at least 3 times, my 17 year old self completely intoxicated by the characters, the strange dreamy tone, and the main character who seemed to embody every feeling I had as a teenager. I always had the feeling when I was younger that I didn’t belong, that I was simultaneously smarter and also a worse person than everyone around me. That feeling of ostracization is something this film captures very well, along with the extreme pressure teenagers go through when they transition into young adults. To many teenagers, the smallest thing can feel like the end of the world. In the case of Donnie Darko, that happens to be literal.

This really is one of those movies where the filmmakers are always one step ahead of the audience. Go ahead and try guessing where this film is headed during your first watch. The immense confusion you feel when watching does a great job of making you empathize with Donnie, who is also trying to make sense of everything in front of him. He gets told that the world is going to end and seems to make the most of what little time he perceives he has. He drinks, he smokes, he falls in love, and despite the likely urge he has to give up and watch the world burn, he actively takes steps to learn more about his situation, doing research into time travel and worm holes and other heady sci-fi concepts that make this film even more strange.

The dialogue might be the best part of the film. Sometimes it feels incredibly realistic, like Donnie’s argument with his sister at the dinner table he has early on in the film, while at other times it feels very much like a movie, such as in the scene where Donnie talks with his love interest Gretchen and she immediately reveals her shocking backstory to him. Strangely enough, despite not being the most realistic, the dialogue always grips you. Every line feels important, even the lines that are just there to get a laugh. This film is full of great characters and side characters, some of which beg for more screen time. In fact, one of my few complaints is that some characters kind of get left on the sidelines (I particularly would have wished for Donnie interacting with his sister a little more, as Maggie Gyllenhaal does an outstanding job with what little screen time she gets).

I could see some critiquing the ending for being a little bit melodramatic, but I think it fits. It struck a similar chord with me that Groundhog Day and It’s a Wonderful Life did, where it tells me that every action you take, no matter how insignificant it may seem, has an impact on those around you.

Also, I wouldn’t be a letterboxd film bro if I didn’t bring up David Lynch. I admit, the past year has made me a fanboy of his, and while Lynch had absolutely nothing to do with the production of this movie, it is pretty obvious that director Richard Kelly was a bit influenced by him. Just like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, this film features an adolescent kid thrust into a situation beyond his understanding with trippy visuals and a plot that does not hold the audience’s hand. There are some sequences in here that feel so incredibly Lychian in their execution, especially the scenes when Donnie interacts with Frank where there is sporadic editing and funky sound design aplenty. I think Donnie Darko would make a great double feature with Fire Walk With Me, as long as the viewer has lots of anti-depressants handy.

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