Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko ★★★★

I'd never seen this but knew it had legions of fans. Is it a sci-fi mystery or a window into the mind of an angst-ridden teenager with mental illness? Or both? Regardless, I give it high marks for creativity and execution - especially for a first time director, Richard Kelly - even though not everything came together for me.

Donnie (an adolescent Jake Gyllenhaal) is on antipsychotic meds following an arson incident and sees a psychiatrist (Katharine Ross, leading lady in so many 1970s features). Highly intelligent, he can see through the hypocrisy and false promises of the upper-middle class school he attends (the bullying, the emphasis on high achievement, the petty rivalries, the teasing of an obese girl, New Agey psychobabble) and especially the hypocrisy of the teachers and adults. He gets "visited" by a scary six-foot metallic rabbit who transmits apocalyptic and destructive messages that match his inner state.

I loved how Kelly sets something dark, foreboding and surreal under the seeming normality of a picture perfect privileged suburban community, which reminded me of David Lynch. And young Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect in the role, as are almost all of the supporting cast. The conceit as to whether Donnie's search for some meaning and hope in his young life through time travel and visions are real or interior projections of his inner demons through delusions and hallucinations is kept nicely ambiguous throughout. (Although there likely are different theories out there, I lean towards the latter.) And it all takes a decidedly dark turn at the end.

A few remaining points: Excellent soundtrack - even though I am not a child of the 80s or 90s - and cinematography. And it was cool to see the two Gyllenhaal siblings in the same film. Loved Donnie's takedown of the phony self-help guru (Patrick Swayze) in front of the entire student body. Finally, an additional mystery was why Drew Barrymore was listed third in the credits when her role was relatively small.

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