ZombieTrex’s review published on Letterboxd:
Me right as the credits roll: What the hell? That ending explained nothing! What’s with the old lady? What happened to the rabbit guy? Why does everyone have a weird goo tentacle coming out of their chest? That was some pretentious bullshit!
Me after watching a bunch of Donnie Darko Explained videos: Ok, maaaybe that was actually a masterpiece.
If you’re not watching the Director’s Cut (which I was not), Richard Kelly essentially makes you do homework to understand his film on a deeper level, which is basically required in order to glean any enjoyment from it. Whilst watching, the film feels like a confusing intersection of all of these ideas, details, and themes. Practically every lingering shot or offhand line of dialogue is meant to convey a deeper meaning, but upon first viewing, there’s very little cohesion between these ideas.
It’s only once you research this film or rewatch it multiple times that the film’s true genius starts to unveil itself. Suddenly the plot transforms into an intelligent dissection of a conformist society, the existence of higher power and predestination, and mental health. Donnie’s struggle to find meaning in life is intertwined expertly into this time traveling/parallel universes tale, in which forces above him guide him into saving those he cares for by rebelling against the powers that be. Suddenly all the ideas that clashed while watching the film became streamlined into an incredibly engrossing narrative. Donnie Darko cannot be experienced through only one viewing. The film outright demands multiple showings in order to fully comprehend it. And while the cynic in me feels the need to criticize an experience for feeling incomplete the first time over, I can’t help but sit in awe of the ambition on display as Kelly scatters all the puzzle pieces on the floor and forces the audience to pick them up and put them together.
I imagine my ratings score for this film will definitely go up upon rewatch, but as it is now, Donnie Darko stands as a movie I appreciate more than I enjoyed it. It can certainly feel a little full of itself, but the more you start to dig into its mysteries, the more it earns that pedigree.