Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko (2001)

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: October 26th, 2001 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Richard Kelly Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Daveigh Chase, Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone, Seth Rogen, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, Katharine Ross




s if he’d fallen off his bike and been knocked unconscious, teenaged Donald Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes in the middle of a winding mountain road. But instead of concern, a smile creeps across his face, prompting him to briefly take in the sights before returning home, where his father Eddie (Holmes Osborne), mother Rose (Mary McDonnell), older sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and younger sister Samantha (Daveigh Chase) reside. That evening, Donnie gets into a heated argument with Elizabeth, trading nonsensical expletives. It’s upsetting to the Darko parents, who regularly contend with Donnie’s emotional issues, which require therapy and medication – but they have little recourse other than to brush off the hostilities.

It’s early in October of 1988 when Donnie sleepwalks out the front door and spies an adult figure, named Frank, hovering at the end of the driveway, dressed in a furry rabbit costume, adorned with grotesque yet obscured facial features. In a singsong whisper, it proclaims: “28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is when the world will end.” The following morning, Donnie again awakes in a stupor, this time in the middle of a golf course. When he arrives home, he discovers that an airplane motor fell from the sky, demolishing the upstairs room where he should have been sleeping. And the FAA can’t seem to locate the plane itself.

The setup is interesting, though it’s constructed with a bizarre blend of nightmarish imagery, high school pop/rock montages, and unusual camera angles and fades, as if a John Hughes picture merged with Stephen King’s aesthetic; there’s a bit of poetry right alongside the eeriness. Unfortunately, there’s also a wealth of incongruent elements; the mystery of the rabbit apparition simply doesn’t fit with the adolescent hijinks and the classroom romance (involving new student Gretchen [Jena Malone]). It’s very much as if two stories are being told, and they don’t belong twisted together.

“Do you believe in time travel?” With the world about to end, and title cards counting down the days, the playfulness increases. But then there’s an escalating weirdness, too, particularly with the dialogue, alternating between witty sexual conversations and commentary on rote education, troubled teen pranks, the hypocrisies hidden in motivational speaking and religion, fear versus love, the woes of mortality, and even time travel. At its best, “Donnie Darko” works as a channel for absurd rebellion – a fantasy outlet for hitting back at authority figures.

Problematically, however, the adults (save for McDonnell, who is sensational) rarely react in a believable fashion; they’re either distinct stereotypes or comical caricatures, cheaply written to behave as surrogates for hopeful audience reactions. Many of the supporting roles also lack originality, though it’s amusing to see the likes of Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, and Seth Rogen in smaller parts. Additionally, if Donnie’s detachment from reality and schizophrenia were the true source of Frank’s manifestation, the plot would better conform to a sensible reality. Instead, Darko’s hallucinations seem to take on a much more specific message – one of revenge and justice, as if guided from beyond the grave. The enigma is strung along until the very end, morphing into something along the lines of a self-fulfilling prophecy; but every ounce of creativity is met with an equal serving of disappointing nebulousness.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10