Friday, August 10, 2012

#725. Donnie Darko (2001)

Directed By: Richard Kelly

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell

Tag line: "Life is one long insane trip. Some people just have better directions"

Trivia: Drew Barrymore's character Karen Pomeroy is named for sex researcher Wardell Pomeroy of the Kinsey Institute

Donnie Darko is an engaging sci-fi mystery that’s littered with clues to help decipher its hidden messages, and yet it also tends to guard its secrets quite jealously. There’s a lot going on here, from talk of time travel to hints of an alternate reality, and every event, occurrence and exchange contained within its 113 minutes is open to interpretation.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is not your average teenager. For one, he sleepwalks, often waking up far from home, and he’s also in therapy, meeting with his counselor (Katherine Ross) on a weekly basis. But fate has something more in store for Donnie, something much stranger than he’s ever experienced before. While out on one of his typical sleepwalking jaunts, a jet engine falls from the sky and crash-lands in Donnie’s bedroom. Had he been home, he would have surely been killed, yet soon after this near-tragedy, Donnie begins having visions of a giant rabbit, or, to be more precise, a man in a rabbit suit. The first time he meets this new friend, who goes by the name of Frank (James Duval), he tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Further encounters with Frank result in Donnie committing criminal acts, including vandalism and even arson, usually while in a near somnambulistic state. Realizing his life is spiraling out of control, Donnie spends many hours searching for the answers to two very important questions; why is Frank saying the world is going to end, and what exactly does it have to do with him?

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an excellent performance as Donnie, a young man who, though troubled, is much smarter than anyone in his school, smarter even than some of his teachers. Gyllenhaal effectively captures the exasperation of an advanced teenager dealing with what he perceives is the ignorance of others, yet whose probe into his own condition is proving a fruitless endeavor. It seems Donnie is more intelligent than almost everyone he knows, but not intelligent enough to solve his own issues, and his frustration is growing stronger with each passing day.

Donnie Darko was writer/director Richard Kelly’s first feature film, and it’s an extraordinary debut, to say the least. From its opening sequence, in which Donnie wakes up one morning in the middle of a mountain road, Kelly starts dropping hints that all is not right in this particular corner of the universe. Scenes occasionally move in slow motion for no apparent reason, and camera angles twist and warp, as if to indicate there’s a distortion in the world surrounding young Donnie. The problem is he’s the only one who seems to notice.

Don’t sweat it if you fail to solve the mysteries of Donnie Darko on your first viewing. I’ve seen it a number of times and I’m still not sure I have it all figured out. But it doesn’t matter, because thanks to Gyllenhaal’s performance and the film’s always-impressive style, there’s enough happening in Donnie Darko to keep you entertained through all the confusion.

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