on 11 February 2003
A brilliantly bizzare film that will leave you in a state of shock while you try to get your head around what just happened. It will challenge your perceptions of your own reality and provide a talking point aswell. The appearance of Frank, a six foot tall time travelling talking rabbit who foretells the end of the world within five minutes of the start sets the tone and is followed up without dissapointment.
With many surreal moments, being set in the 80s it can only be expected, and a complimentary soundtrack the film can be enjoyed by many people on different levels whether for the nostalgia, weirdness, relationships or complicated theories of space/time travel and mental health.
Not a film for the lowest common denominator but one which is definately worth an investigation.
Donnie Darko is a very difficult movie to characterise and assign to one or even two genres, which is also part of its appeal and fascination. It opens with the title character (Jake Gyllenhall) waking in his pyjamas, with his bike lying next to him, on a highway overlooking his hometown of Middlesex, set in an idyllic tree covered valley. Straightening up he looks out toward the rising sun on the horizon and with a knowing smile he re-mounts his bicycle and makes his way back home to the tune of Echo and The Bunnymen's 'The Killing Moon' in what is an excellent opening sequence. Right from these first few frames it was obvious that I was about to witness something very original and it had me hooked.
Donnie Darko is inspired (I would guess) by the weird combination of Philip K Dick, Wes Anderson, JD Salinger and the classic James Stewart movie 'Harvey'. It announces the arrival of two great new talents in Writer/Director Richard Kelly and the young actor Jake Gyllenhall, in what is a hugely original, ingenious and entertaining movie. Set in 1988, around Halloween time, this movie has the conventional leafy-suburbia-plus-high-school setting, which alludes to the horror genre of Carrie and Halloween but it is no horror movie. It also has specific elements that suggest that it's a psychodrama about a young man with schizophrenia but this is not 'A Beautiful Mind'. It also ponders the possibility of time travel but this is not science fiction. Stranger still, Donnie Darko is unusual in that (unlike most retro 1980's pictures such as The Wedding Singer) it actually has a very cool soundtrack drawn from the period of my youth, which includes contributions from the likes of Echo and The Bunnymen, Tears For Fears and Joy Division.
So, what is Donnie Darko about? Well, without giving up too much of the plot, Donnie is continuously visited by a 6 foot tall rabbit named Frank, which unlike the Pooka in the classic 'Harvey' is both visible to the audience and strangely satanic. Frank tells Donnie that the world is going to end in 28 days six hours and forty two minutes but not to worry as everything is going to be all right. Guided by Frank he narrowly misses being killed when an engine from a 747 crashes through his house whilst he is lying sleeping on a local golf course and the plot thickens when it becomes apparent that the aviation authority has no record of any aircraft losing an engine. Donnie is of course undergoing therapy with a local shrink and hypnotherapist played by Katherine Ross (The Graduate, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid) and the suggestion is of course that Donnie is hallucinating, for as his sister says "he hasn't been taking his pills". One of Donnie's recurring visions suggests that he can see the future before it happens and so he becomes obsessed with the possibility of time travel and a book written by a retired teacher, who is now a scary old recluse, 'The Philosophy of Time Travel'. There are also many other sub-plots including Donnie being inspired by his English teacher (Drew Barrymore) and Graham Greene's short story 'The Destructors' into some playful vandalism. In addition to this Donnie's subversive thoughts and actions begin to undermine the stability of the local community that is strangely gripped by a slimy fundamentalist guru played by Patrick Swayze.
Much of this movie is darkly comic and there are some great scenes including a conversation between Donnie and his therapist, where she asks him what he thinks about at school. Like most teenage boys he inevitably replies "having s*x" before proceeding to unbutton his trousers about to m*sturbate. There is also a scene where at a PTA meeting Donnie's mother challenges the local bigot by asking "Do you even know who Graham Greene is?" she confidently and proudly replies "Oh please! I think we've all seen Bonanza".
Personally I loved this movie but whether or not you enjoy this movie probably depends upon how far left of centre you like your movies. If you are not a fan of independent cinema or movies by the likes of Wes Anderson and David Lynch then you probably wont like this. However there is much to recommend in Donnie Darko, not least the cast, which includes, Noah Wyle (ER), Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Confessions of A Dangerous Mind) and the previously mentioned Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore and Katherine Ross. Jake Gyllenhaal's exquisite comic timing and laidback personality endows Donnie's existence with a dreamlike quality at odds with his teen angst and the suburban paranoia of his surroundings. Meanwhile writer/director Richard Kelly creates a wonderful sense of tension and keeps you guessing throughout the movie that even after the final titles have rolled you are still left to mull over what you have just witnessed.
Whilst critics may argue that Donnie Darko fails as a psychological study and/or horror movie, you cant help but feel they are missing the point, as it deliberately avoids easy classification to a specific genre and instead concentrates on being intelligent, ingenious and highly original. Closing appropriately to a cover version of the old Tears For Fears song 'Mad World' and the lyrics "the dreams on which I'm dying are the best I've ever had", neatly ties up the previous two hours and what was for me a very satisfactory cinematic experience. Destined for cult status this undoubtedly deserves five stars!
on 16 April 2006
An extraordinary movie about love, death, madness, time travel and being a teenager, Donnie Darko is one of the most brilliant films to come out of Hollywood in recent years, and is all the more remarkable given the fact that it was made by a first-time director still in his twenties. The film follows the troubled teenaged Donnie and the increasingly bizarre events that seem to be centred on him. One of the central threads of the film is Donnie's series of encounters with a giant bunny rabbit called Frank who, the first time Donnie meets him, tells him that the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Due to the massive cult popularity the film attained, Kelly was invited to release his Director's Cut of the movie. In my view, the Director's Cut is definitely superior, with extra scenes that round out the story and some atmospheric visual effects they didn't have the money to do the first time round, but Kelly has emphasised that he sees the two cuts as being different versions of the film, rather than the Director's Cut being the definitive one. The Theatrical Cut presents the story in a more ambiguous way, with the Director's Cut presenting more clearly Kelly's own interpretation of the story (which has lead some fans to prefer the Theatrical Cut.) Apart from the different versions of the film, the only differences between the two DVDs are that the Director's Cut contains a few more extras and a new commentary with Kelly and his friend Kevin Smith. This film is a stunning achievement and is really worth getting slightly obsessed by...
on 19 December 2010
I already owned the theatrical and director's cuts on seperate dvds but being such a fan of the film I decided to splash out on the blu-ray. Both cuts are included here on two seperate discs and all the extras from both previous dvd releases are included here but there are no blu-ray exclusives. The original has the standard 2.0 stereo track, and the sound isn't particularly great. The audio certainly isn't a massive improvement over the original dvd release. The picture is also the most disappointing that I have seen on blu-ray. Now I know that the film was made with a small budget and it was filmed using cheap film stock so the film is never going to look pristine no matter what format it is on, but this really doesn't look much better than the dvd release. In fact at times the film looks downright terrible on blu-ray. Edges blur and colours are way over-saturated. This gives it the look of an 80's tv movie which may have been Richard Kelly's original intention, but it makes it less than desirable on blu-ray.
To summise, Donnie Darko is a wonderful and haunting movie in every resepct. The blu-ray however is certainly not worth the upgrade. Hold onto your original dvd copy until the inevitable Ultimate Edition arrives on blu-ray, hopefully with a little tweaking from the director.
on 10 October 2003
I heard about this movie through word of mouth, which is always a good thing, but definitely a great thing when it comes from several dierent places. Relatives, friends, internet message boards and forums all seemed to be asking "Haven't you watched Donnie Darko yet?". I didn't see any major advertising on this film, no hype, just people I knew asking me that damned annoying question. So I had to see it.
My reaction? Stunned pretty much sums it up.
There has been enough written in other reviews about giant bunnies, apocalyptic prophecies and time travel, so I won't offer a synopsis. However, I felt that it was definitely one of these films where the journey is just as fascinating as the destination. Not as common an occurrence in movies as people might think...
The film itself has something amazing to offer in just about every single scene. From well-placed philosophical soundbites to inexplicable and mysterious plot developments. Nothing is formulaic, and everything is geared to keep the viewer's attention. There are also several neat touches that really show the film's subtle humour, some obvious, some more subtle. To those who have watched it, how many of you made the connection with the opening music to the film ("Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen), to "Frank", in his own way, a Bunnyman? There's many more to discover in the film.
Donnie Darko mixes some of the best ideas from other "independent" films (Heathers, Virgin Suicides, Mulholland Drive) and adds some ideas of its own. It has a fairly unique atmosphere to it, and although some may not appreciate the ending, the film still has a strong sense of completion to it.
It was, all in all a pretty elating experience watching it. At least now, if someone asks me if I've seen Donnie Darko, I don't feel left out of a loop.
Those words kind of sum up `Donnie Darko.' It's definitely not for everyone, being the writing/directing debut of Richard Kelly. It's deep, complex, with overlapping-storylines and constant blurring of genres.
Rumour has it that once it was made, the distributors let it sit on the shelf for a year while they tried to figure out how best to sell it. I can see why. It's hard to name a genre that it doesn't borrow from. It's definitely sci-fi, but only in parts. When the sci-fi elements come, they're very noticeable, but surprisingly fleeting. However, it's also very creepy in places, producing a more sinister atmosphere than most horror films. Then, just when you're scared senseless, it throws in a lot of light-hearted banter, even going as far as to discuss the sexual habits of Smurfs like it was a Kevin Smith comedy. Then you have the touching sadness of it all, plus the high school element, the teen romance subplot, the family drama and the general satire on modern living in suburban America.
If anyone asks you what Donnie Darko is about, even if you've seen it, you may have trouble explaining it. The people that really know what it's about have probably looked up its `true meaning' on the internet somewhere.
If you're familiar with David Lynch's work, then you may know where Donnie Darko lies in the scale of films. Where is Lynch specialises in disturbing horror, Donnie Darko utilises all the genres to produce a mind-bending trip into a disturbed teenager's head as he struggles to balance everyday living with strange visitations from a time travelling bunny rabbit from the future (called Frank).
Those who don't like it will probably say that it didn't make sense. Well, they're right in some ways. It's not a film that wraps itself up easily. A lot is left to your own interpretation of what you've seen. There is definitely a story that you can follow and you should care about all the characters, but it's partly more of a `sensory experience' than an easy narrative to follow.
But then it's worth it just to see Jake Gyllenhal's breakthrough performance. He hadn't done many films prior to this and it's great to see him carry the film on his own. However, there are numerous characters in this film and, just because they're not quite as good as its leading man, doesn't mean to say they don't all put in excellent performances. Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze aren't in it for long, but that doesn't mean to say that they aren't both excellent in their small roles.
Donnie Darko is an experience. It may not be for everyone, but you really should see it to decide for yourself. It was listed in the `Top 50 films you need to see before you die.' I think it justifies its place in that list.
on 22 January 2015
It's perplexing that there are so few reviews of this film on this site. Donnie Darko is a very deep, thought-provoking film at several levels. Free will vs. predestination for one, a common theme in some of the greatest literature. This is a must-see film for everyone.
on 7 June 2006
The first time I saw this film I was confused.
The second time I saw this film I was absorbed.
The third time I saw this film I began to understand.
By the fourth time the ideas explored in the film had s
eeped into my daily life. Having re-read what I have written it appears that I am obsessed with this film. I'm not. The ideas with in it however are mind boggling.
When you realise that every single tiny action you make effects your entire life, you start looking at things differently. What if I'd crossed the road that just a little earlier, or tripped over that top step...?
Quite apart from the amazingly detailed story line, looking into the film you start to realise just how much effort Richard Kelly went to. The continual appearance of the same fat man that is never explained, one realises that he work for a company trailing the Darko family. Even better, Donnies sisters in the film were played by Jake Gyllenhaal's actual sisters, in order to make their relationship seem more real.
This is an amazing film for those who like to think about films. If you prefer to take a film as 2 hours of enjoyment and then forget it within the hour, choose something lighter.
This is a film made by a man who has a passion for filming, and a narrative from the pen of a true story teller.
I've seen this twice and the second time around it was even better! It is a masterfully crafted film with a story line that keeps you guessing till the end. There are dummy plots, and plots within plots which all just act as a smokescreen for the powerful ending and its implied message (which i wont spoil). While managing to avoid all the 80's cliches it captures the spirit of the decade as I remember it.
For those of you who can't wait till May, the english region 2 dvd IS available in Holland already(you just have to turn off the optional dutch subtitles).
PS : The excellent songs in the movie ARENT ALL on the soundtrack. Check before you buy!
See you in the bunny suit!
on 12 April 2015
I have watched this film many times over the years and indeed one needs to as one always picks up on subtleties’ overlooked previously, but I have put off reviewing the film as I have not known where to start. So I will keep it simple: it is a beautiful haunting and often dark film although I think the ending is very positive and in some way uplifting. The music score is heavenly as are the visuals. The subject matter is mesmerising - time travel and parallel universes and mental health. This is woven together with great skill. One can see why it became such a cult film (use Google to find sites "explaining" the film).
A great film and along with Cloud Atlas and a few others one of my favourites. Watch it and then watch it again.