Donnie Darko has been a film that I’ve been curious about watching for quite awhile. But I’ve been sort of hesitant because some forums and movie-related databases have mentioned how their are two separate versions of this motion-length feature; a theatrical version, and a director’s cut. Normally a director’s cut of most films come with slight alterations or inconsequential additions, but apparently this viewing option made drastic changes to the soundtrack and overall layout based on what I’ve read online. So for today’s review, I’ve decided to cover the theatrical edition, but I might briefly cover the director’s cut separately in the future.
This film is set in the year of 1988, and it centers around a troubled teenager named Donnie Darko. It’s sort of a puzzle to pin down categorically and narratively. Their were times where I thought the story was a satire on suburban life, a dark comedy on mental health issues, a sci-fi film on time travel and metaphysics, and even a slice of horror at times. I guess the director, Richard Kelly, pretty much leaves it all up to personal interpretation for his audience; it’s totally possible that you might have a completely different consummation of this film from me.
While this movie does have it’s fair share of humorous moments, (mainly Donnie’s emotional banters) that wasn’t what made this an engrossing watch. What won me over as a viewer was how Donnie’s persona was characterized, his brutally honest remarks, the internal mental tribulations that he goes through, and how it explored the duality of what’s considered morally good or bad (which isn’t always clear-cut or distinguishable). It sort of felt like a modern-day adaptation of Catcher in the Rye at times since they both explore the superficial aspects of a society; what might appear as beautiful or exemplary at first, might have some repugnant facets that we might not be aware of until closer examination.
The movie carries itself in a rather slow yet calculated pace. It encapsulates you with psychedelic camerawork, witty discourse, an enigmatic 6’foot tall guy in a bunny costume named Frank occasionally shows up, and it hits you with a compelling soundtrack (especially the opening track, “The Killing Moon” by Echo & the Bunnymen). This was anchored by an emotive romantic tale involving Donnie (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and Gretchen (played by Jena Malone) with each actor performing exceptionally well and convincingly in their roles. I also enjoyed the scenes of dialogue between Donnie and his family members, which I found to be incredibly absorbing.
If I had to mention one thing that I wished that this movie had done better, it would’ve been to add a bit more nuance and background to how the two bullies at the school were portrayed and characterized. Considering that these characters are in high school, they looked more like college students in terms of appearance, and I felt like these characters only served as cheap plot devices to move the story along. It would’ve been interesting if the bullies had a backstory interwoven within the overall narrative rather than just simply playing minor roles for the sake of convenience.
All in all, I found Donnie Darko to be a truly mesmerizing movie. It’s an enthralling, scrupulously shot, and exceptionally written film. There is without a doubt a pervading sense of melancholy throughout this feature, and while Donnie’s choice of action at the end of the film is one filled with hope and contentment, it was one that did make me feel rather sad as it came to a close; seeing all of the characters witnessing their own internal insecurities and demons in a dream-state (or possibly an alternate reality) was really heartbreaking to watch and made me think about my own personal fears. But if evocative, uncanny, and movies that make you ponder deeply are something you cherish, then Donnie Darko is absolutely a must-watch.