In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorizes Northern California with a killing spree.
Robert Downey Jr.,
Donnie Darko doesn't get along too well with his family, his teachers, and his classmates; but he does manage to find a sympathetic friend in Gretchen, who agrees to date him. He has a compassionate psychiatrist, who discovers hypnosis is the means to unlock hidden secrets. His other companion may not be a true ally. Donnie has a friend named Frank, a large bunny which only Donnie can see. When an engine falls off a plane and destroys his bedroom, Donnie is not there. Both the event, and Donnie's escape, seem to have been caused by supernatural events. Donnie's mental illness, if such it is, may never allow him to find out for sure.Written by
"Proud to Be Loud" Performed by The Dead Green Mummies -- this song is actually performed by the band Pantera. (The Dead Green Mummies do not exist.) Pantera has all but disowned their first four albums, this song is track 5 on the fourth of those albums, "Power Metal." The band presumably did not want to be credited with the song (as they don't consider any of their pre-1990 material part of their discography) and made up the name The Dead Green Mummies. See more »
In the original version, when Donnie first begins to witness the liquid spear coming out of his chest, the spear moves across the room, turns back toward him and forms a large sort-of finger that beckons him to follow. In the Director's cut, the spear does not beckon him. He simply follows. Also the soundtrack in this scene has changed. Previously, we could hear the TV advertising the Middlesex Halloween Carnival. This has been replaced with sound effects now associated with any of the oddities of the tangent universe. In the Director's Cut there is also the audio for a commercial for "Who's the Boss?" starring Tony Danza inserted prior to the Halloween Carnival add. See more »
Upon awakening, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds that he's been asleep in the middle of a secluded mountain road. It seems that Donnie regularly wanders out at night and sleeps in strange places. The night that he ends up on the neighborhood golf course, a stray jet engine crashes through Donnie's bedroom. He's saved by his odd behavior. Shortly after, we witness him hearing voices and having visions of an odd, evil-looking, bipedal, man-sized bunny. The voice begins giving him unusual suggestions, and Donnie slowly finds himself as the key player in a grand scheme.
Donnie Darko is an unusual film. It spans a number of genres and leaves itself wide open to interpretation. Quite a cult of hardcore fans has developed around it, and for those folks, the film is essentially immune to criticism and reinterpretation.
The biggest surprise to me was that the bulk of Donnie Darko is a realist drama. I had long heard about how strange the film was, and heard it described as being partially sci-fi (which it is) and horror (which it isn't if you ask me). It was supposedly a "reality-bender". I'm much more of a "genre" fan, and I much prefer fantasy, surrealism and absurdism to realism. My preconceptions were throwing me off of the film initially. The realist drama stuff seemed to drag on, and it made much of the film a hard sell. I loved the touches of weirdness, but they were too little, too far between--at least until I reached my personal interpretation of the film around the halfway mark.
The film is also odd in that it's so retro. At one point I double-checked the DVD box, thinking that Donnie Darko had to be a late 1980s film. Nope, 2001. Then I started thinking that writer/director Richard Kelly must have had the script in storage for 15 years. But that can't be the case, either, as his bio says he was born in 1975, and it's unlikely that he would have written Donnie Darko when he was 10 or 11. The film is mired in late 1980s pop-culture references, style and music. Realizing that Kelly was born in 1975 still makes this weird. He says on the new DVD commentary that he was following the clichéd advice to write what you know, and he knew school in the late 1980s. He wouldn't have even entered high school until 1989, so it seems odd that he would only know school in the late 1980s. The retro feel of the film was a bit artificial to me, although I enjoyed the way the pop music was integrated.
There were also some questionable performances for my tastes, including Drew Barrymore's, and some bizarre (but not bizarre enough) scenarios that I never quite figured out, such as why a gym teacher was showing motivational videos to a class sitting in desks.
But most fans of Donnie Darko tend to overlook the minutiae, even though it takes up most of the screen time. The hinge tends to be on the overall arc and the meaning of the film. If minutiae are dwelt on, it's usually concerning the "Philosophy of Time Travel" book, or some bit of dialogue that is thought to be clever, such as the Smurf discussion. The theme of the film is often said to be something like "possibilities", and the film is routinely interpreted as having a messianic subtext, as well as often being interpreted more literally, as a kind of sci-fi story. After I watched the film and it didn't quite pay off as I had been hoping, I was anxious to listen to the commentary and watch the documentaries. Kelly seemed to intend more of the literal, sci-fi interpretation of the film. That was disappointing, because interpreted that way, the most fascinating thing to me is that Kelly believes it even approaches coherency. The Philosophy of Time Travel material, which is a core of this interpretation, is arbitrary sounding gobbledy gook. It has nothing to do with time travel, and even less to do with philosophy. It's more a naïve attempt at something like a parallel universe, ala the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics (which tends to be nonsensical anyway).
To make matters worse, there is little attempt to integrate most of this material into the actual meat of the film--the sci-fi interpretation seems very "grafted on". Many of the actual scenes we witness aren't there to service the eventual interpretation of the film as a sci-fi story, but are there because it's some snippet of actual life that Kelly remembers or has thought about or had conversations similar to in the past, and he thinks it's clever or character developing. For me, this material was neither.
But my personal interpretation of the film made much more sense to me, and under it, I enjoyed it more. To me, Donnie Darko is just a depiction of a kid with schizophrenia (and this is even explicitly suggested, although Kelly seems to be overlooking or not mentioning the interpretation). Even the smallest details of the film make sense in this context. Schizophrenics hear voices. They can have visual, tactile and other sensory hallucinations. Some have delusions of grandeur, such as messiah/superhero complexes. They often feel alienated. Donnie mopes around, mumbling, fairly expressionless much of the time and has periodic emotional outbursts. He acts out in anti-social ways. He goes into semi-catatonic states. Even the end of the film makes more sense under this interpretation, as it can be seen as an intentional delusion that Donnie has created due to the relationship-oriented tragedy. He's fantasizing about things being different than they turned out. To me, the film has much more depth under this interpretation.
If you haven't seen Donnie Darko yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out. No matter your final verdict, it's an interesting, quirky film, and one that's sure to be talked about for a long time.
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