A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a large bunny rabbit that manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after narrowly escaping a bizarre accident.
Year 1, Day 333
BEFORE: More science fiction for the marathon, this time in the form of cult classic Donnie Darko. Another film that comes highly recommended to me by a friend but which I don’t know much about. I would have pegged this as a horror film but all indications are pointing to drama, science fiction, and fantasy. Suffice it to say, I’m curious for what’s in store.
AFTER: What did I just watch? Throughout the whole film I felt I had a good understanding of what this film was. Sure it was complex and puzzling, but there was a certain familiarity with the film. A drama that can’t be taken too seriously, one which provides lots of unintended laughs, with a little mysterious supernatural phenomenon thrown in. By no means what I’d consider a great film but it did have it’s entertaining moments. At the end though, the film takes almost a complete 180 and fully embraces it’s science fiction becoming a film that really makes you ask, “what did I just watch?”
Let’s look at the bulk of the film first. Right away you see the complexity of mystery of the story. Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is revealed to be a troubled kid, one who is on medication and bursts out in anger from time to time. Not too long after, we meet his new imaginary friend Frank who leads him out of the house, saving his life from a mysterious jet engine crashes into Donnie’s room. For the rest of the film, there’s a persistent ominous presence surrounding everything as Frank appears from time to time and Donnie begins to investigate time travel. Meanwhile, you have a bunch of poorly dramatized events including Donnie’s younger sister Sam (Daveigh Chase) in a dance group, his older sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) just waiting to receive an acceptance letter from Harvard (in October?), the parents being parents, and many cliché high school scenes involving teachers, insubordination, and assemblies. Donnie Darko is not a comedy, but it certainly provided many laughs, most of which were probably unintentional. It’s not necessarily that the film was so bad it was good, it’s just the way the film is. Don’t expect Oscar-winning performances or direction because you won’t get it. But if you embrace it’s less than stellar style it will actually create entertainment.
Now let’s look at the ending specifically. As per usual, I’ll refrain from any spoilers and this may make things too vague, but I’ll try and stick to general points here. I said earlier that the ending was a complete reversal from the rest of the film; that’a a bit of an exaggeration. You can see something like this coming (certainly not the specifics of what happens), but the idea of a bombshell twist/discovery should not be out of the question. The reason I found it so impressive and mind-blowing is because I didn’t really think about it. All the discussion of time travel, Grandma Death, and Donnie’s hallucinations didn’t really stick with me. But then the ending came and everything rushed back all at once. Not only could I not believe what just happened (this is not an exaggeration; this ending is one of the most surprising ones I have seen in a while) but I immediately began trying to figure everything out. How does everything connect, what does everything mean? The ending left me with my mind racing to try and connect the dots. Sometimes confusion and too many questions are a bad thing. For Donnie Darko, that’s what makes it special.
Donnie Darko is quite a tossup for me. For most of the film I was just following along, mildly to fairly entertained by an average science fiction drama. Nothing about it was especially memorable, but it did make me laugh quite a bit. The ending though really changes things, and while it can’t (or at least shouldn’t), make up for the rest of the film, it does provide a (very) unique hook that will make you think long and hard about this film. While it’s not necessarily the best or my favorite film, I would recommend watching this; if only to give your mind a workout.
(End note: I did watch the director’s cut which is apparently better than the theatrical release.)
RATING: 3 out of 5