Donnie Darko
Starring:
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle
Directed By:
Richard Kelly
Grade
A

October 1988. A plane engine falls through the ceiling of the Darko household. Right through Donnie's bedroom. If he had been there, he would have been killed. But, Donnie suffers from delusions and that night, a man in a bunny suit named Frank had Donnie sleepwalk out of his home. When he gets home, he finds his family outside his home. The FAA has no idea where the engine came from, which is only the beginning of a series of events that will lead Donnie down a path that balances precariously between the supernatural and the insane.

Gyllenhaal is sharp as Donnie Darko, a teenager who suffers from delusional episodes. He's a nihilistic youth whose own sharp intellect is hampered by his emotional detachment from the rest of the world. Through the events of the story, we see Donnie fall into tendencies attributed to the psychologically challenged, including imaginary friends, a preoccupation with sex and a flair for pyromania. None of these are ever put to the forefront to be flaunted, but are brought out in his counseling sessions.

A handful of social and political issues are brought up during the film - a number of which have to deal with the school life of both students and teachers. At one point, a teacher's (Barrymore) curriculum is questioned as a devious influence when events from the story happen to be mimicked in real life. Another teacher (Wyle) has an in-depth conversation with Donnie about time travel, but when it moves perilously close to a religious debate about predestination, Wyle ends the conversation for fear of losing his job. Two of the bigger topics have to deal with the hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness of a self-help guru and Donnie's own struggle with his mental illness.

Donnie Darko is a dark film with some parts that can really be unnerving in their relation to the story. Fortunately, though, the film is never overly dark to be "cool" about it's grimness. The way the film is paced slowly gives you a grander scale of what is going on. The sequences with Frank provide a passive tension as the "imaginary friend" of Donnie's is a quiet, yet disturbing influence on him. You won't walk away from this film feeling grim because of the way it's filmed, but you'll be touched by the characters and their development.

All of the major players do their parts well. A few of the more shallow parts come across as stereotypes of people we've all seen, but they serve a purpose in the film. At times, Donnie Darko is a dark comedy where the social commentary is wonderfully accented by Donnie's own oddly intelligent rants on everything from the gender of Smurfs to the uselessness of self-help.

Donnie Darko manages to hold the balance between the main character losing his sanity and there actually being something supernatural in his life so well for so long that when the ending comes, the viewer may be left hanging that it was given an almost practical ending to it all. Not a bad ending, as it still throws one last twist in for good measure, but with a film like this, the straight, one-answer ending takes away any questions that a good psychological film should leave. With that being said, though, this is a film most people should make the effort to see.

- - Kinderfeld

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