It’s a Very Very Mad World

Donnie Darko can’t be fully understood in one viewing. No wonder it gained a cult following. I’ve always known about Donnie Darko, but I had no clue how any of its themes tied together. Although I don’t always understand it, the themes are put to effective use. Only a first time independent director like Richard Kelly could think of something so complex. Drew Barrymore saw its potential by financing the film, but Donnie Darko continued to face production problems. Real world tragedies like 9/11 caused the movie to flop. While there is a plane crash in the movie, I think it was the bleak tone. Donnie Darko is an intelligent troubled youth with paranoid schizophrenia. Jake Gyllenhaal fully understands how to make him angsty but likeable. Some scenes were a lot more funny than I was expecting.

Donnie Darko is a little undefinable with elements of science fiction, psychological thriller, and coming-of-age. Darko narrowly escapes death when a jet engine falls on his bedroom. He survives thanks to his creepy imaginary 6ft. rabbit Harvey Frank who tells him about the end of the world. Only 28 days before Halloween in October 1988. The movie was also written and filmed in only 28 days. So Donnie spends most of his time unknowingly affecting others and committing several petty crimes under Frank’s influence. Donnie Darko has a far more impressive cast than I realized. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, and Daveigh Chase play members of the Darko family.

Katharine Ross plays Donnie’s active psychiatrist and Jenna Malone plays his equally troubled girlfriend Gretchen. Drew Barrymore is also part of the cast as a hip teacher who inspires Donnie. Meanwhile, Beth Grant plays the much more fundamentalist gym teacher. Her scenes include a surprise appearance from Patrick Swayze as a motivational speaker. I was more surprised to see Seth Rogen, Ashley Tisdale, and Jerry Trainor in their earliest film roles. Donnie begins to show interest in time travel, but the movie’s approach requires a book called The Philosophy of Time Travel written by a local crazy woman. When the clock does run out, time takes things to an unexpected conclusion. Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut may explain things better, but I prefer the thought provoking ambiguity of a very very mad world.

Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko in a theater with Gretchen and Frank

Followed by: S. Darko

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