Donnie Darko

“Twenty Eight Days, Six Hours, Forty Two Minutes,
Twelve Seconds That is When The World Will End!”

October 1988 a small town is about to witness the end of the world. Its home to Donnie Darko, a troubled teenager, plagued by visions. When released on 28th October 2001 Donnie Darko did not do as expected, the movie sank at the box office. Loyal fans of the apocalyptic sci-fi drama about a somewhat schizophrenic teenager and a six-foot rabbit called Frank were not about to let Donnie Darko rest and it became an underground cult hit.
Donnie Darko can be classed as a cult film because the term cult film describes films “that have gained certain notoriety from being banned or screened at midnight. The cult film in general has a devoted following unlike blockbusters which are designed to appeal to a broad audience, cult films construct a sub cultural community of admirers” [1].
Everything about this film screams cult. Donnie Darko was shot in 28 days, a nice cultish touch, the same time period that was given to Donnie as a deadline after which the world will end. Donnie Darko headed to The Sundance Film Festival with high hopes of a distribution deal it left without one; it came close to being released straight to television. But got another saviour, in the shape of Newmarket Films, a former finance company that had turned distributor.

I thought Jake Gyllenhaal played the part of Donnie to its full potential, Donnie Darko is a film about emotions, Donnie is on an emotional quest for meaning to his visions and his self-discovery pushes the fringes of reality. He is alone and isolated from the world he is meant to know. Patrick Swayze disturbed me to a certain extent as the self-help guru Jim Cunningham, Drew Barrymore who was executive producer for the film appears as teacher Karen Pomeroy and Jena Malone is brilliant as Donnie’s troubled girlfriend Gretchen Ross. James Duval played the part of the rabbit Frank and is as memorable as the film itself.

The film inspires the idea of hope and self-sacrifice Donnie sacrifices himself to ultimately save others. The acting in this film really shines through and the performances from the actors are nothing short of astounding. This film is unique and beautifully made and is mind blowing experience. I like the way the film leaves you to draw your own conclusion. Its a film that has to have multiple viewing to fully understand the extent of the plot, it is an emotionally charged sci-fi film but with the setting of the all American high school and a suburban dysfunctional family.

“Call it a cult. Call it genius. Call it what you will, but the fact that Richard has chosen not to spoon- feed his audience a simple conclusion to the film requires his audience to participate in the process of figuring it our with him.” [2]

The song Mad World used in the end sequence of the film really draws the film together and is almost haunting it works really well with what the film is trying to achieve. The audience is often led to question if Donnie’s visions and actions are real or in fact a figment of his troubled paranoid mind? As the film draws to an end the camera pans into each character and we see how emotionally charged they are almost full of regret or contemplating their own meanings or actions. Even the name Donnie Darko is suggested in the film as some kind of super hero name. The film is emotional, meaningful and powerful and really is a must see movie.

Donnie Darko: cast and crew interviews from The Directors Cut DVD
I think these statements by Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal really summarise what Donnie Darko is all about and why it has become such a cult film.

Richard Kelly: Director
“The best movies are ones that people talk about on the way home from the theatre”

Jake Gyllenhaal: Donnie Darko
“In the simplest terms it’s a journey, a journey about discovering who you are. The irony of the whole thing is hopefully by the end its not only Donnie who realises it but the audience in a way. They have to go back and watch it again, It forces you if it forces you at all to come to your own conclusion about what its all about and that’s the coolest thing, its like an individual experience for everyone, its not about one thing”.

[1] Blandford S. Keith Grant B. and Hillier J. (2001)The Film Studies Dictionary, Arnold Publishers, London.

[2] Kelly, R,(2003) The Donnie Darko Book, Faber and Faber, London.

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

  • Trevor Smith 11th April 2009

    That was a well thought out review.. Not sure about this movie though, i just feel Richard Kelly is so focused on trying to make movies that are ‘unique’ that they lack quality in other areas..

    I agree with you and him though that it’s great to watch a movie that leaves it down to the ‘imagination’ – like Lynch and Kubrick are master’s of..

    Cheers for the post Bex ! And i’d be interested in what Alton thinks of this movie/Richard Kelly..?

  • Sledge 14th April 2009

    Donnie Darko is very good I think, but not enough to warrant repeat viewings, even though the film may need it. Not seen much of Kelly’s work I don’t think. The Box ? Is that coming any time soon ?


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