"Donnie Darko" (2001)

Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Romance
Directed By: Richard Kelly
Written By: Richard Kelly
Released: January 19, 2001
Runtime: 113 minutes
Studio: Newmarket Film Group

In a funny, moving and distinctly mind-bending journey through suburban America, one extraordinary but disenchanted teenager is about to take Time's Arrow for a ride. After surviving a freak accident, Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to explore what it means to be alive, and in short order to be in love, he uncovers secrets of the universe that give him a tempting power to alter time and destiny.

This is one of the oddest films I’ve seen. Yet so compelling. I found it so confusing the first time I watched it, while I enjoyed it, I don’t think I fully appreciated how good a film it was. A lot of it went over my head.

It has gained a huge cult-following over the years since its release. Gary Jules covered “Mad World” for this film and as a result his version of the song is now the most well-known. When people say Donnie Darko, they hear Mad World. And vice-versa. Personally, and I’m not being biased here because I love the band, but I prefer Tears For Fears’ original version…despite they themselves remarking that they even prefer Gary Jules’ version! They’re equally good in their own way. Perhaps it’s personal preference. I do wish people wouldn’t forget that Roland Orabal was the one who wrote it in the first place though. I like the upbeat version because I like that this goes against the sad words being sung. Over-stressing the point sometimes ends up achieving the opposite effect, at least in my opinion. This being said, the upbeat version wouldn’t have suited the context its used in the film, where the words do, so…it’s like weighing scales I think.

 Jake Gyllenhaal is brilliant. Period. He embodies the character with such conviction. He makes the film the success it is. Donnie is troubled and does terrible things under the orders of Frank, but he’s also kind of a sweetheart and quite smart underneath everything. He does bad things out of good intentions…I think. 

Drew Barrymore might play my favourite character in a way. She’s wonderfully sarcastic, very intuitive and good at her job. She’s serious with a fun glint simultaneously. All of these characteristics are portrayed in the first scene we meet her when she tells Gretchen to “sit beside the guy you think is the cutest”. Certainly, makes for a memorable meet-cute…

Patrick Swayze features as well in a slightly smaller role than others but his character seems to be used as a way of connecting the themes raised in the film. It keeps referring back to this idea of fear and love being at two ends of an emotional timeline and you can only be one of the other. That and time travel, and the world’s “inevitable” demise, that create the plot of the film. It’s all a bit morbid. I think Patrick Swayze’s charm makes the references a little less harsh.

Of course, we can’t go without mentioning the lovely Frank. The creepiest looking rabbit you’ll have the pleasure of looking at. I still find his role in the whole scheme of things very confusing. The whole film is very confusing. 

One final thing I don’t understand is the Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels” sequence. Maybe it’s because I’ve listened to this song so many times, but it just felt a bit jarring. It’s the kind of scene the film should have started out with. Although, I like the beginning of the film the way it is and am not saying it should be this instead. Just hypothetically! If it was me, I wouldn’t have put it there. It just felt too long and didn’t establish anything new that we weren’t going to find out later anyway. I would say take it out but then we wouldn’t have a sequence with Tears For fears and that would be disappointing. Maybe if they had used a different Tears For Fears song? I don’t know why that one in particular was chosen since it doesn’t exactly fit with the scene in my opinion…I don’t know if I’m alone in my musings… 

There is so much to this film you couldn’t possibly take it all in after first viewing. It’s the kind of film where the more you watch it, the better it gets.