Donnie Darko


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

'Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?'
"A film of extraordinary complexity and fascination."

How could Hollywood break the mould? The answer is Drew Barrymore. Her response to 26-year-old Richard Kelly's script was so positive, she insisted on playing the role of Miss Pomeroy, the English teacher, as well as producing the movie through her company, Flower Films - long may it bloom.

"People were always telling me that there are no original ideas left," Kelly said. "So I tried to challenge that."

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Donnie Darko cannot be categorised as sci-fi, rites-of-passage, Californian satire, post-Reaganesque whatever, comedy of teen alienation, an Eighties hallucinatory trip, or journey into madness. Labels are static and this is not. It touches you where you live. It says, "The world is coming to an end."

Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a confused, mentally untethered 16-year-old, living the suburban life with a loving mom (Mary McDonnell) and a hey-buddy dad (Holmes Osborne) and a couple of sisters who give him a hard time. He takes pills to control his manics and wanders around like a boy who missed the punchline. He finds communication complicated.

He sleepwalks, waking miles from home. He has an imaginary friend, called Frank, who wears a grotesque rabbit mask. Frank tells him about the future. The world will stop in 28 days, six hours and 42 minutes. He carries this secret, like a ticking promise. He sees his therapist (Katherine Ross), who hypnotises him. He talks of sex. At school, they try to brainwash the kids with simplistic happy slogans to fight the fear of living. He makes friends with a new girl (Jena Malone), who understands the language of silence. He studies the philosophy of time travel, as if he knows there is more to now than yesterday's lies.

Kelly questions the concept of reality. What if the future is a reflection in someone else's mirror and the present as mysterious as a freak accident? What if the voices are telling the truth and everything else is propaganda?

"How does it feel to have a wacko for a son?"

"It feels wonderful," his mom says, like someone who has learnt the lines from a book.

Kelly enters the mind of wacko and discovers a terrible intelligence. To be odd at 16 is to walk in the valley of perception. Out there, where teenagers torture each other and take in The Evil Dead and The Last Temptation Of Christ as a Halloween Frightmare double bill, decadence is a fashion statement.

This is a film of extraordinary complexity and fascination. Whether you recognise the territory, or find Donnie difficult, matters less than feeling the sky move beneath your feet. Can anything be the same again?

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2002
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Donnie Darko packshot
Californian teenager is told by imaginary friend in rabbit mask that the world will end in 28 days.
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Director: Richard Kelly

Writer: Richard Kelly

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Duval, Beth Grant

Year: 2001

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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