“And what if you could go back in time and take all those hours of pain and darkness and replace them with something better?”
The first thing to know about Donnie Darko is that the entire story is not contained in the movie. The movie references a book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, which is vital to understanding the story, but only hinted at in the film. The official website for the film contained the vital excerpts from the book. I’ll admit that I was a little lost after my first viewing of the movie; but things neatly fell into place when I reviewed the short book excerpts on the web.
So, that out of the way, Donnie Darko is equal parts science fiction, teenage angst, and deeper philosophical issues. Directed by Richard Kelly and starring Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone, this unique film starts out weird and just gets weirder, for better or for worse. The movie isn’t about time travel so much as time disturbance, and is heavily dependent on its own lore and rules.
I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.
While the acting from Jake Gyllenhaal is great and the story is original, the worldbuilding a lore are what truly make this movie stand out. The movie itself is intentionally left open to different interpretations and can spawn quite a few discussions or even arguments about what it’s about and what it’s trying to accomplish. There are also little hidden pieces of information that recontextualize everything, such as the director’s revelation in the commentary that people from the future are involved behind the scenes. Finding and accounting for all of these bits of information can be challenging, but the resulting world is quite unlike any other I’ve seen.
Of the science fiction, teenage angst, and philosophy, the most pervasive and defining of these is teenage angst. This also happens to be its most successful endeavor. Donnie Darko is definitely a movie that will appeal more to a younger audience: teens and twenties. Unfortunately, while the movie does teenage angst really well, the science fiction and philosophy elements don’t stack up quite as well. The movie is a real gem for the teens and twenties crowd, but it can’t quite pull off everything it tries to, and the older you get, the more apparent this becomes as the sheen from the teen drama elements wears off.
Donnie Darko is a movie that I would definitely recommend to anyone under thirty. Past that, it’s up in the air whether you would like it or not. It’s unlike any other movie out there, and gains some points for that. And as I said, the world it crafts and the complexities that come with it are thought-provoking. But the execution isn’t quite there, and the movie clearly thinks more highly of itself than it ought to. If it sounds at all interesting to you, by all means, check it out; but I wouldn’t consider this essential viewing for people outside of these groups.
Director: Richard Kelly