Actor Appreciation Week 3 Review: Donnie Darko (2001)

Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko is the type of movie that everyone should see at least once in their lives. It is completely captivating and completely bizarre and unlike anything else out there. Hence why Darko has become a cult favourite. It is neither a sci-fi nor a psychological thriller nor a drama. It is indefinable. It is one of the few true masterpieces of 21st century independent cinema.

This was my second viewing of the film, having seen it perhaps five years ago. Previously I watched the Theatrical Cut, whereas this time I sat down to enjoy the Director’s Cut which is around twenty minutes longer. The DC is more of a hand-holding experience, but in having that approach, it does clear up a few of the (many) questions one would have after watching the TC. Both cuts are highly recommended, although I’d say the TC just about edges it, especially for a first viewing.

The film follows the titular Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young troubled boy, who narrowly avoids certain death by following a six-foot bunny away from his house on the night when a jet engine falls through his bedroom window. Safe from danger, the bunny, called Frank, informs Donnie that the world will end in 28 days. Over the course of the movie we see Donnie struggle with this apocalyptic prediction and the directing finger of his new friend Frank. It’s a time travel movie like no other, an idea so original and so perfectly executed. Gyllenhaal is quite frankly superb. Donnie does some terrible things in the movie, and yet Gyllenhaal allows the honesty and innocence and even fear of Donnie to seep through. The chemistry he has with Jena Malone’s Gretchen adds a great emotional element to the movie. It is heartwarming and at times completely heartbreaking.

Richard Kelly has only made three films in his career. Thankfully he created his masterpiece with his very first one. Donnie Darko will intrigue you, flabbergast you, thrill you and then break your heart. Still, after all that, it will leave you wishing for just a little bit more of its crazy (some would say ‘mad’) world.