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  • James Rutherford

'Donnie Darko': A Boldly Visionary Tale of a Troubled Teenager Beset by Apocalyptic Dreams


Movie poster for the film Donnie Darko starring Jake Gyllenhaal

Donnie Darko (2001) is a boldly visionary and highly compelling psychological drama, replete with distinctive science-fiction elements, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular teenager residing in Eastern Virginia circa 1988. Confronted in his dreams by a shadowy entity cloaked in a monstrous rabbit costume who identifies himself as "Frank", Donnie is informed by his midnight caller that the world will end "in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds".


As visions of Frank extend to his waking life, Donnie's increasingly erratic behavior compels his parents (Holmes Osborne, Mary McDonnell) to send him to see a local psychiatrist named Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross). Meanwhile Frank compels Donnie to commit acts of wanton vandalism that dismay the community, and illicit a series of supportive community engagements with professional speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). When Frank suggests that Donnie explore the possibility of real-world time travel, Donnie and his young companion Gretchen (Jena Malone) set off in search of insight from a reclusive writer named Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), author of the highly significant "The Philosophy of Time Travel".


Delivered to the screen courtesy of burgeoning young filmmaker Richard Kelly (Southland Tales, The Box), Donnie Darko is a wildly ambitious and stunningly original tale of existential contemplation. Kelly packs the film with disparate elements ranging from horror to dark comedy, with touches of teenage melodrama and abstract metaphysical exploration underlying Donnie's arduous plight. A young Gyllenhaal shines brightest in his aggrieved performance as the bedeviled protagonist, showcasing great sincerity to his remarkably complex role. Indeed the film's greatest attribute may in fact be its genuine sincerity— transcending the abject complexity of its plot to deliver something astoundingly unique and undeniably affecting to the audience.

 

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