It’s hard to nail down Donnie Darko as it succeeds on so many levels. It’s a science fiction coming-of-age tale, it’s high school gothic, it’s a floor wax, it’s a dessert topping! It’s a dense, complicated and amazing amalgam of genres and influences that really defies any constraints.
Jake Gyllenhaal really shines in a star-making turn as Donnie, a reclusive Holden Caulfield type with a bad sleepwalking habit. Lured out of his house in the middle of the night while in a sleepwalking state, he is visited by an evil, human-sized rabbit who informs him that the world is going to end in 28 days on the eve of Halloween. Returning home the next morning after waking up on a golf course, he finds that a plane engine mysteriously fell from the sky and landed in his bedroom. The strange thing is, there are no reports of a plane crash nearby, nor any reports of a plane losing and engine.
Patrick Swayze (in one of his best roles and performances ever) plays a self-help guru who promotes a system in which all human emotion is reduced to only love and fear. It’s as if director Richard Kelly is biting his thumb at the glut of mainstream movies afraid to pry deeper into the human psyche for fear of waking a numbed audience fed on simplicities.
The film constantly ellipses time so that motivations of characters may not be apparent immediately but coalesce and pay off later. It was one of many ‘puzzle’ films of 2001 (Memento, Mulholland Drive) and one of the most satisfying. One of year’s very best films.
Movie Matches: Mulholland Drive, Memento, Back to the Future
How to watch: Free in IMDb TV