When the titular hero of the 2001 Richard Kelly film Donnie Darko introduces himself to the new girl at the school, the first thing she says is, “Donnie Darko? What the hell kind of name is that? It’s like some kind of superhero or something.”
That moment was funny not only because of Donnie’s reply (“What makes you think I’m not?”) but also because Gretchen just happened to voice the exact same thing I was thinking throughout the entire movie up to that point. I really had no idea what the film was about (even though it was released seven years ago), and thought this was another ripped-from-the-comics story. How wrong I was.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Donnie Darko, a troubled high school boy who consults a therapist (played by Katherine Ross) to help him deal with voices he hears and visions he sees. Specifically, Donnie is “haunted” by a man named Frank (James Duval), who chooses to appear to Donnie in a scary rabbit costume. Frank talks to Donnie, and even saved his life early on by getting him out of bed just before an airplane dropped out of the sky, crashing directly in Donnie’s bedroom.
Frank further tells Donnie about how the end of the world is coming, and orders Donnie to commit various acts of vandalism that ultimately form a chain allowing that end to come. For example, Donnie must break a water main to cause a flood at his school and burn down a motivational speaker’s house in order to get the man arrested for possession of child pornography.
Meanwhile, Donnie also starts reading a book about time travel, which opens his eyes to various wormholes around him. The book was written by someone named Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), who is now an old woman known as “Grandma Death” in the neighborhood. She becomes more important to Donnie as he tries to wrap his mind around the possibility of going back in time.
The rest of the film shows Donnie’s actions becoming increasingly more erratic as he nears the time specified by Frank as the end of the world. Then another strange chain of events occurs, which causes a wormhole portal to appear above the Darko home, sucking an airplane out of the present-day sky and dropping it in Donnie’s room 28 days ago — where he has remained in bed and died, presumably so he can save everyone else.
My Reaction: There were two reasons I wanted to watch Donnie Darko. First, it has a very high rating on IMDB.com (8.3 out of 10 as of this writing), which places it at #117 in the site’s list of the 250 highest-rated titles. Sometimes when I’m stuck for ideas about which films to watch, I check out the top-250 over there for inspiration. And second, I wanted to see something from earlier in Jake Gyllenhaal’s career, so I settled on this film.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my kind of movie at all. While I can appreciate the various psychological elements that likely helped make Donnie Darko so popular on IMDB.com, the film as a whole simply didn’t sit well with me. It took far too long for the reasons for Donnie’s actions to become clear, so a majority of the film just played like a series of disconnected scenes for the most part.
The ending, where everything ties together in Donnie’s decision to stay in bed and die, should have been a very satisfying way to wrap things up — and I think it would have felt that way had I been emotionally invested with the film up to that point. But by that time I was bored out of my skull with Donnie and his life, so I was just happy for the movie to be over with.
As I said, I’m fully aware of how Donnie Darko could appeal to a certain type of moviegoer. I just don’t fit that category, so I give this film just 1 star out of 5.