Thursday, June 25, 2009

Donnie Darko (2001)

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Katharine Ross, et al
Rated R, 113 minutes

The only thing I knew about “Donnie Darko” was its unexplained cult status among people my age. In high school, girls sang its praises. Seeing it today as a college educated man, it must have been smoke and mirrors. Maybe it was just Jake Gyllenhaal being cute to them or something.

It’s 1988. For some reason. The time period alone got me to sit tight for the first part of the movie – nostalgia being what it is and all. Maybe that’s why it's set in '88. But it doesn’t mean much in the whole scheme of things. Maybe we just really needed that “Star Search” reference.

Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal) is a troubled child on medication. Sleepwalking in a pill-induced stupor, Donnie sees a rabbit-like creature that tells him the world is going to end in less than a month. While he's away, a jet engine falls on his house that would have killed him. Later, the rabbit thing tells Donnie about time travel. The notion consumes him. Donnie can see where time will lead through a series of clear tubes. He wonders if he should change destiny.

Doesn't that just read like a Sid & Marty Krofft show? Tubes? A rabbit? Put to paper, the whole idea sounds ridiculous. The stuff in Donnie’s head was supposed to be disturbing, I guess, but the visual effects and rabbit costume were either too bizarre or cheesy to accept at times. Donnie is angsty, albeit funny. I guess the angst bred the movie's connection with high school types.

I just couldn’t dig my teeth into it. So Donnie takes pills for a vague or non-existent reason and sees stuff. He struggles with the notion of the world ending, but is a normal teenager most of the time. Maybe it’s because I didn’t understand it. But at the same time, the movie wasn’t compelling enough for me to make the effort. The climax seemed interesting, but I wasn’t fully grasping what was going on. I only appreciated it on a superficial level.

The high school scenes were really cliche. Dumb student types would nudge each other and talk during class. High school always gets portrayed in an "every day is hell" sort of way, perhaps due to the compression of time in TV & film. But it annoys me. I was also nonplussed by the performances here. The tone bounced around; it went between really dark and generic teen movie at points. I liked the latter more than the former.


I don’t totally hate this movie. There were several scenes I actively enjoyed. I just didn’t come out with any sort of resolution, any sort of conclusion. I was mostly confused...or disinterested in becoming not confused.

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