Classification: Plot Device
Donnie Darko, the protagonist of the film, is a seventeen year old strange teenager living in Virginia suffering from some serious mental issues (for which he takes medication). Donnie is a social outsider: he has difficulties interacting with his teachers. He is also not very good at making friends. The only person who understands him – at least more than the rest – is his girlfriend, Gretchen.
One night, while sleepwalking, Donnie goes outside his house. When he wakes up, he sees a man-sized, horrific looking bunny. The bunny, who calls himself Frank, tells him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, the world will end. The strangeness doesn’t end here: while Donnie is speaking to Frank, an engine falls of a plane and crashes on the roof of Donnie’s house, destroying his room in the process. This bizarre sleepwalking incident saved Donnie’s life!
In the next few days, Donnie’s life turns even more surreal than it is. He begins hallucinating about Frank: at first Frank instructs him to vandalize the school mascot. Then he tries to convince Donnie that he can’t get into trouble anymore. Despite taking medications, and even undergoing hypnotherapy, Frank continues appearing to Donnie. Donnie is confused, more so by the fact Frank hints he can see him by usage of Time Travel, thus, making Donnie obsessed with the subject.
This is where I stop. I don’t want to say anything anymore, since the rest may spoil the plot.
Donnie Darko has one of the most unusual premises I’ve seen. When I first heard of it, I knew I absolutely had to watch it. And it doesn’t disappoint. Although it basically describes the life of one (almost) average teenager in high school: it’s not the average teenage movie by a long shot. Instead, Donnie Darko is a highly atmospheric, gloomy, creepy film, populated with grotesque characters. On top of that, the acting is superb and the soundtrack is exceptional (have you heard Gary Jules’ Mad World?).
While watching the movie, at first I was hooked by the big mysteries: Is Frank real? And if so, who is he? Why does he look like a large mutated bunny? Will the world really end in 28 days? But the film is memorable for other reasons. Although I don’t normally like surreal movies, Donnie Darko can be said to be a spiritual journey: it’s as if we are going on a journey with Donnie; during the course of the movie, we start to deeply care about the pitfalls he faces and his overall fate. I rarely get this feeling from movies or books (in fact, the only other example I have is of a novel I reviewed, An Exaltation of Larks).
The best part is the ending. It’s the kind of emotional yet unpredictable ending that makes you want to watch the whole thing again. Better yet, if the message speaks to you, you are changed by this story. Uplifted by Donnie’s journey.
I know some consider Donnie Darko to be highly overrated. Perhaps that may be true. But it is definitely one of my all time favorites. it is also quite hard to understand at times. Some say that to completely understand it, one must watch all the extra scenes in the special edition DVD – a claim I agree with.
In summary, Donnie Darko is not a cult movie by accident: it is thought provoking, surreal and beautiful. Unusually bizarre, and yet highly compelling, Donnie Darko is a must for lovers of the genre. That being said, it is likely that many would probably not like the film for these very reasons.
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Tags: Alternate reality, Mystery, Paradox, Romance, Spiritual Journey, Temporal effect, Temporal loop