Donnie Darko

Director: Richard Kelly

Richard Kelly’s stunning debut feature is a science fiction fable which pushes cinematic time-travel into a whole new dimension. Its somnambulant teenage protagonist slips into a parallel universe, where a giant demonic rabbit called Frank proclaims that the end of the world is nighoin 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. A bastard cousin of James Stewart’s imaginary white rabbit in Harvey, this furry philosopher is an unlikely harbinger of apocalyptic doom. But then a jet engine detaches itself from a plane’s wing and destroys the sleepwalking Donnie’s bedroom. Soon afterwards, ‘Grandma Death’oa reclusive eccentric who once wrote a book about time travelowhispers a morbid truth into Donnie’s ear: ‘Every living creature on this Earth dies alone.’ Is Donnie sliding into paranoid schizophrenia, as his sympathetic female shrink seems to think? Or has the troubled teenager passed through a worm hole in the space/time continuum, into some tangent universe where everything is oddly out of kilter?
Set in 1988, this genre-shattering movie is not only an intriguing meditation on time-travel and a deeply disturbing horror movie, it is also a John Hughes-style coming-of-age movie and a black comic satire on Reaganite greed, individualism and Christian fundamentalism (Patrick Swayze is hilarious as a bouffant-haired ‘self-help’ evangelist). ‘Donnie Darko,’ observes his equally alienated girlfriend Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), ‘What kind of a name is that? Sounds like a super-hero or something.’ To which Donnie replies cryptically, ‘What makes you think I’m not.’ Dysfunctional anti-hero Donnie, played with charismatic intensity and sly humour by Jake Gyllenhaal (last seen in Lovely and Amazing), inhabits a familiar suburban high school milieu; but like Kelly’s brilliantly original film, his skewed perspective on life is deeply subversive.
U.S.A., 2001. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 113 mins.

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