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Donnie Darko (2001)

Director: Richard Kelly

114 Minutes

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal


Donnie Darko premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, so it recently hit its 20th anniversary, which prompted me to finally watch it. Believe it or not, Donnie Darko was the first feature film Richard Kelly had ever directed. A movie this brilliant being his directorial debut, absolutely blows my mind. Not only that, but Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko) was only 19 when he played this role. Although Richard Kelly’s talent seemed to be a one-hit-wonder, that certainly was not the case for Gyllenhaal, who has been very successful in his acting career, starring in movies such as Nightcrawler, Brokeback Mountain, Prisoners, Zodiac, and many more.

Donnie Darko is truly an enigma. Its complexity makes it hard to explain and is why it is still so talked about this many years after its release. There are so many layers that could be pulled back and analyzed. I’m not even certain I know exactly what happened, and I’ve watched it twice. But that’s what makes it such an accomplishment. There are so many ways it can be interpreted. For example, maybe someone watches it for the first time, doesn’t understand a thing, and hates it. They then re-watch it and notice details they hadn’t the first time and fall in love with it. One person could watch it and think it’s a look into the mental health of a teenager. Another person could watch it and find that it’s a strange, dark comedy. Someone else could watch it and see that it’s a story of time travel and questioning if alternate realities could actually be real. A story to make you think. It could be all those things.

Donnie Darko is set in October 1988 in Middlesex, Virginia. Donnie is a high school student who starts seeing a creepy rabbit named Frank. His mental health is questioned throughout as he sees a psychiatrist. There’s a timeline that counts down the days of October until Halloween, when the world is supposed to end, according to Frank. Donnie has the chance to save his world, his little suburb. It seems that Frank somehow controls all his actions and even the actions of people around him. All in the best interest of saving the world. Donnie is the chosen one, and even though he is under Frank’s control, in the end he makes the decisions. He makes the decision to risk himself for everyone else.

There are such beautiful and unique shots throughout Donnie Darko. The colorful skies, the wide-angle shots, the dark lighting. The score makes the suspenseful and eerie feeling of the film even better. The cinematography done by Steven Poster, is shot so well and effective for this movie. It captures that feeling of the 80s. The special effects were out of this world, especially for the time they were made in and the lower budget they were working with. They fit so well and looked so realistic. The only real complaint I have is that at some points the movie is so dark that it’s hard to see.

If you haven’t figured it out, I definitely liked Donnie Darko, it’s one-of-a-kind—an A+ movie.

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