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Flower Film, Pandora Cinema
Official Site
Director: Richard Kelly
Producers: Drew Barrymore, Adam Fields
Written by: Richard Kelly
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze, Katharine Ross, Noah Wyle

Rating: out of 5

Lingering moments—those engendered by aberrations in the banality of a routine—often fill one with a sense of urgent self-reflection: How did I get here, where is this going to lead, am I in control of the situation or is the situation in control of me? It is these moments, which often ripple into deep philosophical musing, that produce moments of clarity that suddenly make everything around you seem terribly inane, as your life falls into perspective. For Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal), a perhaps severely schizophrenic 15-year-old private-schooler, life has just become one giant moment of aberration.

The backdrop for this confusing yet illuminating film is Middlesex, Virginia in October 1988, during the Bush/Dukakis election. We first find our guide, Donnie, asleep one early morning in the middle of a hilltop road overlooking this quiescent town. Slowly waking up and realizing he has slept there all night, Donnie jumps on his bike and heads home, as not to be late for school. At home it is explained that Donnie is on medication for some unspecified mental condition, which seems to be the cause of his somnambulism. This medical explanation, however, makes it no less frightening when Donnie is awakened the next night by a strange, eerie voice, led to the middle of a golf course, then told the world is going to end in a little over 28 days and that it is up to him to stop this destruction. Donnie returns home the next morning to find that a jet engine has mysteriously fallen from the sky straight into his room, which, if not for his absence, would have killed him. Strangely the jet engine is never claimed by an airline and no crashes are reported. Even stranger, however, are the new and vivid insights Donnie suddenly has about the future and the answers he uncovers regarding the mysteries of life, fate, time travel, and death. As the 28 days until doomsday tick by, Donnie’s quiet town is turned upside down while all the metaphysical qualities that we regularly take for granted are taken on an exhilarating and confounding ride.

The visual styling and twisted narrative of DONNIE DARKO make surface comparisons to David Lynch jump out. However, first-time writer and director Richard Kelly’s style functions to analyze not what is just below the surface of the mundane (as Lynch does) but what controls and makes possible everything about life, no matter how mundane. And for Donnie, these questions of control and fate start showing up everywhere: when the new girl sits next to him, when fiction becomes reality, when the physics of space and time begin to visualize themselves right before his eyes. The difficulties of his situation slowly remedy themselves through the forms of scientific understanding and keen insight, as the 28 days quickly pass. And as mysteries of fate and world destruction unfold before Donnie, the modes of understanding through which such complex situations would normally be channeled break down, leaving one with an irking feeling that something is askew. It’s both frustrating and intriguing, much like the moment in between when your metaphysical wondering ceases and consciousness again dominates. In those moments, which seem so profound at the time but meaningless only moments later, we experience thoughts that aren’t quite rational but still function via their own rules of logic and scientific validity that seem to define the limits of thought, rationality, and life. But ultimately it is the viewer’s discrimination to decide whether the rules by which these discrete and far-reaching moments connect are those of metaphysical truth or a rambling subjective interpretation through the eyes of a 15-year-old paranoid schizophrenic.

It will be argued that this film is too ambitious for a debut, that too many ideas are being articulated, that too many strings are left untied. However, had the film been conventionally tied together, it would have lost the very quality that it hoped to create: a sense of confusion and negotiation of life as seen through the eyes of a 15-year-old boy, who hopes—much like we all did at that age—to define the limits of life. I hope I have not given too much away. I don’t believe I have and, in fact, feel as though I have left far too much out. My suggestion, then, is go see the film. You may find that I have provided a sufficient breakdown and interesting interpretation. However, you may also find that I have led you astray and that am I talking about a completely different movie than the one you saw—which just might be the case.

—Eric Vanstrom

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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