Donnie Darko is a sci-fi psychological thriller and coming of age movie starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal at the start of his career. The film follows a high-schooler who narrowly escapes being killed by a plane turbine crashing into his room when a giant rabbit-like figure convinces him to leave his home in the middle of the night. Feeling indebted to the rabbit for saving his life, Donnie is convinced to commit a series of crimes.
I was under the impression that the film would lean more towards the psychological thriller side and and delve into the horror genre, however the bizarre premise is translated into a surprisingly goofy film that my friend describes as a mix between Joker and Mean Girls: the character arcs of Donnie and Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker follow similar trajectories, and both Mean Girls and Donnie Darko feature high schools as primary settings with quirky teachers and humorous health classes and all-school gatherings. Despite the unusual nature of this pairing, the tone of the film is well-balanced between the darker subject matter and the dark humor.
The strange plot itself is never too ridiculous, except perhaps the very end. Even so, the conclusion of the film is still satisfying, though it is a little confusing, which admittedly could be frustrating. However, I think the film does a good job of explaining what you need to know, and not leaving the entire storyline up for interpretation and therefore overly vague. I did not initially realize how sci-fi the film really was, but all of the sci-fi elements had a place in the overall story – the elements did not distract from the story, rather, they enhanced the plot.
Gyllenhaal again shows that he is a great actor, but watching this film 20 years after it came out shows that he has always been a great actor. Gyllenhaal is eerily good at playing Donnie Darko. He plays the character as quiet and calm, but with something sinister lurking beneath – and a killer smile. The role of Donnie falls into the type of borderline deranged character Gyllenhaal often plays, however this performance sticks out because of the two-sided creepy and collected aura that the character possesses. Gyllenhaal expertly portrays Donnie’s inner conflict and nervousness, yet he exudes confidence and is menacing at the same time.
Overall, with lesser directing or acting, Donnie Darko could have been a bizarre mess and over-ambitious effort, but it is clear director Richard Kelly and all of the actors in the film cared about the project and were fully committed. Donnie Darko was a surprisingly good watch, and a perfect film to kick off October.