Donnie Darko is a thought-provoking, touching and distinctive offering from relative newcomer, Richard Kelly (II). It’s 1988 in small-town America and Donnie, a disturbed teenager on medication and undergoing psychoanalysis for his blackouts and personality disorders, is being visited by a being in a rabbit suit whom he calls Frank. It’s this anti-Harvey that saves Donnie from being crushed to death when an airplane engine falls from the sky onto his house. This is the beginning of their escalating relationship, which, as Donnie follows Frank’s instructions, becomes increasingly violent and destructive. Added to this is Frank’s warning of the impending apocalypse and Donnie’s realisation that he can manipulate time, leading to a startling denouement where nearly everything becomes clear.
“Nearly everything”, because Donnie Darko is a darkly comic, surreal journey in which themes of space, time and morality are interwoven with a classic coming-of-age story of a teenage boy’s struggle to understand the world around him. The film leaves the viewer with more questions than it answers, but then that’s part of its charm. Performances are superb: Jake Gyllenhaal underplays the mixed-up kid role superbly and Donnie’s episodes of angst positively erupt out of the screen. There are also some starry cameos from Mary McDonnell as Donnie’s long-suffering mother, Patrick Swayze as Jim Cunningham, the personal-development guru with a terrible secret, and Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore as Donnie’s progressive teachers. Undoubtedly too abstruse for some tastes, Donnie Darko‘s balance of outstanding performances with intelligent dialogue and a highly inventive story will reward those looking for something more highbrow than the average teenage romp. –Kristen Bowditch