I guess two decades after I first (and until recently, only) saw the mystery sci-fi drama that the then 25-year-old Richard Kelly made his debut at Sundance, I decided to take another look at this iconic film, which I remember being extremely annoying at the time. Instead of the original version, only after watching “Donnie Darko” did I realize that it was the director’s version, twenty minutes longer, which still does not provide answers to the many questions of this strange, bizarre, mysterious, surrealistic film, but offers a marvelous journey into one, to say the least. , a twisted film. Although Kelly himself described his film as “The Catcher in the Rye as told by Philip K. Dick”, “Donnie Darko” is a film that was clearly made under the great influence of David Lynch.
From the opening scenes of the film, which is set in October 1988 in a typical American suburb that seems to have been copied from Lynch’s “Blue Velvet”, it is the film that captures attention. Kelly continues this twisting of American stereotypes about seemingly idyllic and peaceful lives in those small, quiet places where nothing ever happens and young people are just waiting to leave. But the film is also about mental illnesses, because it quickly becomes clear to us that the title character, a high school freak in the role that torpedoed the career of the then 20-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal, is a paranoid schizophrenic or something from a similar range of diagnoses. There is also his almost typical middle-class American middle-class family. While Donnie is an aloof weirdo, his older sister Elizabeth (Jake’s sister Maggie Gyllenhaal) is more popular. Father Eddie is a typical conservative from the interior of America, while mother Rose (Mary McDonnell) is one of those women who subordinated everything to her husband and family, although it is clear that she wanted more from life.
The story begins when, just like in “Magnolia”, something happens to the Darko family that in theory should never happen. The plane’s engine fell on their house during the night, and everyone miraculously survived. The biggest miracle is that Donnie survived because the motorcycle fell on his room, but a few minutes earlier, this teenager was awakened from his sleep by a mysterious voice that took him outside the house. There he realized that behind that voice is someone in a grotesque, creepy costume of a huge rabbit who calls himself Frank and he will specify to Donnie that in exactly 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds the world will end. The labile and fragile Donnie, who we will understand has already had mental problems, will be completely manipulated by the mysterious rabbit and lead to a series of criminal acts.
It is a dark film that has been trying to be interpreted in various ways for 20 years, to decipher and find out what the poet actually wanted to say. One of the charms of “Donnie Darko” and films like it is that there is no unequivocal and precise answer and that everyone can interpret certain segments and the conclusion the way they think. It is a film that, apart from mental illnesses, also deals with existentialism and anxiety, which are mixed with quantum physics and science fiction, chaos theory, and at one point the rabbit tells Donnie that destruction is a form of creation. The film is also about social hypocrisy and the inability of Donnie’s parents, especially his father, to admit that their son suffers from a mental illness, even though he himself is aware that there are many things wrong with him.
The film is about the stigma that the mental illness of a family member leaves on the same family, which views something that is an illness as a shame, a punishment and a curse. Something that is best not to talk about and pretend that there are no problems, because then the problems will probably disappear. But what is best of all, when the film comes to an end, almost all the theories we developed while watching it fall into the water. In a brutal way, “Donnie Darko” subverts and even deconstructs the ideal of a peaceful, conservative and quiet life in the suburbs where everyone is good and friendly. Almost all the characters are portrayed somewhat cynically, grotesquely, so the main face in the place is the motivational speaker and what we would call today the self-help guru Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), a slob who is especially adored by women from that middle-class environment.
Drew Barrymore is a young English and literature teacher who tries to instill in young people the desire to think critically and not take for granted what is served to them, which is why her contract at the school will not be extended. She is in a relationship with a physics professor who will draw Donnie’s attention to the book “The Philosophy of Time Travel” written by a former teacher, now an old woman whom everyone considers a senile madwoman. At the same time that an airplane engine will fall on the Darko family’s house, Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), also a withdrawn loner who will quickly bond with Donnie, will move into their place.
In the story, Kelly put a lot of what he himself experienced while growing up in a similar town in Virginia, and immediately after the premiere at Sundance, “Donnie Darko” reached cult status. Eight years later, without Kelly’s participation in the creation of the film, the disastrous and completely failed sequel “S. Darko” was shot, and for some time now it has been rumored that Kelly is working on a sequel to the film that made him a star overnight. However, the status and expectations that he raised with the first film, Kelly later did not even come close to justifying. Later, he made only a few completely nonsensical films, for which it is hard to even think that they were made by a visionary who designed a film like “Donnie Darko”.