STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Katharine Ross

2001, 122 Minutes, Directed by: Richard Kelly

Description: Jake Gyllenhaal (October Sky) stars as Donnie, a borderline-schizophrenic adolescent for whom there is no difference between the signs and wonders of reality (a plane crash that decimates his house) and hallucination (a man-sized, reptilian rabbit who talks to him). Obsessed with the science of time travel and acutely aware of the world around him, Donnie is isolated by his powers of analysis and the apocalyptic visions that no one else seems to share.

Early on in Donnie Darko we see a character reading a Stephen King novel. This is a good indication of what is to come: Donnie Darko is the sort of thing Stephen King might have written before he started regurgitating his old material ad nauseam, something he has easily done for the past 15 years or so. That is, if Stephen King grew obsessed with metaphysical issues regarding what constitutes reality.

The director of Donnie Darko described his movie as The Catcher in the Rye as written by Philip K. Dick, which is pretty accurate I suppose. It's about a teenager growing up in the late 1980s (1988 to be exact), who is warned by five-foot giant bunny rabbit named Frank that the world will come to an end within the month.

The teenager (the titular Donnie Darko) might be schizophrenic it is hinted: ominously he stopped taking his medication and he is seeing a shrink. Is the bunny rabbit (a truly scary figure - not to be confused with any preconceptions of cuddly bunny rabbits you might have) real? Is the world really coming to an end? Or is Donnie just loosing it?

Within ten minutes of any movie nowadays one has a pretty good idea of how it will end. Not so with Donnie Darko, which builds up unbearable tension slowly and surely. One has a feeling of how it would be resolved, but isn't exactly sure. It is building up to something, but what exactly that would be isn't quite clear.

"Quite simply the best science fiction movie since 1998's Dark City . . ."

When the end does come around it is unexpected and, to be honest, a bit of a cop-out. The last movie I saw with such a frustrating ending was David Lynch's surreal Mulholland Drive. Despite this, the point remains that unlike most of today's movies, Donnie Darko is truly unpredictable, weird and gripping. The less one knows about the plot beforehand the better. Someone, who watched the movie with me, had only one word to describe it: "bizarre."

Which is probably the reason that Donnie Darko didn't do particularly well at the American box office. Director Robert Zemeckis (of Back to the Future fame, a movie referred to in Donnie Darko coincidentally) recently admitted in reviews that the trailers for his movies - specifically What Lies Beneath and Cast Away - gave away the endings because audiences said they preferred to know beforehand what is going to happen. I suppose this is the equivalent of ordering a burger at McDonald's: you know what you're going to get, even if it is bland and unappetising.

If you don't always want to know what you're going to get and like to be surprised occasionally, then check out Donnie Darko today: it is quite simply the best science fiction movie I have seen since 1998's Dark City, and the best horror flick since The Others . . .

This movie disappeared without a trace at the American box office in October last year, which is a shame. Donnie Darko has all the signs of a cult movie in the making however: the On-line Film Critics Society nominated it as one of their top 100 sci-fi movies of all times recently and general Internet buzz is strong.

When people are talking about this movie years from now the way they are going on about Blade Runner or Twelve Monkeys today then don't say that I didn't warn you . . .

# 36
of the
Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies
of all time


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