Revisiting Donnie Darko last night, I came away with some ideas about the film that I think may be worth considering. First off, is that Donnie Darko is so much more than its perplexing narrative, its an exploration of an upside down world as seen by a sensitive kid. Donnie, a latter-day, modern Holden Caufield, as the central eponymous character, is the embodiment of teenage rebellion and angst, awash in a tsunami of hormones, which explains a lot about the film’s almost universal appeal.
The original film Donnie Darko is a 2001 (presumably) science fiction film written and directed by Richard Kelly. It stars an almost unrecognizable-because- he’s-so-young Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Kathryn Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The film follows the adventures of the troubled title character as he seeks the meaning behind his Doomsday-related visions. The director’s cut is about 20 minutes longer with most of the original’s cut scenes restored along with some additional material added by the director.
As far as the film’s narrative goes I consider it pretty much a masterpiece of the surreal, in the manner of David Lynch. Kelly’s ability to take every day events and a portrayal of life in the suburbs and turn it into something anything but normal by revealing it as being something quite disquieting, squeamishness inducing, and nightmarish is remarkable. He has the remarkable ability to show us just how bizarre, and creepy life, and what people consider normal can be, seemingly without effort.
Donnie is all intelligent people at some point in our lives, only much better at expressing it for someone his age, despite being somewhat of a rebel without a clue. His perceptive reflexive, response to a world where bullshit and ignorance rules is what makes him so appealing. Although his dark response to the situation is misguided as hell. If we all responded to the real world like he does, impulsively indulging his subconscious without any moral standards in place, well that’s pretty much the definition of anarchy, and would spell the end of a tolerable social environment.
Donnie does have some positive impulses too, but they are dominated by the rest. In movies, there is turning point in the lives of characters, where a mentor shows up to offer guidance and steer the lost individual onto a better path. However real life is not like the movies and this story is about what happens when that mentor or guide simply doesn’t show up. His therapist drops the ball big time.
I sometimes even question if the films perplexing story isn’t just a distraction to camouflage what the film’s real message, a message about living in world where everyone just goes along with the status quo, and takes things for granted that simply shouldn’t be taken for granted. Things like the little lies we all tell to avoid a confrontation or a misunderstanding, or the widespread social traditions that need to be changed, that nobody speaks of. The little mean things we do and say that make the world such a crappy experience for so many. The social habits and expectations that have so many scrambling for some sort of prescribed, or self medication, just so they can cope.
The film is highly regarded and a well established cult classic, but it may be for reasons that a lot of people may not be aware of or even consider. One thing’s for certain, it never fails to be entertaining. Donnie Darko’s puzzling plot is a challenge possibly without a solution, a Rubik’s Cube rigged to be impossible to solve. Its also so much more.