Cult Classics: Donnie Darko


Dani Klemes, web editor-in-chief 

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For all the film freaks and movie buffs out there, “Donnie Darko” is another gem to add to your ever-growing shrine of silver screen treasures. Written and directed by Richard Kelly, the film has earned itself a place among other “cult classics”: films rich with an elaborate subculture of repeated viewings and loyal followings.

Set in sleepy Middlesex, Va., in the late 1980s, the film follows the strange encounters of a pseudo-schizophrenic teenager, Donnie Darko (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who is haunted by nocturnal visits from a bizarre rabbit. More simply put, “Donnie Darko” is the story of a boy who, with the aid of a 6-foot bunny from the future, sets out to save the world from its death sentence on Oct. 30, 1988. After a 747 jet engine inexplicably falls through Darko’s bedroom, the film diverges into a world of complexity, embracing the controversial theories of time travel and wormholes.

The film is, without a doubt, as intriguing as movies come. An elderly recluse (known to the neighborhood as Grandma Death) makes endless round trips to her mailbox for a letter that never comes. A futuristic bunny rabbit (known as Frank) manipulates Darko to commit a series of crimes as he sleepwalks around the neighborhood. Nothing makes sense, but at the same time, everything sort of fits together in a weirdly intricate way.

There is much that goes unexplained, though. Kelly labors to fuse science fiction with foreboding comedy and though the setup of the movie is enthralling, the upshot is less so. Kelly spends the entire film weaving together different ideas about loopholes and time travel and though entertaining, the distorted narrative spirals beyond comprehension. The movie builds up to a point where everything you thought you knew is wrong. Kelly undoubtedly executes the climactic scenes with great prowess, but by the end of the film, there is a sense of emptiness—it almost feels like the film isn’t over.

With its disturbing elements and bizarre undertones, “Donnie Darko” is by all means unique. Constantly shifting between the primary universe and the tangent universe (the movie’s term for a parallel universe), the film provides a forum for the audience to question the differences between reality and fiction. As a whole, “Donnie Darko” is a masterpiece on all scales: a good cast (including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore), a good story and a great soundtrack (featuring a minimalist version of Tears for Fears’s frequently circulated “Mad World”). While the payoff of the plot is a bit of a disappointment, Kelly’s bold experimentation warrants the film an 8.5 out of 10.

For a 2001 film, “Donnie Darko” succeeds in providing viewers with thought-provoking entertainment. If you weren’t into parallel universes and time rifts before, be prepared to probe into the dangerously enticing world that is “Donnie Darko”.