Having recently enjoyed its 15th Anniversary, Donnie Darko is more than a good candidate for a Secret Cave write-up. While it’s gotten a bit of a bad rep lately as a teen-angst movie with dark mystery enough to entice in the Emo crowd, what lies within is actually an intricate sci-fi jaunt of rich detail. Despite its generally positive reviews and cult following, it’s still an extremely underrated movie – since most go along with its mystery without ever expecting to truly fathom its machinations. The ending of Donnie Darko, for example, is not open to interpretation as many often claim. Donnie, our protagonist, is no more insane than the whole story was a dream, but how important that is i’ll come to later.
At one point, and I was admittedly thirteen years old, Donnie Darko was my favourite film of all time. It’s long been dethroned by its more permanent successor in Blade Runner, but I cannot and will not disregard my passionate, youthful exuberance for it. I had a point, it’s a bloody incredible film – and probably the best i’d yet seen at that diminutive stage of development. Indeed, it was that unbound love which led me to the movie’s official website at the time; a forward-thinking labyrinth that could easily be described as a proto-alternate reality game (of the kind marketing types are already sick of). Without that website, and the ways it expanded on the movie, it would be extremely hard to get all the answers. There may now be archived versions of the site, or perhaps written interpretations of it, but I doubt that the magic of that internet corner could be truly recreated.
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) himself is a young high-school student with undefined mental illnesses. Extremely intelligent, yet highly rebellious and somewhat anti-establishment, he finds himself – as many have – alienated by his environment. Set in 1980s America, it paints an incredibly detailed picture which spans its tendrils out to the time’s politics, sports, music and sociology with impressive care. We’re shown a vividly faithful slice of middle-class life in the states before it’s quickly smashed apart by quirk and darkness. Whether a figment of Darko’s imagination or not, Frank (James Duval), a demented figure in a warped bunny costume, seems to haunt him, making odd statements and predictions about the end of the world.
When Frank apparently manages to save Darko from a plane’s engine smashing through his roof, the suburbia that once seemed so balanced quickly unravels. Led to extreme anarchy at the behest of Frank, Donnie begins to deconstruct the zeitgeist around him – revealing a treasured figurehead to be a paedophile, terrorising his school and all along the way falling deeper into a cycle of self-discovery and sci-fi time travel tunnels. It’s best not to reveal too much of the film’s intricacies, but things take a surprising turn as we learn of the exact nature of Frank and his manipulation of Donnie. What at first feels all too pedestrian and comfortable quickly descends into an epic tale of rips in the space time continuum and the quantum truths behind life.
Donnie Darko genuinely is as deep as all that too, but it does it in such a deliberately subtle way that it can be genuinely impossible to get a solid grasp on its happenings without significant outside research. What’s especially remarkable is how enjoyable the film is regardless. While I may have made it sound painfully incomprehensible, it’s a journey that’s tough to not get caught up in and endeared by. By the end, its conclusion is profound and moving even if you don’t understand its implications entirely, and I speak from personal experience. Whether it’s the pure quality of Gary Jules’ understated version of Mad World or it really is just masterpiece of the moment, it’s a truly memorable ending that’s certain to stir something in its viewers every time.
It’s a movie that’s a fun idiosyncrasy at the very least, and well worth anyone’s time. Its humour and relatable characters help it cut through boundaries, meaning you needn’t pore over scientific curiosities to enjoy it. Having said that, it’s definitely something that will reward those who want to jump further into its tangle. Donnie Darko is just a fantastic film, and one that isn’t often remembered as a sci-fi classic. Much more than an intelligent thriller about madness, give it another run if you only saw it once on it’s initial release. Worth watching purely for an unbelievably good OST and licensed music, there’s something of rich quality to take from almost every corner of Donnie Darko.
The original Donnie Darko site which this article mentions can be found and enjoyed HERE!