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Donnie Darko (2001)
Director: Richard Kelley
review by Trent Walters
Juggling either illusion-reality or time-paradoxes by themselves can get tricky. Most works concern themselves with one or the other. Donnie Darko attempts to master both, and in the attempt becomes one of the most magnificent and moving failures among the lesser pictures that tackle only one. Unlike Memento, another amazing failure, Donnie Darko has an internal story integrity.
Donnie Darko is your everyday hyperbolically-intelligent yet psychologically-disturbed kid. Despite not TPing or egging houses since the sixth grade, Donnie takes medicine. Then, at midnight on October 2nd, 1988, at the age of 16, an evil-looking bunny summoned Donnie outside to tell him the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie awakes on a golf course to find the numbers scrawled on his arm and his room back at home demolished by a jet engine. As he plumbs the dimensions of the fourth, the ruling mongrel world around him over-simplifies the world down to the one-dimensional line between fear and love, Republicans and Democrats. While Donnie reasons out the possibility of time travel with his high school physics teacher and Roberta Sparrow and Stephen Hawking, he continues to follow the destruction (or Graham Greene�s vision of a Hellerian Catch-22 construction) course of the bunny's instructions to bust a main water pipe in the school and to burn a house down. Too many people die in the destructive wake that Donnie has to make the ultimate destruction (observe the marquee to reveal what kind) in order to create a construction that sadly doesn't improve the world much - the touching moment that makes Donnie laugh as the somber music lyrics tell him it's a 'Mad World.'
Most impressive is Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as Donnie Darko, which covers an incredible breadth of emotions and psychologies. His lips are fascinating to watch curl into slow, devious grins. It should be obvious from similar gestures that casting chose well with whom must be his real-life sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Elizabeth Darko.
The refreshingly realistic characterisation parallels the theme that refuses to allow the media-popularized simple division of politics and personalities. The Republican party holds both irrational whackos like Mrs Farmer, the P.E. teacher, and the bemused rationality of Donnie's father. Nor do Donnie's enemies share a common ground, i.e. Mrs Farmer reciprocally loathes the students that antagonize Donnie and his girlfriend. No quick and easy straw-man characters for Richard Kelley, writer and director. The movie doesn't devolve to one-sided politics, either, but a personal view that interrogates death and our role in its unraveling.
The emotional knockout finale dwarfs the failures in illusion-reality and time-paradoxes but they're important to point out. Kelly's movie appears to attempt to straddle the line between illusion and reality but cannot prevent the movie's probable fall toward illusion, making the viewer question which is the true reality: First, no one else sees the bunny despite its appearance to Donnie before his sister and therapist. Second, the physics is mistaken in that it requires more than a speedy vessel to create a wormhole, therefore, indicating that, despite his supposed lack of belief, God opens the portal for him. Third, the time-paradox comes to into play whenever a future self tries to change its past; if it changes the past, then the future self will never appear to change the past so the past never gets changed. In the end, one must accept Donnie Darko as a science fantasy, the power of which has rarely or ever been visited upon this film genre. If you give up on untangling the paradoxes, apparently donniedarko.com stands as an epilogue to the movie. By all means, put this on your must-see list.
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