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Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a bright but delusional teenager with a vivid imagination, who lives in suburbia with his caring parents (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne). One night while sleepwalking, his bedroom is destroyed when a huge airline engine falls out of the sky. After this, he is visited by his imaginary friend Frank, a grotesque six foot rabbit, who prophesises the end of the world. In the meantime Donnie befriends new girl Gretchen (Jena Malone), whose family is in a witness protection program. And at school, when the English teacher’s (Drew Barrymore) reading list is criticised, self-help guru Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) is employed to raise the students’ self-esteem. But strange things start to happen.

Review by Louise Keller:
Donnie Darko is a special film. An engrossing and stimulating exploration of reality, it is a dark and mesmerising fantasy trip in the neverland between fear and love. It’s a perplexing work in many ways, yet it intrigues for its entirety with its see-saw of gloom and doom, as we count down to the expected world’s end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. The ingredients are simply fascinating. What about Donnie’s imaginary friend – the giant deformed rabbit? Then there’s the mysterious recluse Grandma Death who is waiting for a letter; the liquid snake-like spears that negotiate their way from protrusions of the chest; the intrigues of time travel with its portals and wormholes; the high profile guru who leaves his television platform… Donnie is a super bright teen who doesn’t really fit in at school or at home. Is it because he isn’t taking his medication that his schizophrenia is isolating him? Is he drawn to the new girl Gretchen or is it her family’s troubled past that allows him past the superficial threshold? When he tells her his name and she says ‘What kind of name is that; it sounds like a superhero!’ He replies: ‘What makes you think that I’m not?’ 

We first meet Donnie as he is lying asleep in the middle of a deserted road at the break of day. The sky is pale blue and a pink haze borders the horizon beyond the dove grey mountain peaks. As he returns to his ‘life’, we too become caught up in Donnie’s world: people are rushing but we hear no sound. This is where Michael Andrews’ soundtrack comes in, with its eclectic phrases and ethereal passages. It’s a nebulous journey, but as we walk the tight rope between light and dark, it is easy to be seduced. Jake Gyllenhaal captures every complex nuance as the disturbed protagonist whose ultimate fear is to be alone. The role is not unlike that in The Good Girl, and is equally satisfying. Drew Barrymore’s primary involvement is as executive producer; her role as teacher is somewhat insignificant. But Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves) makes her mark as the concerned parent. The journey is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, when you don’t know what the picture should look like and nothing will prepare you for the devastating climax. It’s an enthralling film, and like Donnie Darko himself, you can let your imagination soar.

It’s an accomplished achievement for a first-time director and Richard Kelly’s intelligent script and direction keeps this low-budget independent film beautifully on track with its themes of life and death. We meet Kelly with star Jake Gyllenhaal in one of the two audio commentaries on the DVD. This is the kind of film that benefits enormously from a good commentary, giving a good insight into not only the actual shooting of the film, but the thought process behind it. (The access to the commentaries is through the Set Up menu, not the Special Features.) The deleted and extended scenes are well presented with optional commentary, which allow us to view it in context. There’s an extended version of the scene when Donnie first meets Frank, and as Kelly explains in his commentary, this scene was cut because he felt it was important to leave the mystery open to interpretation rather than over-explain.

‘Retro-futuristic’ is how Kelly describes Michael Andrew’s score, and Mad World, as performed by Gary Jules, is a terrific music clip and the tune and lyrics simply haunts:
‘And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad
Dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you I find it hard to take
People run in circles - it’s a very mad world, mad world.’

Published July 3, 2003

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CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone, Noah Wyle

DIRECTOR: Richard Kelly

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Director & Actors Commentary, Deleted/extended scenes with optional director commentary; ‘cunning visions’ infomercials; The Philosophy of Time Travel book; Website Gallery; Mad World music video; Art gallery & production stills; cast and crew information; theatrical trailer & tv spots;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Madman/AV Channel (Sell-thru)

DVD RELEASE: July 3, 2003 (sell-thru)

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