'Donnie Darko' Movie Still

There are very few new movies being released right now, which provides a rare opportunity to catch up on all the movies you’ve been meaning to watch. I’ve been taking advantage of this opportunity over the last few weeks, using these “Rewind Reviews” to share my experiences.

Last week, I started by watching “Avatar,” which I found somewhat disappointing. This week, I decided to check out a film various friends of mine have been recommending for years now — “Donnie Darko.”

“Donnie Darko,” released in 2001 and directed by Richard Kelly, stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Duval and Patrick Swayze. The story follows the titular character Donnie as he weaves his way through strange and existential scenarios. Donnie is a troubled teen haunted by visions of a figure in a disturbing rabbit suit. This figure, who goes by the name of Frank, manipulates Donnie to commit several serious crimes. Donnie is constantly questioning what he’s experiencing and the explanations those around him are providing, specifically by acting up and debating the beliefs of authority figures at his school, all of which are only exacerbated by Frank’s chilling predictions of the world ending.

So, needless to say, “Donnie Darko” is a weird movie. It’s the kind of movie that consistently throws curveballs at its audience, each more off-putting than the last. It’s never really clear what’s real, what’s a dream or what meaning there is — or isn’t — behind everything.

I absolutely loved it.

“Donnie Darko” is entrancing. Watching Donnie slowly delve further into his deteriorating psyche has an almost hypnotic effect. Donnie makes increasingly violent decisions, and yet it feels as though he’s not actually controlling them. Donnie simply flows through his own dreamlike story, willingly accepting and acting in whatever way the universe (and Frank) tells him to. Frank worms his way into Donnie’s head, causing him to question anything and everything around him, all while struggling with the fear and acceptance of what he believes to be his upcoming death. 

“Donnie Darko” is a very existential story. It’s constantly asking the audience to not only question their own beliefs, but the intentions of the institutions that taught those beliefs as well. Through the hypnotic atmosphere the film creates, the audience has no choice but to ponder what’s real and what isn’t. The audience is a willing subject to the eclectic vision of “Donnie Darko,” and as a result, the viewer is left in awe of the odd tale that is told — even if it does get a bit confusing along the way. The film is consistently weaving new twists and layers into the plot, each of which is so precisely timed and confusing that it keeps the viewer absolutely enthralled.

“Donnie Darko” offers an experience, not unlike a strange, off-the-wall dream that would wake you up in the middle of the night.

It’s perplexing, and it leaves the viewer stuck in a near-existential crisis. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, and I’d be lying if I said I understood everything that was happening. Yet, I can say for certain it makes for an absolutely tremendous experience.