Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko
Directed and written by Richard Kelly
(number 393)

Finally, one of my all time top ten favourite movies of all time. I have loved Donnie Darko since I saw it in the film festival in 2002. It was very frustrating at the time because I didn’t know anyone else who had seen it in the film festival and it didn’t get a regular cinematic release in New Zealand for at least a year. I had to just… hold in all my feelings and theories and gushing about this film until other people had seen it and that was tough!

It’s a measured, beautifully shot movie which shows the weirdness of being a teenager and the dysfunction of a perfectly functional family. Jake Gyllenhaal had been in movies before this one but Donnie is definitely the role that brought him to the public eye and made his career. Plus Maggie plays his sister and the chemistry between the two of them is as real as it gets as siblings. The sniping and the insults over dinner is so incredibly perfect. Donnie and his mother, Rose have friction but she loves him unconditionally and wants the best for him no matter what.

I wanted to name my favourite sequence, because I love the music in this film and the way that Kelly patches together images to tell so much of the backstory. Buuut I couldn’t decide between these two:

Or is it Tears for Fears establishing scene of school?

I adore the subtlety of the science fiction in the film. So much of what happens could just be Donnie’s imagination or his emotional problems, but then you realise that the things Frank is telling him are true. The effects for the portals and the time spears are very beautiful.

The philosophy of time travel, whether or not there’s a god, and whether free will exists are all important themes of this movie, along with whatever it is that Donnie has – emotional problems or schizophrenia or superpowers (he does embed an axe into the head of a massive bronze school mascot)…I don’t think I can write accurately about any of them, but I love that the film explores these things and doesn’t give any straight or easy answers.

Does it make me love the people? Yes yes yes. Donnie’s father Eddie is wonderful, he laughs at inappropriate jokes, he loves his kids, he is the less together of him and his wife. Rose is bad ass, she’s vulnerable and strong and smart. Donnie is so strange and so relatable at the same time, and Gretchen is made of tragedy….. it’s a fantastic cast of genuine people in extraordinary circumstances.

Bechdel test: Yes, several times. Elizabeth and Rose talk in the opening scene about who she’s going to vote for, whether or not she is going to Harvard the next year.

Kitty Farmer also talks to Rose about their daughter’s dance troupe, which culminates in the amazing line “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!”

Best line:

Gretchen: My mom had to get a restraining order against my stepdad. He has emotional problems.
Donnie: Oh, I have those, too. What kind of emotional problems does your dad have?
Gretchen: He stabbed my mom four times in the chest.
Donnie: Oh.

but this sequence is genius:

Donnie: Well, life isn’t that simple. I mean, who cares if Ling Ling returns the wallet and keeps the money? It has nothing to do with either fear or love.
Kitty Farmer: Fear and love are the deepest of human emotions.
Donnie: Okay. But you’re not listening to me. There are other things that need to be taken into account here, like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else.
Kitty: If you don’t complete the assignment then you’ll get a zero for the day.
Kitty:… he asked me to forcibly insert the lifeline activity card into my anus!

State of Mind: Yes, I love this so much. Also. Never watch the director’s cut. Never.

Watched movie count


2 thoughts on “Donnie Darko (2001)

  1. This is such a great movie, I agree with everything you say. But was it a fluke? Richard Kelly went off the rails so quickly, first with the director’s cut, then the script for Domino and then writing & directing Southland Tales and The Box.

    • I dunno, I didn’t see Southland Tales, and I really enjoyed the Box up until he kept going from the original story. I thought it was very beautifully made – he just tried to explain that which should not have been explained.

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