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Donnie Darko
2001 - R - 122 Mins.
Director: Richard Kelly
Producer: Adam Fields, Nancy Juvonen, Sean McKittrick
Written By: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase, Mary McDonnell
Review by: Jennie Kermode

ET phone home?
'Donnie Darko' is one of those genre blending pieces where the story may or may not be science fiction, depending on the perspective one takes. For this reason and others, it had difficulty finding theatrical distribution, though it gained a cult following as word of mouth spread. It also has overtones of horror and fantasy, and might be seen as a sort of reverse version of 'It's a Wonderful Life'. The film centres on the experiences of the schizophrenic title character (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) a teenager whose life is turned upside down after a close brush with death. Donnie has always had problems; but now his life is becoming stranger, more wonderful and more disturbing, all at once.

In many ways, 'Donnie Darko' harkens back to the speculative science fiction popular a century ago, with its hints of other dimensions and time travel achieved through changing one's perspective as much as through any direct manipulation of physical laws. Donnie's perspective is already unusual because of his illness, and it is embracing the ramifications of seeing the world through his eyes that allows the film to excel.

A shrewd and generous script illustrates the problems Donnie's illness cause for his family, and shows how much they love him regardless. Although his communication with others is halting and awkward, he is clearly intelligent. The story never shies away from his condition; he talks quite openly to his therapist about his fantasies and hallucinations, even the giant bunny rabbit which might be something else entirely.

As we come to identify with him, we see how insane the 'normal' world is (from racism and vandalism to self-help gurus and pre-teen pageants). There are several subplots here which are never fully resolved, but that might be the point, as there really is no way to make sense of such a world.

With a rich and unusual 1980s soundtrack, this film will be of particular interest to goths, especially those who get the Echo and the Bunnymen in-joke around which it is based. It shows no interest whatsoever in making itself accessible to the mainstream, but neither is it ostentatiously freakish to the detriment of the storyline. This is a story about someone who cannot help but be an outsider, and through this construct, it deftly enables audience members to step outside the ordinary world with Donnie, even if it's just for a couple of hours. This is rare and intelligent film making.

Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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