Donnie Darko (released in 2001) is definitely a movie that stays with you for a while and makes you want to see it at least couple of times, to catch every little detail and twist. There is so much going on under the surface plot of time travel, parallel universes and a giant bunny rabbit (yes, there is one). Written and directed by Richard Kelly, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, and Patrick Swayze, Donnie Darko is a thought-provoking mind twister of a movie with a fascinating social commentary.
Taking place in 1988, the story centers around Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a teenager who is thought to be troubled and who is seeing a psychiatrist. One night, he is drawn outside by a voice which belongs to Frank, a giant bunny rabbit, who tells Donnie the exact date of the end of the world. At school, Donnie befriends Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), who seems to be one of very few people to really understand him. Meanwhile, Frank makes Donnie do some questionable things, and also tells him about time travel. As Donnie learns more and more about parallel time lines and the end of the world nears, the movie inevitably heads for its surprising conclusion.
While time travel might seem the main focus (there is even a mentioning of Steven Hawking’s theories in one scene), there are several sub-plots running through the movie. One of them involves Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), a motivational speaker who at one point comes to Donnie’s school. His character represents everything Donnie opposes, and helps to see that the conflict of the movie is pretty much Donnie against the society (Gretchen seems to be the only one who really understands him). Yet another sub-plot deals with a short story Donnie’s English class is reading and how some of Donnie’s actions mirror the story. These are only few examples – the movie is full of fascinating details and things to ponder over.
The cast is able to make every character to stand out in his or her own way. Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal playing siblings is a nice touch. Jake Gyllenhaal does a great job portraying his unstable yet very intelligent character. Patrick Swayze gives an interesting performance, as does Drew Barrymore, as an English teacher. Frank almost looks menacing in some scenes, with his rather unusual bunny rabbit costume. There is also a lot to enjoy in the soundtrack, and I have to especially point out Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World” by Tears for Fears accompanying a montage near the very end of the movie.
I highly recommend watching the director’s cut which has more crucial information added and just makes more sense than the theatrical version.