Teenage boy Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives with his
family - mom (Mary McDonnell), dad (Holmes Osborne) and 2
sisters (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase) - in typical smalltown America.
And as if that wasn't already bad enough, he's on medication and is in therapy (with
doc Katherine Ross) because his emotional
problems (which once caused him to burn down a house) cause him to have visions of
a giant rabbit called Frank that tells him the world is going to end soon,
to sleepwalk and constantly wake up outside, and they cause small disasters (an
airplane engine crashing into his family's house while he's out, his school being
flooded) happening around him. Soon it seems clear to Donnie that
time travel is the key to all of this.
Actually a local old and absent-minded
woman called Grandma Death (Patience Cleveland) has written about it all
when she was younger and even described the wormholes Donnie sees
emerging out of everybody like some liquid columns. Unfortunately,
besides his girlfriend Gretchen (Jena Malone), who with her mom is on
flight from her abusive stepfather, noone believes him - everyone just
thinks only more medication could be the solution to his problems, or
even phony self help guru James Cunningham (Patrick Swayze).
Donnie, at Frank's request, burns down Cunningham's house, and among the rubble evidence of that man's involvement in a
child porn ring is found and he is arrested. Despite this small
success for Donnie though, the end of the world is still approaching - rapidly.
And at his Halloween party, only 6 hours away from the end of the
world, Donnie thinks he has finally put together all the pieces of the
puzzle and that Grandma Death does indeed hold the key to it all - but
when he and Gretchen arrive at her house, they are violently attacked, and
finally Gretchen is run over by a car, a car driven by Frank (James
Duval), who turns out to be not an imaginary rabbit creature after all but a
normal teen in a Halloween outfit. In anger, Donnie shoots Frank,
then drives off with Gretchen's corpse to await the end of the world, and
when it is here to dive into one of the wormholes, "... to a
place much better" - as Gretchen has once put it.
But how much
better can that place be (as a matter of fact, how can you tell)? He
goes back in time to the point when the airplane engine hit his house,
only this time he is in the house ... and dies.
A film that
does somewhat fall apart: Part schmaltzy coming of age drama à la Dead
Poets' Society (though it is not quite as awful as that movie), part
inventive sci-fi-horror drama, part art movie, part unimaginative
David-Lynch-by-the-numbers. And these parts do not necessarily go well
together, as a matter of fact, little effort is done to really blend
them with one another, which is reflected in the editing which ever so
often fades out of one scene only to fade into another that has no
connection to the previous one altogether. Plus, many a character we could
have done without - like Drew Barrymore's liberal English teacher, who in
the end loses against the conservative school system is nothing more
than a weak caricature that doesn't make sense for the main narrative as such
(actually it seems to have been put in to give the movie's name
executive producer something to do), or Donnie's parents, who, the longer
the movie runs, seem to become less and less fleshed out. Also,
Jake Gyllenhaal seems to be a competent actor, but he totally lacks the
charisma a central character of such a movie would badly need.
be honest, the movie might not be too bad compared to the rubbish
Hollywood used to put out at its time - but considering Hollywood's usual horrible output from
the early 2000's, that's not saying much.