Found below are three reviews of Richard Kelly’s 2001 film, Donnie Darko, written by Lewis University students Hannah Cross, Megan O’Brien, and Joseph Pryzdia.
Donnie Darko, directed by Richard Kelly, sends its audience down the rabbit hole (almost literally) into a twisted idea of time travel. The movie is suspenseful and brilliant as it alludes to other great works, notably: Alice in Wonderland. Donnie is followed by a white rabbit, which is the basis for his hallucinations and visions throughout the film. This movie’s genre lies somewhere in the spectrum of mystery, sci-fi, and teen angst in the John Waters tradition. The audience can easily relate to the feelings that Donnie has about being the outcast, not only in school but also in his family. Its satirical elements bring out some of the darker and dry humor in the movie. The canted cinematography and jagged editing of this film add to the eerie, chaotic, and unsettling feelings to the audience. While the majority of scenes are bright and colorful, every scene with the rabbit becomes visibly dark and muted by design to foreshadow the impending dark side of the film.
Spoiler Alert: My favorite aspect of Donnie Darko is its allusion to Alice in Wonderland. As a fan of both films now, I see how it works as a twist to bring an element of intertextuality. Those allusions metaphorically represent how Donnie “fell down the rabbit hole.” At first watch, Donnie Darko seems cynical, but delving into the plot and chronological events in context, it becomes almost refreshing. Donnie’s death at the end exemplifies the butterfly effect; one small change at any point in time can impact the rest of the universe.
Have you ever been so confused by a movie you walk out of it still not really knowing what happened? For me, that is how I feel about the 2001 film Donnie Darko. At first, I tried to solve the puzzles the filmmakers presented to us, but once the concept of time travel was introduced I knew I was never going to solve anything. Time travel is one of those things where if I think too hard about it I’ll eventually go down the rabbit hole of no return. Now, I won’t spoil the film as I feel you need to experience it in all of its mind-numbingly bizarre glory.
The film has many different genres in play from science fiction to action to drama, but the most unique thing is that director Richard Kelly fits in a coming of age story along with everything else that is going on. The fact that this part of the movie works so well is in thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Donnie. He is genuinely creepy with his twisted smile, but the most impressive aspect is that Gyllenhaal grounds the film in reality through his performance. Donnie experiences common human emotions like the fear of being alone and Gyllenhaal is so vulnerable in those moments that the audience cannot help but relate to him. The scene where he completely breaks down in his therapist’s arms when he is talking about his loneliness is genuinely heartbreaking.
The lighting works to set the mood of the film. The narrative is really mysterious and the lighting (or lack of lighting) reflects that. In particular, the scenes with Donnie and Frank are always in darkness to reflect the dark nature of Frank and how Donnie is stepping into it through Frank. This also adds to the question if Frank is only a hallucination since the audience always sees him in shadow. The lack of answers is frustrating, but if the goal of Richard Kelly was to thoroughly blow his audience’s minds then it was a success.
Donnie Darko is one of the most sincerely abstract films I have personally seen. After watching this film nothing really comes to mind as comparable, but it is unmistakably riveting trying to make sense of its insatiable bizarreness. Following Donnie, a woefully disturbed teenager plagued with what seems to be a tendency for schizophrenic episodes, we bear witness to his unsettling thoughts & hallucinations of a semi-imaginary figure known as Frank. Emphasizing “semi-imaginary”, Frank is a grown man in a grotesquely disturbing bunny rabbit costume that is representative of the scarring imagery of childhood nightmares, or for that matter adult nightmares. Frank is seemingly out to harm Donnie as we see from the uncivil acts he persuades him to commit. But, was his corruptive persuasion really just guidance?
Throughout the film, Donnie is struck with feelings reflective of the infinitesimal boundaries of his existence and is left, as we all are, to come to terms with our place amongst the immensity of the universe. The film further draws upon mystifying questions related to the flow of time and how it appears to position us within its limits. However, the ending of Donnie Darko leaves one obsessing over the possibilities of the nature of time & existence. How do we as individuals relate to the universe? Do any of us as individuals really earn the right to say we are more significant compared to anyone else? Does god exist? Donnie Darko does not provide answers to any of these questions but is thrilling in its presentation of them.
Hannah Cross, a Senior at Lewis University in Aviation Flight with a minor in Aviation Administration, originally hails from the Indianapolis area. Going to the movies on a Friday night with friends from her hometown lead to her love for and interest in films. Her favorite movies include Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Shawshank Redemption. Cross golfs on the NCAA Division II Lewis Flyers team and currently serves as President of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) student organization. Her passions include flying, listening to punk rock, and playing with her puppies at home
Megan O’Brien is a junior at Lewis University majoring in Radio/TV Broadcasting as well as minoring in Film Studies. When she is not binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy, she works as a tutor at the University’s Writing Center and as a swim instructor at her local fitness center. In her spare time, she enjoys reading fantasy novels, watching movies and TV shows, swimming, and spending time with her friends and family.
Joe Pryzdia is a senior at Lewis University currently completing his B.S. in Environmental Science. He is a member of the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society and is someone who enjoys volunteering for habitat conservation efforts close to his home in the surrounding Joliet area. Although still planning for his life upon completing graduation, he is interested in returning to school to eventually pursue a career in ecology or another related field aimed at preserving the environment. Aside from school, Joe spends the majority of his free time playing guitar, walking his dogs Walter & Bernie, and sharing any of his remaining time with friends.