Stephen King as soon as claimed that he hated highschool and doesn’t belief anybody who appears again on their teenage years with any enjoyment. In his personal phrases: “In the event you appreciated being a young person, there’s one thing incorrect with you.” Whereas I’ve fairly just a few fond recollections from my high-school days, largely as a consequence of a few lifelong friendships and a budding obsession with horror films, even I’ve to confess that it was a fully terrifying time to be alive.
Again then, films have been one among my solely sources of consolation, particularly ones with protagonists that I might relate to. Positive, I cherished John Hughes flicks as a lot as the following wannabe movie buff, however I all the time had a tough time figuring out with the happy-go-lucky teenagers that populated his tales. Nonetheless, one fateful day I came across a DVD containing some of the correct cinematic depictions of adolescence whereas I used to be on the good age to expertise it. Naturally, I’m speaking about Richard Kelly’s coming-of-age parable/surreal supernatural thriller, Donnie Darko.
2021 marked the 20 th anniversary of Kelly’s debut function, and although I’ve (gladly) been out of highschool for over a decade now, I nonetheless look again on this film as a nostalgic snapshot of a wierd second in life. Being Donnie’s age after I first watched it positively helped in connecting with teenage struggles like bullies, women and having dad and mom fear about your psychological state, however again then I used to be far more within the apocalyptic bundle that surrounded these parts. These days, it’s precisely these mundane conflicts that make me contemplate the movie a traditional.
In the event you’ve one way or the other by no means seen this genre-bending oddity, Donnie Darko follows a younger Jake Gyllenhaal because the titular Donnie, a sixteen-year-old with a historical past of emotional issues residing in a small city in the course of the ’80s. Going down throughout a single lunar month, the movie chronicles Donnie’s makes an attempt to outlive high-school whereas additionally coping with visions of a person in a creepy rabbit costume warning that the world goes to finish quickly. There’s additionally a little bit of teenage romance and some time journey shenanigans thrown in for good measure.
Type of like adolescence itself, Donnie Darko is a concurrently irritating and rewarding expertise that operates extra on emotions slightly than logic. Regardless of this, the expertise one way or the other comes collectively in the long run as a result of movie’s strong emotional core. With the film taking clear inspiration from David Lynch’s dreamlike strategy to filmmaking, making sense of the sequence of occasions in Kelly’s script doesn’t actually matter as a lot as how these occasions make you’re feeling. This solely works as a result of the movie lands just about the entire story’s emotional beats.
The truth is, I want the theatrical lower of the movie over the so-called director’s lower, which Kelly has known as extra of a “particular version,” since he’s really happy with the unique launch. The theatrical model leaves extra of the story open to interpretation, and having much less exposition implies that audiences can expertise the movie’s unusual occasions subjectively as if it have been some form of cinematic Rorschach check. The soundtrack additionally feels somewhat off within the director’s lower, particularly since I’ve all the time thought that Echo & the Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon served as an ideal introduction to this melancholy yarn.
In any case, whereas being open to interpretation makes Donnie Darko a extra attention-grabbing piece of artwork, it’s the pulpy sci-fi, horror and even comedian ebook influences that drew me to the movie within the first place. In some methods, these influences make it much more of a teen film, because the story offers with speculative concepts that may nearly actually enchantment to most teenage viewers. These style parts start with the movie’s eerie ambiance, with the story tackling existential dread as characters discover Kelly’s near-fatalistic strategy to time journey.
This metaphysical horror is simply exacerbated by Donnie’s standing as an outcast and loner even amongst his friends, in addition to his struggles with psychological sickness. One interpretation of the movie even regards your entire factor as a vivid fantasy from Donnie’s standpoint, with the character turning into remoted as he loses his grip on actuality. The recurring theme of teenage isolation additionally results in one of many movie’s most chilling moments, with the late Persistence Cleveland (sadly in her remaining theatrical look) whispering that “each residing creature dies alone.”
In fact, the movie’s most iconic spooky moments come from Donnie’s encounters with Frank, which might be essentially the most recognizable character within the film. Hell, I solely gave the DVD a shot due to the creepy bunny-man on the duvet, so Kelly was clearly onto one thing along with his odd design. There are different horrific parts as properly, akin to Patrick Swayze’s motivational speaker Jim Cunningham being revealed to be a pedophile, plus quite a few references to traditional horror media like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Useless and greater than a few nods to Stephen King. Your entire flick even takes place throughout October, culminating in a really applicable Halloween celebration.
The movie’s delicate super-hero influences (which vary from charming alliterative names to weird superpowers and even multiverse idea) even have a darkish twist. You’ll be able to really interpret the story as a tragic and convoluted try by the universe to show Donnie that “with nice energy comes nice duty.” Whereas I gained’t get into spoilers right here, it’s clear that, on this case, “duty” entails a destiny a lot worse than merely utilizing superpowers to struggle off costumed dangerous guys.
On the finish of the day, these style parts solely work as a result of the movie blends its teenage fantasy with a convincing tapestry of adolescent life within the ’80s. Donnie’s relationships along with his family and friends are extremely nuanced and plausible, and I particularly recognize how the filmmakers included Jake’s real-life sister Maggie Gyllenhaal into the combo. This allowed for fairly just a few memorable interactions just like the unforgettable “how does one suck a fuck?” change. I’d even argue that the film’s distinctive tackle coming-of-age tropes manages to rival traditional teen movies like Dazed and Confused or The Breakfast Membership.
I’m conscious that Donnie Darko isn’t essentially an ideal film, with odd filmmaking selections and surreal storytelling that gained’t work for everybody, however it’s such an emotionally resonant expertise that the same old flaws don’t appear that essential to me in comparison with the movie’s sincerity. Hell, after The Field and the director’s lower of Southland Tales, I’m really curious to search out out what Kelly has in retailer for his proposed sequel.
There’s a lot extra that I might say about this movie, because it’s a type of uncommon items of artwork that simply retains on giving, however the great thing about Donnie Darko is exactly in letting go of narrative theories and having fun with a moody trip by means of the horrors of adolescence. To finish issues on one other Stephen King quote: “Let’s face it. No child in highschool feels as if they slot in.” Chances are you’ll not have handled apocalyptic prophecies or large rabbit costumes, however sooner or later in your life, you’ve actually felt the eerie loneliness that Donnie as a young person. That’s why that is nonetheless my favourite teen film twenty years later.