Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko ★★★★½

"How's it feel to have a wacko for a son?" ~ Donnie Darko

This is perhaps the ultimate Halloween movie. It supposedly takes place over four weeks in October 1988, containing plenty of scary moments, a scene of "The Evil Dead" showing in a movie theater, and even a party with teens in costumes. There is violence and paranoid-schizophrenia. Knives, guns, arson and a fire axe are involved. There are numerous references to time travel, too. But mainly, this is a film about divine intervention, and what better theme could there be for "All Hallows' Eve" or "All Saints' Eve," the day when "humor and ridicule are employed to confront the power of death."

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled high school student who sleepwalks, sees visions and has a criminal past. One night, a jet engine inexplicably falls from the sky and destroys Donnie's bedroom, but he escapes unharmed because his somnambulism took him out of the house to a golf course where he encounters Frank (James Duval), a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume. Frank tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days, but is this absurd-looking imaginary messenger to be believed?

The supporting cast includes Jena Malone as Donnie's girlfriend Gretchen Ross, Mary McDonnell as his mother Rose, Holmes Osborne as his father Eddie, Maggie Gyllenhaal as older sister Elizabeth and Daveigh Chase as younger sister Samantha. Also appearing are Drew Barrymore as English teacher Karen Pomeroy, Patrick Swayze as motivational speaker Jim Cunningham, Noah Wyle as science teacher Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff, and Katharine Ross as Donnie's psychiatrist Dr. Lilian Thurman. Watch closely and you'll see Seth Rogen playing classmate Ricky Danforth, too.

What's makes this film a cut above similar thrillers is its amazing underlying premise, which isn't really clear until just before the credits roll. That's when meaningful scenes are re-shown in rapid succession to an incredible piano-driven cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" sung by Gary Jules. In fact. the entire soundtrack is amazing, including the song "Notorious" by Duran Duran and "Under the Milky Way" by The Church as well as "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division and "Proud to be Loud" by Pantera, among other great tunes.

I would be more than happy to share my thoughts on "what it all means" to anyone not concerned about spoilers, and I will certainly do so when I watch this again, which I most assuredly will at some point with a view to upgrading it to a full five stars. This is can't-miss cinema, and I am wondering why we have not see a lot more from writer-director Richard Kelly.

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