Donnie Darko almost defies explanation, and no matter how many times I see it, I have to work out what happens all over again. Then like waking up from a dream, I forget what it all meant. I can’t ever quite grasp it, but it is strangely compelling. It’s the perfect combination of the 80s (but not the tacky 80s), sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, drama, and horror, with Patrick Swayze as a villain. It’s also very quotable. How many of us started using the word “fuckass” only after seeing this? You’re not a bitch; you’re bitchin’, but you’re not a bitch? Chut up! And nobody would ever doubt my commitment to Sparkle Motion.
The synopsis I have on my copy is this: “After narrowly escaping a bizarre accident, a troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a large bunny rabbit that manipulates him to commit a series of crimes.” That’s one way to describe it, but it doesn’t convey the dreamlike feelings Donnie Darko excels at giving the viewer, if you’re willing to go with it. Donnie is diagnosed with some kind of mental illness, but his visions are real. It reminds me of the idea that some cultures believe the visions of schizophrenics, and ours doesn’t. I obviously can’t diagnose a fictional character (or anyone) but it seems like he presents with schizophrenia. The bunny, since he’s real, might be a tulpa, or just a reference to Harvey. Anyway, doing what the voices say leads him to be out of his house (and his element) when a plane engine falls on his bed and because of this Donnie doesn’t die when he’s supposed to, only the engine is from the future. I know that makes no sense. It doesn’t make any sense after you watch the movie either, as many of you know, but this is a movie that provides you with a safe nightmare experience that I find to be addictive.
The cast of this movie is awesome. Mary MacDonnell is solid as always playing Mrs. Darko, and her husband Holmes Osborne is the boy I’d like to sit by in class. Drew Barrymore produced and plays a very restrained and serious English teacher at Donnie’s school. Beth Grant, one of the best character actors in the world, is an annoying teacher who brings in Swayze’s character, a self-help guru with a terrible secret. Brother and sister Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal play Donnie and Elixabeth Darko, and their little sister better known as the girl who went on to be the ghost in the American version of the Ring, Daveigh Chase. It’s hard to imagine the adorable little innocent girl here becoming Samara Morgan only a year later. As Samara she made me afraid to stay alone in my apartment for the week after seeing The Ring, and I was 27 years old at the time. Back to the movie at hand, there are also early appearances by Seth Rogan as some kind of cokehead psycho kid, and the brother from iCarly as an extra. Noah Wyle plays another teacher, and Jena Malone is Donnie’s girlfriend and the main impetus for his time travel at the end of the movie.
If you have been following me, you know Patrick Swayze is my all-time favorite actor, and I respect so much that he took roles like this after he faded from the matinee idol spotlight. This part had to be tough. It’s ironic that Swayze’s character talks about love being the opposite of fear, and Donnie calls him out on what a stupid theory that is, earning accusations of being fearful, but Donnie turns out to be the one who shows no fear.
I can’t do an article on Donnie Darko without discussing the music. I must have been in an alternate 1988 because I don’t remember Mad World or The Killing Moon from back then, but they are put to great use here. The Killing Moon wasn’t written for the movie, but the lyrics about fate are close enough to make it feel like that kind of title plot describing song. And this movie wouldn’t be the same at all without Mad World. I recorded four songs but I’m just going to link to Mad World and Under The Milky Way.
(2021 updated link to me singing Mad World is here: https://www.singsnap.com/play/1379733 )
(2021 updated link to me singing Under The Milky Way Tonight is here: https://www.singsnap.com/play/1376173 )
P.S. I do remember Under The Milky Way from the 80s. I went to a French Club party in high school and we got to pick all the music the D.J. played, and since it was only us nerds it was all alternative music. We were having the best time ever until someone took a picture of this one crazy chick, and she threw a drink on the girl with the camera. I just remembered that when I heard the song tonight. Imagine someone nowadays getting that bent out of shape about a camera at a party, but you have to understand people just didn’t take pictures of themselves like we do now. I went years in the 90s living my whole life with people who were everything to me who I have no photos of. I do have snapchat photos now of me with my poster and a blu-ray of Patrick Swayze; would you like to see them?