Donnie Darko (2001) Poster


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Beautiful, terrifying
evilmatt-32 December 2001
I think the main theme of this film was summed up somewhere in the middle, where Donnie is speaking to a not-so-helpful self-help guru and says something to the following effect:

"Yes, I am scared and I am confused. But I think you are the f**king antichrist!!!"

In the end, _Donnie Darko_ is a film about people who feel life and all the emotions within it very deeply. Donnie himself is a basically sweet-tempered (often courageous) young man who is pathologically terrified of loneliness and the thought of spiritual isolation. His quest for meaning and self-discovery drives him to the fringes of our reality, which only serves to isolate him more from the world he loves. The few who understand what Donnie is going through go largely unnoticed (such as his girlfriend Gretchen or a tragically overweight yet remarkable sensitive little girl) or unappreciated (such as Karen, the English teacher whose only sin is trying to show her students that there is no such thing as a true end.)

Of course, this movie far from polarizes its characters (indeed, polarization is the last thing this film wants to accomplish) and the majority are just a mishmash of the beautiful and the grotesque: Donnie's parents, who are at the same time loving and perpetually confused; the aforementioned self-helper Jim Cunningham, who is desperate to spread the lie that keeps him sane to everybody else; and Donnie's sister, struggling between her identity as an adult and her identity as a child. And then there's Frank. All I can say here is that nothing can prepare you for or adequately describe Frank.

Probably the best thing about this movie, though, is its incredible emotional range. It manages to inspire hope, love, dread, laughter, and tears at different points throughout the movie without making you feel least bit like there is a contradiction between those states. The scenes with Frank (especially the one that takes place in the therapist's office against the backdrop of a conversation about the end of the world) are quite frankly some of the scariest things I've ever seen in a movie, as they literally made my skin crawl.

Finally, the performances in this film are exquisite. The talent in this film is top notch and even Gyllenhall is just amazing. That said, though, this film has a dismal future. Combine the fact that the large majority of the moviegoing public is just going to find it unbearably weird with the fact that the movie begins with part of an airplane crashing into a building (this has got to be the very definition of bad timing) and it's pretty clear that this film is going to stay underground. However, if you are looking for a beautiful experience with a unique film, _Donnie Darko_ is just about as good as it gets.
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My theory of what actually happened in this film.
elefant_and_tree28 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Donnie Darko. My Theory.

At the beginning of the film, there is a dinner table scene in which Donnie's sister mentions Donnie's medication. This scene lets us know that he is mentally unstable in some way. This is later described as paranoid schizophrenia.

The night the plane crashes into Donnie's house is the 2nd Oct 1988.

That night, Donnie gets out of bed and takes a walk. This is where he meets Frank, the giant bunny rabbit.

This Frank, the one we see in this scene is in fact a ghost of the Frank we later see shot by Donnie. This ghost has come back through time to give Donnie a choice. He shows Donnie the future, right up until the moment he is sitting at the top of the cliff, watching the tornado (or portal).

Everything you see, from the point of Donnie meeting Frank on October 2nd, to the day after halloween (the cliff scene) is in fact a vision that the ghost of Frank is showing him.

At one point in the future (in this vision) Donnie is speaking to his science teacher about 'God's channel' and how you can not change the future events, no matter what you do. Donnie realises on the night of 2nd October, whilst Frank is showing him this vision, that what he is seeing (and what we assumed actually happens during the rest of the movie) is 'God's channel'. The ghost of Frank shows him the plane crashing into his house, which in fact happens roughly 6 hours after Donnie has taken his stroll to meet Frank; Donnie meeting Gretchin, the school flooding, Donnie burning Jim Cunnigham's house down, the halloween party, Gretchin being run over and Donnie killing Frank in revenge. Donnie knows that he has 2 choices. He can go back to bed and prevent all the above from happening (as he knows that there is no way to change what the future holds, as it is a pre-decided event), or he can take the path shown to him by Frank (the ghostly apparition).

Frank is the only character in this film who engages in any type of 'time travel'. What is shown in the movie, from the moment Donnie first meets Frank, to the cliff scene is something that actually happened in reality, however what we are seeing as the viewers is in fact the vision Donnie is seeing that night (2nd October).

Frank has gone back in time to prevent his own death. He knows, that by going back in time (as a ghost) he can let Donnie know what will happen had he gone 'sleep golfing' that night (thus preventing him from being in the house the night of the crash - thus taking the path Frank is showing him).

The scene at the end of the film, where Donnie is lying in bed is a replacement to where he goes 'sleep golfing', like an alternate ending.

The night he dies in the film (at the end), the 2nd October, is in fact the very same night you see him meet Frank(at the beginning) There is no time travel involved to take Donnie back to that night. The film leads us to believe that Donnie in fact followed 'God's channel' and flooded the school, burnt the house down, etc etc.

Let's say that this is what happened before the film we saw started, a kind of prologue.

* Donnie meets Frank (the "person", as the film leads you to believe) *Donnie floods school, burns house down, has a halloween party, Gretchin gets killed and Donnie shoots Frank. *Frank as a ghost goes back in time Lets say that all the above happened in a part of the movie we did not see.(the prologue - not included in the film) This is where we see the film starting: *Frank (the "ghost") lures Donnie to the place they first "meet". He tells Donnie all about the things that have happened(as above). Donnie see's it as the future. These were the scenes we saw as actually happening. Donnie in fact, does not go sleep-golfing that night. He goes back to bed.

The scene we see at the end of the film, with Donnie in bed, laughing and being killed by the plane is in fact, only 6 hours after we first see him meet Frank.

This is what I think actually happened: *Donnie goes sleep walking and meets Frank. Frank shows him the future (the flooding of the school, etc etc) *Donnie prevents this all from happening by going back to bed, thus preventing all the following events.

(The following events being the 'vision that Frank's ghost showed him that night, right up until he's back in bed laughing) The whole movie was set in one day. The dates flashing up on the screen, lead us to believe that the movie was progressing in time.

However, these dates were just a reference point given to Donnie by Frank, on the 2nd October.

If any of this is unclear, please let me know and I will do my best to clarify. Sorry for how long winded this theory is, but it's a pretty hard movie to make sense of.

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Perhaps the most relevant social commentary on U.S society ever put on screen.
gogoschka-116 December 2013
Above all, this film has a kind of flow to it like nothing I've ever experienced in any other film before. The magic sets in from the very first moment, when we see Donnie waking up (and the song 'The Demon Moon' starts), and you just go with that flow and let yourself be drawn into that world. The story unfolds like a dream and the ambiguity (at least in the theatrical cut) as well as the fantastic songs help create an absolutely unique and strangely compelling atmosphere.

Fantastic script and fantastic performances: this film has a richness in its characters that amazes me every time I watch it. Forget the director's cut - here for once the theatrical version is the masterpiece. Probably the best social commentary on American society I've ever seen but beautifully woven into an ambiguous, slightly surreal fantasy tale with a haunting soundtrack.

My vote: 10 out of 10

Favorite films:

Lesser-known Masterpieces:

Favorite Low-Budget and B-Movies:

Favorite TV-Shows reviewed:
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You can't watch it only once
Jim-5122 March 2004
I first saw this on cable tv. Thumbing through the channels I stopped just as Donnie Darko was beginning. I thought the title was weird, and readied my thumb on the remote channel selector...pointed it at the TV...and it stayed there for the rest of the movie! I couldn't stop watching! I've never seen a movie like this. The movie has a beautiful aspect (especially the end). And there are a few chuckles as well. Contrary to the more critical commentary, there is depth and complexity to the story that kind of requires you to see it more than once. I'm no genius, but what I gathered the basis of Donnie Darko to be is about our part in the deliberate DESIGN of our destiny, and I catch more each time I watch it.

Regardless of anything, sincere thought and expression went in to the making of Donnie Darko. Mixed with skill and technical ability = Art.

A WORK OF ART! In the top 100 movies of all time in my opinion.
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yellowrobe27 October 2001
The fact that this is the Directors first film is amazing to me. The scenes dripped with style, yet that style never seemed distracting. None of it was self congratulatory or gluttonous. The visuals were supported by a truly emotional score and its hard to find fault in the 80's pop tunes that found their way into some of the more impressive scenes.

The story is very much thought provoking. Its the type that leaves you pondering the possibilities voiced by the characters. There is nothing condescending about this film. Answers arent simply handed out, rather the viewer is left to draw many conclusions instead. The acting is also top notch. If i hadnt known beforehand that Patrick Swayze was in this film I would have been shocked. His character is amusing and interesting all at the same time. A great cameo for him. Drew Barrymore is forgetable, though that in no way detracts from the film. Of course the star is Jake Gyllenhaal. There is nothing that can be said to properly praise his performance. The rest of the cast chosen fit their roles perfectly. All of these things combine to create a stunning film. One can only hope that filmgoers will give this little gem a shot and support a true wonder. This is the only film I have awarded a 10/10 on the IMDB.
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the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
lwjoslin23 May 2002
"Harvey" meets "The Mothman Prophecies," as a troubled teen starts hallucinating a horrific 6-foot-tall bunny rabbit that brings him dark forebodings about death and disaster in the very near future. A streak of "Heathers" is mixed in as well, with trenchant satirical observations of high-school life in the late '80s (story set in Oct. 1988), involving a priggish teacher, a self-help guru (Patrick Swayze!), and a put-upon fat girl at the fringes of the herd. Finally, a whiff of "Back to the Future," in the form of a local eccentric who just may have discovered the secret of time travel, but a secret that has more to do with spirituality than technology.

A lot goes on here. There's a meditation on the possible overlap between madness and the ability to perceive the divine. There's a demonstration of why, in the Bible, angelic messengers (if that's what "Frank" can be taken to be) are often so terrifying that they have to start by saying "Fear not." There's an enlistment of what martial artists refer to as the "ki" (or personal energy, emanating from a person's midsection) in the type of time travel depicted here (the term "ki" is never used in the flick, but the term "path," another word for Tao or "Way," is). Quantum physics theory about wormholes is tied to the Fortean phenomenon of things falling unexplained from the sky, in a way that's more pivotal, and therefore more interesting, than the gratuitous rain of frogs in "Magnolia."

Time travel paradoxes and ironies enter the picture as well. One character (no spoiler!), whose life is saved by Donnie's ultimate trip back in time, wouldn't have died in the first place if he hadn't dragged her along to the opening of the wormhole. Another character (again, no spoiler!), whose truly terrible secret comes to light in the wake of an arson investigation, must go unexposed as a result of that same time reversal, since the arson now won't happen. Surely that's no oversight on the part of the screenwriter; it must be an acknowledgment of the choices and trade-offs in life, as well as of a confidence that no such terrible secret can remain hidden forever.

Somehow this pastiche works, largely on the strength of good performances. Jake Gyllenhaal is appropriately moody and, also appropriately, not always likeable in the title role. Drew Barrymore, who executive produced, appears as a frustrated first-year teacher. The movie's often dreamlike atmosphere is enhanced by the cinematography, the subdued but effective special effects, and the choice of the music on the soundtrack, which includes '80's pop tunes, of course, and a haunting original song (over the end credits) titled "Mad World."

Not for all tastes, but better, stranger, and more complex than I expected.
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compelling, eerie, intense, haunting, evocative, potent, sad, heroic
mstomaso22 April 2005
Being an angst-ridden teenager has never been easy, especially when you can see what's down the road, and it looks a lot like the end of your world.

Writer and Director Richard Kelly is an artist whose films I will anticipate and Jake Gyllenhaal is truly remarkable among a very rich cast. He plays a troubled young man with a brilliant intellect and a vast imagination, struggling with the boredom of standard education, and a society afraid of its own shadow (e.g. contemporary America). An imaginary friend, Frank - a seven foot tall metal-headed skull-faced demon-rabbit saves his life by removing him from the the scene of a catastrophe just before it occurs, only to lead him down an alternative path to an even more terrible oblivion complete with forecasts of doom, psychiatrists, and self-help charlatans.

This film feels as creepy as any well-made ghost story I have ever seen, yet redefines the genre of supernatural storytelling in a very unique and original way.

Donnie Darko is a film about heroism and sacrifice, decorated with disturbing imagery, the horror of everyday life, and a soundtrack reminiscent of Lynch's best. It is also a film worthy of several viewings and at least as many varied interpretations.

I can not honestly recommend this to anybody who attends films for the pure sake of entertainment. Nor can I recommend it to people who need straight answers or have limited attention spans. It's art, and does not need to provide pat explanations for itself. As entertaining as this film may be, it has an unrelenting and merciless dark side, and might disturb even the most veteran indy film carmudgeon.

This is a great film. See it.
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Great movie
buckwheat889 January 2005
Donnie Darko was a great and thought provoking movie. Most people will probably not understand the movie the first time they watch it, because they don't know what to watch for, but the 2nd time you watch the movie most will consider it a great and profound movie. Another way to understand Donnie Darko is to have someone that has already seen the movie to watch it with you and tell you which parts of the movie to remember towards the end of the movie. This is not a movie to watch if one does not like to think during movies. Donnie Darko is also not a movie for the lazy movie watcher to watch. I normally like the easy brained movies that require no thought-process but this is one thought provoking movie that I give a 10 out of 10.
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Not as impressive as the original
FilmOtaku21 September 2004
*This is a review of the Directors Cut*

I've already reviewed the originally released cut of 'Donnie Darko' so I am not going to review the film again. Instead, I'll comment on the differences between the two versions; unfortunately most of the differences took away from the original film, which I think is truly excellent.

I traveled two hours round-trip with several friends to see the Directors Cut since it was not playing in Milwaukee at the time, and while I am glad that I saw it, I feel that the original is the superior version. There were many superfluous scenes in the new cut which did not add to the film; rather I almost felt that they made the pacing falter a bit. For example, the new scene between Donnie's parents in the café – a completely unnecessary scene which did not add anything relevant to the story. There were a handful of scenes like this, as well as some added dialogue that indeed added to the development of some characters, (Drew Barrymore's character, the teacher 'Karen' was enhanced a bit) for some it just seemed silly (One of Donnie's bus stop friends telling Cherita that he 'hopes she gets molested' turned him from just being an incidental character into being an incidental character who is a jackass.)

Another major difference between the two films was the addition of several special effects to the new cut. There were a lot of dream-like sequences (the file cabinets floating among the clouds ala Rene Magritte) and all of the stuff focusing on Donnie's eyeball, computer-ish codes, etc, that just did not work in my opinion. Also, some of the most subtle changes, soundtrack for example, were disarming. The opening song was 'The Killing Moon' by Echo and the Bunnymen in the original, which provided a great backdrop in the introduction to Donnie, his environment and his family. Kelly used 'Never Tear Us Apart' by INXS in his directors cut. Certainly, a good song, but after using a perfect song originally, it is hard to get used to an inferior replacement.

Which is how I sum up my feelings about Kelly's directors cut in general? Why mess with (near) perfection? 'Donnie Darko' is a fantastic film that was so thought-provoking it made some people run the other way. Only those who were interested in something beyond the ordinary stayed to ponder and theorize its meaning, and still are to this day. Kelly's new cut does not enhance the film, rather, it made it plodding and a little dumbed-down – two adjectives I never thought I would ascribe to this film. See the directors cut to play 'spot the new stuff', but stick with the original.

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That bunny...
darylanders28 September 2018
Ok I might be late to the party but I just watched DONNIE DARKO. Amazing film!!!!!!!! Jake Gyllenhaal as a youngin - now I can see how he came into the shell is has created for himself. An amazing film as much as it is depressing! Definitely recommend to anyone into cult classics and was living under a rock at the turn of the century like me!
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Philosophy and quantum physics mashed into a cult classic
UniqueParticle21 June 2019
I love everything about this film! It's been among my favorites for many years. The theories that could be well in depth for hours, the soundtrack, sweet camera shots, and the brilliant writing! I'm proud of the fact that this is my 300th review on here. I'd say this is my 4th favorite film ever after Fight Club, The Matrix, and True Romance. The floating wormholes is super cool to me and the soundtrack is so damn good!

Thought provoking films are my favorite ever, the fact that you could float on talking about different aspects and possibilities is beyond fascinating to me! It's extremely impressive that Richard Kelly was 26 when he wrote the script and made such a profound experience!
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Nothing more than tricks... but, god, how they work.
Patuquitos8 February 2005
Sweets. They are not nourishing, but they're delicious.

This is how I feel about this film. If I make a conscious attempt at explaining why I like "Donnie Darko", I can see no real meat in it. I got no lessons from the flick, I hardly got a story... Forget what others say about this movie as "philosophical", "clever" or "trascendent". It's not. But, my!, how such a young director almost manages to make you believe it is... I don't know about you, but I call that talent.

Yes, the movie is empty. The story goes nowhere, there is no message, no moral, but the way it's all wrapped up keeps you salivating throughout. Don't think it's mere flashy fireworks, though. This is not a case of style over substance. It's something more complex, and that's where "Donnie Darko" distances from the rest. This movie is freaking special, is full of personality. I wish more films had this character. The charm of this film relies on a lot of pieces that fit like a giant puzzle:

-Chosen time (1988) is strangely proper (you'll have to see this movie to understand it, sorry).

-The movie is BLUE. Its photography is blue, its characters are blue, its story is blue. Everything is blue.

-Music is great.

-Emotions are overwhelming. They come from everywhere and at the same time. You don't know what's happening, but what might be happening actually affects you.

-I can see some Lynch influences. The scene where the gym teacher talks to Donnie's mother at the doorstep is 100% Lynch.

-Some scenes are, almost, scary.

-This is one of the movies that present the idea of "beyond" in a most seductive way. You feel there's something more than this world. It never gets explained, but heck, I don't care.

-Finally, and most important, the main appeal of the movie is that it throws together unrelated concepts in such a way that they feel ghostly linked. The movie is a melting pot of vague ideas, that, thanks to a great direction, get connected in the subconscious.

Exactly because of this, I understand this movie has so much appeal for some people, and so little for others. If you fall in the trap, it will touch you, and this movie could mean the world to you. If you don't, it won't, and you won't see more than a bag of tricks. Whatever the category you fall in, you have to recognize the skill of Richard Kelly. The execution of "Donnie Darko" is more than remarkable.

I like to think of "Donnie Darko" not as a movie, but as a niche some people feel comfortably unsafe inside, that people being 25-30 year olds with an affection for sci-fi and darkness. The more you fit in this role, the more you'll get into this.

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Director's Cut: Disappointment
jftrumm4 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
My comments here pertain only to the recently-released Director's Cut of this film. I am among those who found the original release to be an amazing film, one that was original, beautiful and thought-provoking. I am sorry to say that the new version falls well short of the original.

Most of the deleted scenes that are available on the original DVD have been added into the new version. One of these-Donnie's last scene with his father-works very well, but others fall flat and are not well-integrated into the narrative. While these additions are minor missteps, the addition of a repeated close up of an eye with computer data scrolling by and superimposed on the image is a major error. The images add nothing except cheese and are an anachronistic design element for a movie set in 1988. The movie has nothing to do with computers; computers don't even appear as props, except possibly in the background of a scene in the school office. These images have no place in the film's visual grammar.

Kelly has also added in shots of pages from the Philosophy of Time Travel, the book that guides Donnie through his journey. The audience is invited to read about 'the manipulated dead,' 'the living receiver' and the like. Presumably the intent in adding these was to explain more of the theory of the events of the film. Some things, though, are better left unexplained. Putting in the equivalent of Cliff Notes deprives the moviegoer of the joy of trying to figure out the movie.

The Director's Cut also shuffles the movie's great 80's soundtrack. Most of the time, these changes are innocuous.


However, by removing Under the Milky Way from the scene where, on his last night on earth, Donnie descends the stairs with Gretchen after they have make love for the first and last time, Kelly has marred one of the most beautiful moments in the film.

I maintain that the original version of this movie is one of the two or three best movies of the last five years. The Director's Cut, however, is proof that sometimes stuff is left on the cutting-room floor for good reason.
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Don't Be Ashamed To Say It's Not A Masterpiece
Theo Robertson6 August 2005
I've heard so much about this " Wonderful , mind blowing masterpiece " . Interestingly enough most of the rave reviews of DONNIE DARKO came via this very website which goes against the grain of other reviewers . Roger Ebert only gave the movie two and a half stars while many other websites dedicated to film reviews claim this movie is confused and overrated . It should also be mentioned that if it's such a great , thought provoking piece of cinema then why did it miss out on so many nominations at the more prestigious film award ceremonies ? And don't say politics , an independent feature like IN THE BEDROOM didn't pick up any Oscars but that didn't stop it being nominated for several

DONNIE DARKO is by no means terrible but it is overrated . Dare I say it's a case of the emperors new clothes ? That is people are somewhat embarrassed upon seeing this film and not understanding it that they feel they must praise it in order to spare their supposed ignorance . Let me ask you this - What genre of film is this ? Everyone will give a slightly different answer I'm sure and if an audience is undecided about the genre then how can they decide what the ending is about ?

And there is a quite serious plot hole involved in the story . Donnie sees a demonic rabbit called Frank throughout the movie who tells him at exactly what moment the world will end . Wormholes , time warps etc may actually exist in scientific reality as may the ending but the central plot does not since the whole movie rests on Frank or Donnie being able to see into the future and no scientist will claim there's any scientific basis for fortune telling . So you see it's not really about time travel , it's about mysticism , predestination and other superstitious mumbo jumbo which Richard Kelly is using to fool the audience . In effect this movie is one big cheat and most people have failed to notice this

Having said that Richard Kelly does deserve some credit for making a movie that's not about car chases and explosions , this is a movie dealing with teen angst and the dark side of middle American small town values but Kelly has missed an opportunity to make the most of the potential . I know the film was released before the war on terror so there'd be little need to see news broadcasts on the fall out of the original Gulf war but from a pop culture point of view wouldn't this have been better set in the early 1990s when grunge culture was the rage instead of 1988 ? I mean what music best suits this movie's atmosphere ? Echo And The Bunnymen or Nirvana ? In fact if it had have set in the presidential elections of early 1990s this would have coincidentally tied in with what's going on in the world today with Saddam and Iraq getting a mention ! And wouldn't this movie be held up in superstitious awe now ?

As it stands it's nowhere as clever as it thinks it is for the reasons outlined . Perhaps Mr Kelly started out on with two movies , one a high concept science fiction thriller and the other a low concept drama about a mentally ill teenager and decided to merge the two with not too successful results . Watching DOnnie Darko this was the gut feeling I got
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Quirky film that's wide open to interpretation
BrandtSponseller20 February 2005
Upon awakening, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds that he's been asleep in the middle of a secluded mountain road. It seems that Donnie regularly wanders out at night and sleeps in strange places. The night that he ends up on the neighborhood golf course, a stray jet engine crashes through Donnie's bedroom. He's saved by his odd behavior. Shortly after, we witness him hearing voices and having visions of an odd, evil-looking, bipedal, man-sized bunny. The voice begins giving him unusual suggestions, and Donnie slowly finds himself as the key player in a grand scheme.

Donnie Darko is an unusual film. It spans a number of genres and leaves itself wide open to interpretation. Quite a cult of hardcore fans has developed around it, and for those folks, the film is essentially immune to criticism and reinterpretation.

The biggest surprise to me was that the bulk of Donnie Darko is a realist drama. I had long heard about how strange the film was, and heard it described as being partially sci-fi (which it is) and horror (which it isn't if you ask me). It was supposedly a "reality-bender". I'm much more of a "genre" fan, and I much prefer fantasy, surrealism and absurdism to realism. My preconceptions were throwing me off of the film initially. The realist drama stuff seemed to drag on, and it made much of the film a hard sell. I loved the touches of weirdness, but they were too little, too far between--at least until I reached my personal interpretation of the film around the halfway mark.

The film is also odd in that it's so retro. At one point I double-checked the DVD box, thinking that Donnie Darko had to be a late 1980s film. Nope, 2001. Then I started thinking that writer/director Richard Kelly must have had the script in storage for 15 years. But that can't be the case, either, as his bio says he was born in 1975, and it's unlikely that he would have written Donnie Darko when he was 10 or 11. The film is mired in late 1980s pop-culture references, style and music. Realizing that Kelly was born in 1975 still makes this weird. He says on the new DVD commentary that he was following the clichéd advice to write what you know, and he knew school in the late 1980s. He wouldn't have even entered high school until 1989, so it seems odd that he would only know school in the late 1980s. The retro feel of the film was a bit artificial to me, although I enjoyed the way the pop music was integrated.

There were also some questionable performances for my tastes, including Drew Barrymore's, and some bizarre (but not bizarre enough) scenarios that I never quite figured out, such as why a gym teacher was showing motivational videos to a class sitting in desks.

But most fans of Donnie Darko tend to overlook the minutiae, even though it takes up most of the screen time. The hinge tends to be on the overall arc and the meaning of the film. If minutiae are dwelt on, it's usually concerning the "Philosophy of Time Travel" book, or some bit of dialogue that is thought to be clever, such as the Smurf discussion. The theme of the film is often said to be something like "possibilities", and the film is routinely interpreted as having a messianic subtext, as well as often being interpreted more literally, as a kind of sci-fi story. After I watched the film and it didn't quite pay off as I had been hoping, I was anxious to listen to the commentary and watch the documentaries. Kelly seemed to intend more of the literal, sci-fi interpretation of the film. That was disappointing, because interpreted that way, the most fascinating thing to me is that Kelly believes it even approaches coherency. The Philosophy of Time Travel material, which is a core of this interpretation, is arbitrary sounding gobbledy gook. It has nothing to do with time travel, and even less to do with philosophy. It's more a naïve attempt at something like a parallel universe, ala the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics (which tends to be nonsensical anyway).

To make matters worse, there is little attempt to integrate most of this material into the actual meat of the film--the sci-fi interpretation seems very "grafted on". Many of the actual scenes we witness aren't there to service the eventual interpretation of the film as a sci-fi story, but are there because it's some snippet of actual life that Kelly remembers or has thought about or had conversations similar to in the past, and he thinks it's clever or character developing. For me, this material was neither.

But my personal interpretation of the film made much more sense to me, and under it, I enjoyed it more. To me, Donnie Darko is just a depiction of a kid with schizophrenia (and this is even explicitly suggested, although Kelly seems to be overlooking or not mentioning the interpretation). Even the smallest details of the film make sense in this context. Schizophrenics hear voices. They can have visual, tactile and other sensory hallucinations. Some have delusions of grandeur, such as messiah/superhero complexes. They often feel alienated. Donnie mopes around, mumbling, fairly expressionless much of the time and has periodic emotional outbursts. He acts out in anti-social ways. He goes into semi-catatonic states. Even the end of the film makes more sense under this interpretation, as it can be seen as an intentional delusion that Donnie has created due to the relationship-oriented tragedy. He's fantasizing about things being different than they turned out. To me, the film has much more depth under this interpretation.

If you haven't seen Donnie Darko yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out. No matter your final verdict, it's an interesting, quirky film, and one that's sure to be talked about for a long time.
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Incredible film - an enigmatic treat that throws up more possibilities each time you watch it.
barnabyrudge25 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Donnie Darko" is the very quintessence of cinema. Enigmatic, absorbing, humorous and thought-provoking - it is a film that throws up endless possibilities and debates, and ingeniously allows a whole range of interpretations that viewers might wish to pursue. There are many viewers who prefer films that provide immediate closure. In the minds of such viewers, films like "Donnie Darko" are unsatisfying or irritating or, worst of all, pointless. Then there are viewers who like to be challenged, perhaps even teased, by films. I would urge everyone - regardless of their usual preference - to give "Donnie Darko" a go. Even those who are usually dead against subjective and open-ended films of this kind will almost certainly find themselves questioning and pondering over what they have experienced. And those who revel in the mysterious, the enigmatic and the downright peculiar will absolutely LOVE this film.

Troubled teenager Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens on a mountain road on the morning of October 1st 1988, having either cycled there in his sleep (one interpretation), or as the result of being trapped in a month-long time loop that begins in that place and on that date (another interpretation). In the early hours of October 2nd 1988, Donnie is awakened from his sleep by a giant, grotesque bunny rabbit named Frank, who lures him away from his house to a nearby golf course and reveals to him details of the imminent end of the world. While he is out of the house, a plane engine mysteriously falls from the sky and smashes into Donnie's bedroom: bizarrely, there is no indication of where the engine fell from as no plane lost its engine in that area on that night. Having apparently cheated death as a result of his hallucinatory relationship with Frank, Donnie spends the rest of the month experiencing incredible, and often disturbing, events as time ticks inexorably towards Frank's terrifying deadline. Guided by Frank, he carries out irrational actions - such as burning down the residence of behavioural guru Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). Each time, Donnie's actions - however mad or misguided they may seem - lead to worthwhile consequences (e.g Cunningham's house turns out to be the site of a child porn ring, which is uncovered when firefighters arrive to tackle the blaze started by Donnie). It eventually transpires that Donnie is living in a tangent universe which began on the night he evaded death in the plane engine accident., and only Donnie can set straight this potentially catastrophic time corruption.... even though it will mean sacrificing himself in the original October 2nd accident.

"Donnie Darko" is a superb film on so many levels. Richard Kelly directs the film with an incredible eye for striking detail and his script is full of quotable dialogue and inventive, philosophical ideas. The narrative, which seems initially confusing, is proved by repeat viewings of the film to be extremely clever. Even if repeat viewings never fully clear the confusion, the ingenuity of the story comes from the fact that it invites and supports several different readings of what the film is really all about. Nothing is made explicit, everything is left open, and for that reason the film remains a fascinating experience regardless of how often one re-watches it. The music and photography (by Michael Andrews and Steven Poster respectively) are brilliantly atmospheric and add yet more to the film's incredible bag of goodies. "Donnie Darko" is quite literally life-changing - a film like no other, and one of the very best movies of all-time.
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A waste of time, film and effort
SevenComeEleven19 April 2002
Although I do not recommend this film, neither do I recommend reading this review without first seeing the movie. Though I have not given away the ending, or most of the plot twists, this movie would be best viewed without any prior information. It's hard to pinpoint the chief problem with the film Donnie Darko, as there are many to deal with. Richard Kelly, in his first feature film, seems to have collected enough scenes of adolescent rage, late-night stoner diatribes, self-righteous justifications and inoffensive, banal philosophy to inspire twenty teen-angst dramas; then mashed them into a single two hour package with a sci-fi twist. The result is deeply distressing-- for all the wrong reasons. The film attempts to lead the audience down convoluted paths without any sense of symbolism or meaning, to make them sympathize with one-dimensional characters, and above all hopes that they will ignore the underdeveloped plot, full of unreconciled loose ends, by hiding it under a veneer of CGI effects and neo-surrealism. The main character, Donnie Darko, is a young man, committed to therapy, misunderstood by his friends, and rendered hostile and disaffected by his suburban life. We are meant to feel that he is more intelligent than his schoolmates, although sometimes that is a difficult assumption to make. For example, when one of his friends comes up with an absurd theory about the Smurfs, and Donnie counters with a theory of his own, his friend complains about Donnie acting "all smart." Donnie's speech, however, is no smarter than that of his friend-- just angrier. The only clear evidence of his intelligence is his principal's description of his standardized test scores as `intimidating;' but given the director's slant against simple categorization of human elements (as shown in the FEAR-LOVE sequence), this is a poor substitute for character development. Donnie takes prescribed drugs to combat mental problems, which are not addressed directly in this film. In fact, the entire issue of the drugs is understated, and one of the first chances the director has to redeem the film is lost. The ambiguity of Donnie's strange destiny, the possibility that all of this may be a product of his imagination, is pushed into the background, making the film 100 percent science fiction. This would not be a bad thing in itself, except that the "science" behind the "fiction" is very shaky. The explanations of time travel are weak, at best sounding like detached, uninformed rambling. We get the idea that the film's writer once read a book about time travel or a few chapters, and can't quite remember how it worked, but was sure that it was really interesting and wanted to work it into the film. The scientific portion, as a result, depends more heavily on expensive computer animations than actual development of the theories involved (at one point, a teacher discussing time travel states that if he continues to speak on the subject, he'd be fired. Apparently no further explanation is needed). Donnie's dealings with a visitor from the future lead him to commit several vicious actions. The justification for these actions is a tricky business. He damages his school, but it's okay, because his school doesn't treat him like a person. His punishment of a creepy self-esteem advocate (somewhat similar to Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia) results in the man's public humiliation. But should the audience believe that Donnie is some sort of avenging angel, striking out against ignorance and debauchery? He himself seems ignorant of the effects of these actions until after the fact. Aside from these flaws, the film is riddled with flat, uninteresting generalizations of humanity. The story is set in 1988, just before the Bush/Dukakis election, and the director touches on this point during the film. The focus, however, extends exactly this far: Donnie's gruff, blue collar father is voting for Bush, while his free-spirited, rebellious daughter plans to vote for Dukakis. There is nothing even remotely resembling a political statement here; simply a statement of the obvious. The former are not necessary to make a good film, but the latter should be left out. Likewise, Donnie's heartfelt speech about not being able to lump all human emotions into the bland categories of "fear and "love;" this doesn't ask the audience to make any great leaps of understanding. Everybody knows that there are more that two human emotions, and particular emphasis on this fact is worthless. Mr. Kelly gives homage to several symbols of 80's pop culture in his film: E.T., Stephen King, the Smurfs, Back to the Future. At it's heart, this film feels like the director's homage to himself, a collection of his own experiences, interests, personal heroes and adversaries, affirmations and disenchantments, roughly stitched together by untrained hands. Entire songs are played in music video format to the characters actions, seemingly because the director likes the songs. Characters who have little to no bearing on the plot (including the archetypal bully, fat girl, and right-wing idiot teacher) are given unnecessary focus, because the director really wanted to pack them in somehow. The awkward mess that is Donnie Darko leaves us wondering if Mr. Kelly has enough ideas left in his head to make another film, or if he has wasted all his creativity in one pointless, cluttered, meandering effort.

My rating: 1/10.
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It's Emperor's New Clothes Time!
dudleynomore23 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers

The people who are twisting themselves in knots trying to analyse the 'philosophy' of this movie belong in the same group as those who try to divine the meaning behind the Matrix films. Read some actual philosophy, for Christ's sake, or watch classic Art movies which engage with ideas in a coherant manner, instead of getting excited soley because a movie was made recently, marketed to your age group, and is associated with a hit single. The reality is that this is the best recent example of a pop-cultural product which is popular ONLY because it's pitched as arty and difficult to understand.

There's nothing to understand. None of the sub-plots (the infomercial guy, the *beep* about Grahame Greene, or wormholes, or the other stuff about censorship) have anything to do with the central plot about Frank, Donnie and his girlfriend. They are included to create the illusion that this movie has a message, when there is really nothing there. All of the anti-censorship arguments have been made far more effectively before, in movies dedicated to that theme; none of the other stuff links together or goes anywhere.

The plot twists in the sub-plots are all tediously obvious, as are the character's attitudes to them (like Donnie immediately seeing that Jim Cunningham is the antichrist - and look, he's found to be a pederast! Or the whole thing about Drew Barrymore's character being a saint crushed by a repressive system, or the street thug dudes, who walk into the film, gurn a bit, threaten Don with a knife, then walk out again until they're needed later). The plot twists in the main plot all come totally out of the blue by using the supernatural cop-out clause as permission for the story to go in any direction it likes. When movies like Godsend do that, everyone rightly points out how stupid it is. But then, Godsend isn't regarded as Art.


The worst part is the way this film wastes it's one original idea - the concept of a disturbed teenager who can see a 6' apocalyptic bunny rabbit. Wouldn't it have been great if Frank had been kept mysterious, or turned out to be some kind of demon with a direct, properly explained role in the plot? No, he takes his bunny head off halfway through, and is shown to be merely a guy in a suit who drives a car over someone at a key moment.

You need to watch more movies, people.
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dem0nic6 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers
The only way you will understand the plot is to read the Time Travel Book in the extras on the DVD. I bet nobody guessed near the rubbish the plot actually is....

---------- THE TRUE PLOT OF DONNIE DARKO (spoiler) ----------

If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable, sustaining itself for no longer than several weeks. Artifacts provide the first sign that a Tangent Universe has occurred. The Living Receiver is chosen to guide the Artifact into position for it's journey back to the Primary Universe. The Manipulated Dead will manipulate the Living Receiver using the Fourth Dimensional Construct.

We enter the Tangent Universe when the Airplane Engine (Artifact) first appears.

Donnie (Living Receiver) has been chosen to guide the Airplane Engine back to the Primary Universe. We don't know why he is chosen.

Frank (Manipulative Dead) dies in this Tangent Universe so he is able to guide Donnie to get the Artifact in position.

---------- THE TRUE PLOT OF DONNIE DARKO (spoiler) ----------

This Plot isn't intelligent. Creating a movie nobody would ever understand (unless its explained in a book) is not hard to do. This film is the dullest, most over-rated rubbish I've watched!
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grendel-3719 July 2003
I went into this flick because a couple different reviews and reviewers pointed me in that direction. I'm not a critic, I don't waste a lot of time disecting the bad, I prefer to spend time praising the good.

So I'll be brief.

This movie will probably appeal to the same segment who thought Blair Witch was original and good. And like Blair Witch this movie is neither. If you've opened a sci-fi book in the last fifty years, the concepts touched on are less than revolutionary, and even the mixing of disparite genres handled far better elsewhere, one movie that comes to mind is SIGNS. Or even the films of David Fincher, this idea of pieces coming together, of everything having meaning is a capable idea, in the hands of acapable script and director.

An idea that kept running through my head, triggered by certain scenes in the film, is how derivitive DONNIE DARKO is of better movies. Sometimes an ambiguous story isn't the mark of a brilliant director, and a witty script, sometimes it's just uneven filmmaking. It's just an inability to put on the stage, the ideas on the page. Many reviewers have said, well get the DVD, because the notes from the book really explain it, and I have to chuckle softly, because I realize that perhaps a movie that requires crib notes... isn't really that cohesive of a movie.

People are quick to slam hollywood movies, and praise indie movies, often simply because they are labeled "indie" movie.

Some hollywood movies are bad, some are brillant. Some Indie movies are brilliant, and some are... empty. DD is an empty movie. People argue about Tangent Universes, and Premonitional Dreams, and ultimately if a movie lacks heart, if you don't care about the characters, who cares what happens to them? Whether their world ends? And ultimately that's the failing of Donnie Darko, Drew Barrymore mentions apathy, and that descibes the failings of this flick as well as any.

You don't learn to care for the characters, so why worry about their world coming to the end? While the director shows capabiity moving the camera, the glaring/cynical looks of the lead [his distuberd/homicidal look maybe?] after the fourth or fifth glare left me hoping 10 or 12 jets fell on his head.

Condemn Hollywood movies if you choose, but like most prejudice, you condemn the good with the bad, because Hollywood at its best, its LAWRENCE OF ARABIAs, its LION IN WINTERS, its UNTOUCHABLES, its BRAVEHEARTS gives us works that speak to the heart, and I will take that any day over this new self-indulgent indie cinema that speaks only to the hubris[That said there are directors doing great things in the Indie Field, THE SWEET HEREAFTER popping immediately to mind, a movie that has all the heartrending emotional energy and interest, that this film lacks].

Donnie Darko like Blair Witch is an exercise, a preamble to a film, that would make a decent short flick on the Indie Film circuit, but blown up to feature length, the cracks shown... and the holes become... apparent.

** out of ****.
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A weirdo, narcissistic collage of failure
El Dangeroso7 February 2004
"Donnie Darko" is the end result of 47 Weekly World News headlines strewn together in random order. Over one hour and 45 minutes, it rams together time travel, a 6-foot imaginary rabbit, a Tony Robbins-esque motivational speaker with a secret (Patrick Swayze?!?), hypnotism, an elementary school dance troupe and a stray jet engine.

What does it all mean? Not much. Ham-fisted, nail-on-the-head symbolism practically smashes you in the face. A creepy fat girl dressed as an angel. A statue with a dog's head and a human body. An old woman nicknamed "Grandma Death" who keeps checking her mailbox. An eye wound. The creepy fat girl's earmuffs. Heck, one of the ending shots is an M.C. Escher drawing.

The filmmakers would also like you to marvel at their camera techniques. Look, it's tilted! Now it's going fast. Now, slow. Wait, now it's turning upside down! Aren't we creative?

And be sure to spot the zillion story lines, characters and scenes ripped from other (read: better) films. The courageous English teacher ("Dead Poets Society"). The watery tentacles ("The Abyss"). An imaginary rabbit ("Harvey"). The lead character, wearing a gray, hooded sweatshirt, and his Halloween-costumed friends riding bikes ("E.T."). Meditation on the sex lives of cartoon characters ("Mallrats").

So basically, you're left with a sullen Jake Gyllenhaal moping his way through someone's bad LSD-trip. By the end, you're supposed to have some great understanding of your place in the universe. But you're more likely to have a great understanding of why overwrought student films are a dime a dozen.
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a monumental waste of time
zigurusejin7 December 2005
I was instantly put off by the tired and worn clichés - the neurotic teacher, the nasty school bully, the fat Chinese chick who says "Shut up!", the sleazy mr. motivator, the "Mr & Mrs Average" parents, the eccentric old lady - all done to death by countless teenage flicks. And then the time travel and the convoluted, confused plot - laughable that the director is trying to (mis)use Stephen Hawking's "Brief History of Time" to lend some scientific credibility to this sorry concoction. It feels as if the film can't decide if it has anything to say but insists on plodding on regardless - with a vengeance... Redeeming quality for me was perhaps the soundtrack and some of the special effects. I wish it hadn't been so widely hyped - I would have spared myself the time.

I too am surprised at the many positive reviews but the most telling was one along the lines of "I don't usually like deep movies but this one is different" - made me laugh!
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Donnie Darko? Should have been called Donnie Dumbo
cine-1120 April 2002
I rented this movie on the strength of the ratings and glowing reviews at this site. "Brilliant", they said. "Dark and beautiful", they wrote. 8.4 stars. Well, all I can say is, these people must have been on some serious drugs when saw this totally inane movie. The cinematography has the look of a student film. The plot (and I use the term for lack of a better word) is disjointed and meandering, not really sure where it wants to go, and that leaves the viewer not really caring. The ending, I suppose, is meant to be a twist, but ends up making little sense and falling flat. Donnie Darko, by the way, is actually his real name (ie, the Darko family), not an intriguing nickname. I give this movie 1 black hole.
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Obscure and pretentious sci-fi semi-thriller; the box office was bad, but a loyal cult grossly overrates it
J. Spurlin14 February 2007
The satire is strained and self-satisfied. The scene where the title character berates his teacher for having too simplistic a philosophy sounds like adolescent score-settling.

The plotting is dreary. Just when things are about to get exciting, the pace slackens and we have to wait several minutes for things to pick up again.

The realistic touches are unbearable. The dinner table banter between brother and sister? The boorish friends' conversation about Smurfs? The dialogue for these scenes is listed on IMDb's "memorable quotes" page. Why? We have this half-formed idea that lame insults, or over-serious debates about pop culture refuse, are somehow "ironic." And that anything realistic is worth inserting into a movie.

Yet, by the end of "Donnie Darko" I was somewhat won over. I enjoyed the complicated plot twists, some of the strange images and Michael Andrews's splendid electronic score. But the small cult that champions this film grossly overrates it.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a paranoid schizophrenic named Donnie Darko, who gets along badly with his family, with his teachers and with his classmates; but he does manage to find a sympathetic friend in Gretchen (Jena Malone), who agrees to date him; and he has a compassionate psychiatrist (Katharine Ross), who discovers hypnosis is the means to unlock hidden secrets. His other companion may not be a true ally. Donnie has a friend named Frank, who is either a large purple bunny, or man in a large purple bunny costume. Either way, Donnie is the only one who can see him.

Richard Kelly, who wrote, directed and created a webpage to explain everything in a tantalizingly opaque way, seems to think he's being a lot deeper than he is. This is one of those movies that inspire obsessed fans to demand that you see the film many times over, study the obsessed fans' websites about the movie, become an expert on the movie—and only then are you allowed to say you don't like it. Except, in their circular reasoning, not liking it is a sign you haven't studied it enough.

This is not "Hamlet." Much of the opacity of this movie is the result of sloppiness and pretentiousness. Take the engine that falls off the plane and destroys Donnie's room. Kelly seems to want to leave open the possibility that much of what's happening is all in Donnie's mind and that there is a rational explanation for everything. If so, why present us with an undeniably supernatural event? The plane literally comes out of nowhere.

Does the above criticism reveal that I don't get it? Nothing about the movie inspires me to delve deeper into its mystery. I was somewhat entertained, but its cult can have it.
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On the Darko side
dnr-219 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This movie instantly became one of my favorites.

I think the director assumes that people will perceive his intentions and infer plot meanings more than they do. After the movie ends, it's clear that Donnie Darko is profoundly a tragic hero, but mining the movie for plot points doesn't clear up whether he is a martyr to a plot by Frank; and is Frank his alter-ego, an "angel", or an alien? It seems that Donnie knows he has to die, and though one might look for Donnie to survive in some fashion (after his immense sacrifice), we don't see any way he could survive. So we grieve for his sacrifice, in that he sacrifices himself with eyes open and out of love, with no hope for himself.

For some time we don't know if what Donnie's led to do is right, or meant to injure people - is he a good guy or not? But as it becomes clear that his acts are in concert with synchronized that aids his path, we get off the fence and start rooting for him, whatever may come.

I sympathized with Donnie's psychological "problems", having used my share of drugs and been in mental places, where anyone with such experiences knows how much there is to be known that a person can't easily communicate to "normal" people. So as soon as it becomes clear that Donnie is wrestling with his experiences, I identify with him. Then it becomes a cheer for whatever mayhem Donnie will perform next, eliciting maniacal chuckles when the little electronic-music theme signals that something nefarious is about to happen.

What makes the movie is that process of seeing that Donnie really is a hero and then watching him pursue his course. I wish the movie had been fleshed out more - the editing leaves one to wonder whether the incident toward the end, where Donnie goes to see Grandma Death but is interrupted by the evil high school punks, is a betrayal of Donnie's desired path. We never see him discuss the Time Travel 'problem' with her - events appear to have precluded that important meeting and sealed Donnie's fate in some sense. His taking Gretchen with him at the end seals her fate and his, inasmuch as had he left her at the party, Frank could not have killed her - necessitating Donnie's death to remedy things. Or was he obliged to cooperate with the time line (things cannot be otherwise)? So the plot is somewhat incoherent. One naively wants the hero to triumph and survive, the question is how could he use his knowledge to achieve that end? So, is the story that of his betrayal by circumstance, or by an agent of some kind? Or is the story that of a hero waking to himself with events foreordained? This leaves the movie with no specific resolution.

It's just a story, but the characters are so compelling that I want to resolve that - the true intentions. I'm here on a tangent looking for the book the movie was based on, to understand what the author intended.

All the complaining I've seen in comments here about the movie means nothing as to whether the movie is a good movie. The movie could certainly be "repaired" or improved to clean up the plot - it leaves too many central questions unresolved, dissolving any closure one might expect from an epic. As an exploration of archetypal themes though, this film kicks ass - we are left grieving for the hero who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the one he loves, and I mean grieving - the Mad World theme playing following Donnie's death in review of those people who knew Donnie hits the heartstrings hard; I can't think of many film scenes that cause me to cry for someone's loss in the way this one does. Donnie deserved better and the people around Donnie deserved Donnie, and that's so clear, and that's why it's so sad.

Jake Gyllenhaal was great in this film. I certainly hope to see more of him in future films. Also, the music really makes the movie throughout.
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