28 days. 6 hours. 42 minutes. 12 seconds. That is when the world will end.
When I was in high school, my Dad (Movie Guy Extraordinaire) started what he called “The Film Crew,” and, basically without my knowledge, invited several of my friends to once a week come over, watch a movie, and discuss it. I think he wanted to open our minds to something other than American Pie-type cinema, and by showing us films like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and The Third Man (1949), he did. One night, he invited a friend of his (another film buff) to join us, and this friend said he had chosen this night’s flick because it was one of the best movies he’d ever seen, even though it had completely bombed at the box office. He said we’d probably never heard of it (we hadn’t) and that it was called Donnie Darko.
Since that fateful night, I’ve probably watched Donnie Darko about a zillion times. Every time, that opening scene blows me away: Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up at sunrise in the middle of a mountain road, his bicycle on the side of it. He stands up, smiles in a confused but amused kind of way, and hops on his bike. As he starts riding down the hill rubbing his eyes, The F*cking Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen plays and it is inexplicably perfect. I won’t even try. If you have no interest in this movie whatsoever, do yourself a favour and watch the opening scene on YouTube. It’s stunning.
Donnie is a weirdo, a teenage boy who is clearly awkward beyond normal adolescence. He even has a therapist (Dr. Thurman, Katharine Ross) in whom he confides about Frank, his time traveling bunny rabbit friend who has told Donnie when the world is going to end. Dr. Thurman believes Donnie may be suffering from a form of schizophrenia, and we the viewers wouldn’t discount that as a possibility. As Donnie’s “hallucinations” become more vivid and constant, and as Frank’s instructions to Donnie steer him towards more destructive and disturbing acts, the lines become even more blurred. But what if Frank were real? What if time travel were real? “Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?” “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”
These questions are asked (and some are answered) as Donnie finds love with Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone) and discusses time travel and wormholes with his Science teacher Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle). Donnie concludes that destruction is a form of creation while debating Graham Greene with his English teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore), and from Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland) he learns the hard truth that “every living creature on Earth dies alone.” All of these encounters, and Frank, lead Donnie Darko to an exact place at an exact moment, and the moving final scene is just as striking as the opening one, especially as Gary Jules delivers a chilling cover of Tears for Fears’ Mad World.
In 2001 when this film came out, there was nothing else quite like it. Now the majority of our modern day box office is packed with futuristic this, alternate universe that. But 13 years ago this movie blew my tiny mind. As an oddball myself back then, a teenage goth girl who read Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan books for fun, I related to Donnie. I wasn’t following orders from bunny rabbits, but I was different. I got that side of it. This film means a lot to me and I connect to an old version of me whenever I watch it, but my fondness isn’t strictly nostalgic. The soundtrack is incredible, the dialogue is both entertaining and heartbreaking, and watching Patrick Swayze portray a phoney motivational speaker who turns out to be a pedophile is something you won’t find anywhere else.
If you haven’t seen Donnie Darko, I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.