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Donnie Darko: Retro Review

Looking for films to watch on your streaming service? Here’s another retro review that we hope encourages you to go and have another look.

It’s hard to put Donnie Darko in a box. The 2001 film written and directed by Richard Kelly is such a layered and dense production, that on a first viewing it is nothing short of confusing. The film that introduces us to the hero named Donnie Darko, played by a very young Jake Gyllenhall, seems at first to be a high school drama about a disturbed student that sleepwalks and doesn’t take his meds.

However things start to escalate when Donnie’s sleepwalking saves him from a freak accident that sees an engine from a plane fall into his bedroom totalling his room. As Donnie and his normal world of school, family and friends begins to unravel, we follow his descent into an almost literal rabbit hole, where reality starts to bend and Donnie realises that he has to make a choice that will ultimately lead to tragedy.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko (2001)

Over the years Donnie Darko has established a cult following that other films with cult followings are jealous of. Although initially not a box office hit, the film slowly earned its reputation after its initial release, as fans began to dissect it after it’s appearance on DVD. It would appear that the more you view the film, the more you see, and unlike some other films of a similar ilk, Donnie Darko actually lives up to the repeat views. The film also managed to reinvent itself with a director’s cut that recut the film, including inserts that help people begin to understand what was actually going on.

To be honest, watching the original cut is very frustrating. You know something is going on, and you even think you have a handle on it, however the true depth of the screenplay is not on display, and it takes more investigation to uncover the secrets beyond the film. A cryptic web site, that is really a puzzle, allows visitors to uncover more aspects of the film not properly addressed and after revealing a few more facts, it’s back to the film to see where it all fits.

Sure if you go online you can read full explanations for everything that happens, however there are still parts of fandom that think the whole mythology behind the screenplay is in fact a delusion, and none of it happens.

Donnie Darko is so open to interpretation, and that is the secret of it’s longevity. Daring and innovative, surprising and scary, it’s a film that somehow managed to bury itself into the sci fi consciousness, and then grow even more. The performances are brilliant, the soundtrack is great, the plot is nuts and Donnie Darko is a genre bending masterpiece that deserves to be watched, and watched again.

Just don’t watch the sequel – it’s rubbish.