Written by Angela Pietz
“Mein Lieblingsfilm ist Donnie Darko”; I wrote it in my year 10 German coursework and I’ll write it again, because almost six years, and many more films later, it’s still true.
I first saw the film during an eleven hour flight to South Africa. Donnie Darko was the strangest film that I’d ever seen and being drawn into it whilst tired, almost forced to watch it, only heightened the film’s mood. I watched the film three times during that flight, to try and make sure that I’d made sense of the plot.
I was so blown away by the film because I’d never experienced anything that had both pandered to my ‘teen-angst’ and provided an interesting visual cinematic experience. As an added bonus, the fragmented plot gave me the guise of ‘intellectual stimulation’ beneath which to hide my shameful love of the film.
I concede that seeing the film when I was 15 must have had an impact on the degree to which I love it, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who comes into contact with it after this point is forgiven for not appreciating what an enjoyable film it is to watch. Richard Kelly’s montages aren’t the same lazy time-fillers that you find in too many films these days, rather they provide interesting means of introducing the audience to characters and to situations. For instance, when Donnie arrives at school the camera floats around the building observing all the other teachers and students.
You can’t fail to be compelled to watch Donnie Darko repeatedly, because the slightly ambiguous plot forces you to watch the film until you’ve made sense of what it means. It has the correct degree of ambiguity though, so it’s not as surreal as many David Lynch films, which most mortals have to read plot summaries of before even attempting to watch them.
The best summary of Donnie Darko that I’ve come across is Tim Minchin’s song about the film: there’s time travel, parallel universes, attempts to explain theoretical physics, the concept of the misunderstood teenager as the unexpected hero, drugs, pre-marital sex, a teen suffering from a mental illness, a giant bunny rabbit named Frank, 1980s soundtrack, Patrick Swayze being made a fool of, fundamentalist Christians; as well as arson and an array of loveable supporting characters which have the most incredibly funny lines and catch-phrases.
One of the funniest snippets of dialogue in any film comes when some of the younger school girls are discussing the school being flooded:
“The boy’s locker room was flooded and they found faeces everywhere!”“What are faeces?”“Baby mice.”“Awww!”
There is more to Donnie Darko than there is in most teen-films. For instance, Donnie’s relationship with his family - impressively in such a short film Kelly creates a feasible family dynamic, in which the strains of trying to understand and best deal with Donnie’s mental illness are explored and exposed. Furthermore, the quality of acting is much better than in most teen films thanks to Kelly’s choice of actors being based upon their willingness to engage with a low-budget, experimental project.
There will tragically be a sequel to Donnie Darko, called S.Darko as whilst the original film failed to break-even upon its first release, its status as a ‘cult-classic’ has prompted some daft studio into funding a sequel. I urge you all not to see the sequel. If you feel an insatiable thirst for all things Donnie Darko, then rather go to film’s website, which is great fun to play around on and to engage more directly with the film. Overall I love Donnie Darko because I believe that it’s an engaging, well-thought-out film, which explores concepts that I find interesting, whilst still succeeding to be very funny.