BY NEIL FAUERSO
Donnie Darko takes place one October in 1988 in a wealthy suburban town. When we first see Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), he is lying on a mountain road next to his bike in the early hours of the morning, having apparently ridden there in his sleep. Donnie takes medications and sees a shrink regularly. His straight-edged family doesn’t know what to make of him, but are nevertheless concerned. One night Donnie follows an otherworldly rabbit who tells him that the world will end in 26 days. Immediately after that, a mysterious jet engine falls on Donnie’s room. Got that? It gets weirder. As Donnie counts down the days, he starts seeing other people’s space-time worm holes as well as being able to control his own. Meanwhile, there is a new girlfriend, two brutal school bullies, and a motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze) with dark secrets.
Up and coming actor Jake Gyllenhaal makes a major breakthrough. Like a sharper Toby Maguire, he inhabits Donnie with the comfort and ease of a veteran. The supporting players really give the film its depth. Marquee stars like Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze are great in roles that allow them to barb their usual images. Swayze in particular is outstanding as a greasy, snake-oil salesman of a man, who seems to fool everyone but Donnie.
Kelly’s script doesn’t make complete sense, and the end is risky but not entirely successful. He does blend all the elements of the film with a remarkable skill, and as a filmmaker he is a natural.
Although not perfect by any means, Donnie Darko is a fully realized experience in the vein of Mulholland Drive or the world of Terry Gilliam. In a film world of stupefying homogenization, I cannot help but applaud those filmmakers that shed barriers and rules, for better or for worse. In that school, Kelly is at the top of his young class.