It is time for this month’s blog entry for the Blind Spot series and today we are looking at the cult classic Donnie Darko! So get your black rabbit suits out and let’s talk about this unusual film.
Donnie Darko is directed by Richard Kelly and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a disgruntled teen who keeps having visions of the future accompanied by a giant black evil rabbit. It also features Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, and Drew Barrymore.
There are a lot of things I liked about Donnie Darko. First, I liked how it captured a feeling of teenage angst. As a teen I remember feeling that everyone was doing things wrong and if they would just listen to me it would be better. This feeling was compounded by the fact that most people seemed to see teenagers as inherently stupid and annoying. A movie like Donnie Darko validates those feelings and tells teens to follow their instincts and that adults are not always right. This is empowering.
Second, Donnie Darko is bold and uses imagery and symbolism without feeling the need to explain everything to death. It gives the viewer the opportunity to explain the images they are seeing in their own way- for us all to have a discussion.
My take on the narrative is that it is about mental illness. He spends a lot of time with a shrink that isn’t very helpful. She validates his experiences but doesn’t help provide a solution. Then you have a self-help speaker who is complete BS and other voices claiming they can solve Donnie’s severe psychosis. As his anxiety for the future grows the more desperate he grows until he becomes dangerous. Such is often the case with untreated or poorly treated mental illness.
It reminded me a little bit of what happened to me after I had a panic attack. All of the sudden the idea of bad things became something that would cause panic because I’d already experienced that happening before. Depression and anxiety are literally seen as a black cloud over Donnie and I can confirm that is how it feels.
Also when you are in the midst of a panic attack or severe mental break it feels like the world is going to end, which is a theme of the movie. You both dread and pray for this ending because anything is better than how you are feeling during these episodes.
There are some things, however, I didn’t like in Donnie Darko. My main problem is it can be a bit self-indulgent at times telling us things we already know just to introduce a cool visual or reiterate an already stated point. 122 minutes is far too long for this film and it feels repetitive after a while. It would have worked better if it had the 92 minute run time of this year’s equally abstract A Ghost Story.
I also think sometimes it bites off more than it can chew. It tries to comment on science, religion, politics, mental illness, divorce, teen sexuality, bullying, time travel and more. These many messages can leave it a little muddled and confusing.It’s also very cynical so unless you are an angsty teen who needs that angst to be understood I don’t think you will connect emotionally with it (which I think it wants you to do). I certainly didn’t have an emotional bond with the film.
Still, I admire the risk taking and what it has to say about mental illness. It’s got problems but overall I’d still recommend Donnie Darko.
Overall Grade- B
It is an R rating mostly for language
What is your take on Donnie Darko? I’ve heard all kinds of theories, which I think is a fun part of the film.