How does one differentiate between fantasy and reality? The real and the perceived? Neurologists say that the human brain interprets dreams in the same manner as memories, which makes things difficult enough for the neurotypical, but what happens in the mind of a neurodivergent individual when that person can no longer trust their own experiences, or feel safe within their own dreams? This is the premise of Donnie Darko, an unassuming indie flick that became a cult classic and still remains one of the most original science fiction dramas in all of American cinema.
The film opens on October 2, 1988, with Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a 15-year-old boy, living in an affluent Virginia suburb with his parents and sisters. On this night, Donnie sleepwalks and meets a being named Frank in a large, frightening rabbit costume. Frank warns Donnie that the world will end in approximately 28 days. Donnie then goes home to find that a jet engine has inexplicably crashed into his room, an event which makes Donnie and audiences alike believe that the sleepwalking saved his life.
Donnie continues to be visited by this figure and when the troubled boy tells his therapist about Frank, he is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. In the midst of all this, Donnie becomes interested in time travel, starts dating a new student at his school named Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), and commits a series of crimes at Frank’s urging. Between Donnie’s hazy reality, Gretchen’s troubled past, and the dirty secrets of a neighbourhood predator, Donnie is forced to rely on his instincts and trust a mind that now seems foreign to him.
Donnie Darko is easily the most unnerving and beautifully strange film that modern sci-fi fans have ever seen, a movie that places audiences firmly in the same state of uncertainty that the title character occupies and forces us to question our own realities, our own sanity. We must ask ourselves whether reality shapes our minds, or our minds limit our realities. With engaging cinematography and a lush soundtrack, Donnie Darko is a film that expertly blends various genres of science and science fiction together to create something just short of magical.
I give this one 4.25 stars.