A welcome fifteenth anniversary reissue for Richard Kelly’s intelligent, enchanting slice of ’80s-throwback Lynchian emo-angst. Jake Gyllenhaal is all glowering gothic intensity as Donnie, the wayward son of a well-to-do middle-American family who begins to suspect that his hallucinations of a giant rabbit are in fact transmissions from an apocalyptic future.
It’s the jukebox soundtrack and crisp, inventive photography you remember, but what’s perhaps most remarkable about ‘Donnie Darko’ a decade-and-a-half on is how Kelly manages to take a bleak story of adolescent mental illness and make it funny, resonant and entertaining – without ever sacrificing integrity. Donnie is a complex, charming hero, and his romance with Jena Malone’s equally troubled Gretchen is the heart of the film. But there’s a pleasing sense that Kelly gives equal value to all the lives that circle around Donnie’s: from Patrick Swayze’s disturbed self-help guru to Drew Barrymore’s earnest English teacher, not to mention Donnie’s loving, conflicted family. Any of these characters could be the focus of their own story.
Kelly’s tendency to ramble off into half-formed ideas about wormholes and quantum theory may feel a tad adolescent in retrospect, but otherwise this has held up remarkably well.