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63. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Donnie Darko

May 10, 2018

Director: Richard Kelly

Screenplay: Richard Kelly

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle

Runtime: 113 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 2002

 

★★★★☆

 

Plucked from a mixture of personal experiences and the works of Phillip K. Dick, Donnie Darko is Richard Kelly's beautiful, mystifying and dreamy vision of small-town American life in the 1980s, but as seen through the eyes of the outsiders, the disturbed and the broken who feel constantly at odds with a world that just isn't the way it should be.

 

This coming-of-age tale manifests itself as a dark and cerebral journey, where emotions warp the fabric of reality and sensation is a fading and fleeting experience that we don’t fully comprehend. Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is undergoing an existential journey that only he can understand, all the while slowly losing control over his own faculties in a way that is shaken off by his friends and family as symptoms of his medication and a rapidly deteriorating psychosis. Both reality and unreality could be simultaneously unfolding because of each other in a twisted reinterpretation of the hero's journey; he writes himself into becoming the hero of his own story. The film’s twisted time travel narrative, musings on destiny and purpose are perfectly idealised remedies to the anxieties of youth as they come to terms with their place in the universe.

 

The family drama is perfectly grounded and the performances are outstanding, from Ross, Swayze, Osborne and Barrymore, but especially Gyllenhaal who tackles its difficult role. Kelly's handling of all of this content is commendable, and he’s a damn decent filmmaker here with an eye for period detail and camera work in its faded pallet, as well as the sets and April Ferry’s thorough costume design.

 

The complimenting soundtrack by Michael Andrews is a beautifully simplistic, experimental score, whose rendition of Mad World is a perfect symptom of the film's melancholic distortion of the joys of an otherwise modelled environment and era.

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