Top Ten Films #4: Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko

This week I’ll be revealing my top ten favourite films, posting one each day with a few paragraphs about what they mean to me. If anyone wishes to share their favourites I’d be happy to hear from you. Today is #4.

4) Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie DarkoRichard Kelly’s perplexing and thought-provoking debut film is an outstanding achievement for such a young director. Set in 1988 the film focuses on troubled teenager Donnie Darko who is being treated for schizophrenia. One night Donnie hears an unnerving voice that lures him to a local golf course. Here he meets Frank, a mysterious figure dressed in a sinister rabbit costume. Frank informs Donnie that in 28 days 6 hours 42 minutes and 12 seconds the world will end. Donnie’s meeting with Frank is well-timed as he returns home to find a plane engine has crashed into his bedroom. Frank’s interjection has saved Donnie’s life but is the vision of Frank a result of Donnie’s mental illness?

The film traces Donnie’s progress over the next 28 days as we draw ever closer to Frank’s prophesised end of the world. Along the way Donnie frequently meets Frank and is given tasks to complete such as flooding his school and burning down the house of a self-help guru (a great performance from the late Patrick Swayze). Frank also introduces Donnie to the theory of time travel, which is pivotal to the film’s dramatic conclusion as we are hit by a series of revelations including the purpose of the journey Frank has guided Donnie through and the link between them.

Donnie Darko is a film that demands attention, particularly with the head-scratching plot but I don’t believe it to be so complicated that it would alienate audiences. It flows beautifully throughout and is backed by a great soundtrack with the likes of “Killing Moon,” “Head Over Heels” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” making us feel more acquainted with the zeitgeist of the 80s. Donnie, played brilliantly by Jake Gyllenhall, is a troubled teenager but he manages to be an endearing and sympathetic character, not afraid to speak his mind, particularly at school and with some amusing results. There’s a great supporting cast as well with Donnie’s family, school friends, teachers, psychiatrist and other locals all being drawn into the mystery Donnie must unravel at the behest of Frank.

The ending to Donnie Darko is enhanced with Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World,” the scenes changing swiftly as the song continues to show a moment of reflection by the central characters in the film. Even after knowing the film’s many twists and turns it manages to retain a welcome degree of freshness and originality on repeat viewing. The only downside for Richard Kelly is he will struggle to make a better film than this.

Top Ten so far:

4) Donnie Darko (2001)

5) Withnail and I (1987)

6) Predator (1987)

7) Battle Royale (2000)

8) Once Upon a Time in the West (1969)

9) House of Flying Daggers (2004)

10) Spirited Away (2001)

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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