Donnie Darko - I've invested enough time in Donnie Darko
| Donnie Darko frustrates me. I have seen it a few times now and each time I get further aggravated. Unfortunately, the new DVD release of the director's cut didn't do much to dispel this exasperation.
Donnie Darko is a puzzle movie. It's the kind of movie that many watch only to scratch their heads and ask, "what the…?" This is not what frustrates me. In fact, I am usually strongly drawn to these kinds of movies. I love both the gimmicky (and I don't mean that word to be pejorative) like Memento or The Usual Suspects, to the sublime like Exotica or almost anything by David Lynch. Donnie Darko, however, frustrates me because the only question I am asking at the end is, "Why?"
Donnie Darko, probably the most famous and talked about cult favourite of recent years, has recently been re-released in a shiny new "Director's Cut" that is designed to add to the mythology of the film. However, the added scenes, cryptic commentary and equally enigmatic special features do little but scream at the viewer how "odd" this movie is. The whole package seems calculated to build up anticipation for a film that unfortunately doesn't live up to the "cult" hype.
I will grant you that this film is an odd duck. The cast includes a strange mix that includes both Gyllenhaal siblings, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone and TV's Noah Wyle. It involves a fairly creepy bunny costume and some musings on time travel. However, Donnie Darko isn't nearly as odd as it wishes it were. The plot remains fairly linear and the characters' motivations remain standard.
I am drawn to some of the themes in Donnie Darko. I like the Catcher in the Rye elements but director Kelly's style is too heavy handed to make this film stand out in the teen angst department. I am always up for a "maturity means discovering the world is full of bull shit and learning how to connect to other humans in some tangibly real way" story but I like them to offer something a little new. This theme has been explored extensively and to stand out a film must present something fresh.
Donnie Darko's answer to that is to try to get weird. It never quite achieves enough of the weirdness factor to make it satisfying. Instead, it just feels like it is trying a little too hard. Simply being an enigma isn't brilliance in itself. It is when that enigma offers interesting new perspectives and opens new questions that a puzzle style film can really open us up to something. The only thing Darko says is, "look how smart I am." Well, it doesn't seem all that smart in the end.
Darko is not a bad film and remains somewhat interesting. It could be the sign of real potential for Kelly. I am interested enough to see what he has coming next but not interested enough to invest anymore time in Donnie Darko.