DON­NIE DARKO,

Pasatiempo - - TERRELL’S TUNE-UP - Don­nie Darko Don­nie Darko Water­ship Down, Darko Don­nie Darko Don­nie Darko S. Darko, Don­nie

The story of Don­nie Darko, the fif­teen-year-old pro­tag­o­nist of writer and direc­tor Richard Kelly’s moody, labyrinthine film about grow­ing pains, time travel, sac­ri­fice, and re­demp­tion, is not your typ­i­cal com­ing-of-age tale, but it’s a smart and even re­al­is­tic one — de­spite its more fan­tas­ti­cal mo­ments. The movie knows who its au­di­ence is: the black sheep, the out­sider, the mis­un­der­stood.

One night Don­nie ( Jake Gyl­len­haal) is roused from bed, sum­moned to the front yard by a mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure — a man in a bunny suit and a threat­en­ing mask. He tells Don­nie, who might be dream­ing, that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 min­utes, and 12 sec­onds. While Don­nie was out of bed talk­ing to the bunny man (whose name, we learn, is Frank), he man­aged to es­cape get­ting crushed by a fall­ing jet en­gine that crashed through his bed­room ceil­ing. It wasn’t luck that saved Don­nie. He was sleep­walk­ing, not guided by his own con­scious will. But he was guided nonethe­less.

Don­nie has wak­ing dreams of Frank, who urges him to en­gage in de­struc­tive be­hav­ior. Don­nie en­ters psy­chother­apy af­ter torch­ing an aban­doned home and is put on med­i­ca­tion. Part of the won­der of

is that ac­tions that oc­cur early on have reper­cus­sions that you may not ex­pect. For in­stance, Don­nie’s mis­trust of a mo­ti­va­tional speaker played by Pa­trick Swayze proves to be on tar­get. Don­nie hides be­hind a mask of sar­donic wit. Maybe he’s like Frank, a man be­hind a mask. “Why are you wear­ing that stupid bunny suit?” he asks Frank one night. Frank replies, “Why are you wear­ing that stupid man suit?” But Don­nie is a kind per­son un­der­neath. At the root of his delin­quency is right­eous anger to­ward a cyn­i­cal world, but it is love that saves him, or so it seems. has an in­tel­li­gent script, but it is am­bigu­ous and of­fers much to chew on.

At school, Don­nie is bul­lied by a teen wolf pack that in­cludes Seth Ro­gen in an early role, but he’s be­friended by sym­pa­thetic sci­ence teacher Ken­neth Mon­nitoff (Noah Wyle) and English teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Bar­ry­more). Pomeroy prob­a­bly avoids a stu­dent crush from Don­nie — be­ing fif­teen, he thinks about sex all the time — when she or­ders Gretchen ( Jena Malone), a new stu­dent in the class, to sit next to the boy she thinks is the cutest. Guess who Gretchen chooses.

Don­nie thinks about death as well as sex and often men­tions them in the same breath. When a young friend in­sists that Smur­fette gets it on with all the male Smurfs, Don­nie balks. “Smurfs are asex­ual,” he says. “They don’t even have re­pro­duc­tive or­gans un­der those lit­tle white pants.” Then he won­ders about the pur­pose of liv­ing if you don’t have the equip­ment. In class they dis­cuss Richard Adams’ 1972 novel about a war­ren of talk­ing rab­bits. Don­nie thinks rab­bits are cute but over­sexed, and ig­no­rant of their own mor­tal­ity. He doesn’t un­der­stand why we should have the same re­spect for a dead as we would for a per­son. “Be­cause,” Pomeroy tells him, “the rab­bits are us, Don­nie,” and it’s hard not to think of Frank.

Don­nie grows fas­ci­nated with time travel, so Mon­nitoff gives him an old book by a woman named Roberta Spar­row who was once a sci­ence teacher at the school but now lives as a recluse. The school­child­ren call her Grandma Death, and it is un­clear whether there is wis­dom in her writ­ings or only mad­ness. Don­nie, too, seems to suf­fer from schizophre­nia or delu­sions, but his mal­ady isn’t given a name. This is a film of pos­si­bil­i­ties, not cer­tain­ties. Time travel is one of those pos­si­bil­i­ties. Don­nie can seem­ingly project him­self into the fu­ture, fol­low­ing a bil­low­ing, translu­cent cord of en­ergy that em­anates from the cen­ter of his be­ing. The things he sees in these mo­ments may of­fer clues to his fate, but Don­nie, like the au­di­ence, has to puz­zle them out. He writes to Spar­row, hop­ing to learn more.

The des­tinies of Gretchen, Don­nie, Spar­row, and other char­ac­ters come to­gether on Hal­loween night in a tragic mo­ment that puts a spin on Frank’s pre­dic­tion about the end of the world. The an­swers were there all along in mes­sages from Frank, whose na­ture is re­vealed, and the writ­ings of Spar­row, who may have solved the rid­dle of time travel af­ter all. In a re­peat of the crash­ing-jet-en­gine in­ci­dent late in the film, Don­nie has a chance at sal­va­tion.

Though was made in 2001, it’s set in the 1980s. It is the in­verse of a John Hughes com­edy, but has plenty of hu­mor of its own, par­tic­u­larly in the way it pokes a fin­ger at so­ci­ety and fam­ily life. It takes more chances than a Hughes film, and chal­lenges its au­di­ence with its dis­turb­ing themes. Don­nie’s par­ents, played by Holmes Os­borne and Mary McDon­nell, are well-mean­ing but clue­less, hav­ing no idea of the depths of their son’s de­spair. Kelly treats them re­spect­fully, only thumb­ing his nose at them a lit­tle, and he gives one of the most mean­ing­ful mo­ments to McDon­nell late in the film. Don­nie’s older sis­ter, El­iz­a­beth, is played by his re­al­life sis­ter Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal, lend­ing au­then­tic­ity to their in­ter­ac­tions. Her role ap­pears less sig­nif­i­cant than it re­ally is.

The Screen is show­ing a new 4K restora­tion of the direc­tor’s cut, which strength­ens some themes and adds segues in the form of long pas­sages from Spar­row’s book as well as some ad­di­tional footage, but it is less fa­vored among fans who pre­fer the theatri­cal ver­sion. Both are head-scratch­ers; the direc­tor’s cut is only slightly less so. The act­ing, tone, and story are top-notch, and is far bet­ter than what you might ex­pect from a first-time direc­tor. The film screened at Sun­dance and then saw a lim­ited theatri­cal re­lease. Crit­ics raved, while au­di­ences stayed away. Suc­cess came later on the home-video mar­ket, and it has since achieved cult sta­tus.

Noth­ing Kelly has done since has reaped the praise of his de­but. There is a se­quel, 2009’s cen­tered around Don­nie’s younger sis­ter, Sa­man­tha, but it did not in­volve Kelly and was panned by fans and crit­ics alike. The orig­i­nal film, how­ever, boasts a stel­lar cast, strik­ing pho­tog­ra­phy, ex­cel­lent dig­i­tal ef­fects, and a killer sound­track with ’80s-era songs by The Church, Tears for Fears, Oingo Boingo, and Joy Divi­sion, to name a few. In the uni­verse of

even the names of bands on the sound­track, like Echo and the Bun­ny­men, seem in­ten­tion­ally self-ref­er­en­tial. As The Church sings, it’s some­thing quite pe­cu­liar. — Michael Abatemarco

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