Film Fridays – ‘Donnie Darko’

Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. After doing a daily music challenge for a month last year we talked about doing something similar for movies. The current global lockdowns give us the perfect excuse to start. Many of us are confined to home with only the TV for company so we thought we would start β€˜Film Fridays’ so that we can talk about our favourite movies and hopefully give our readers some ideas for things to watch. If you join us please tag filmfriday and link back to one or both of us so we can read your own contributions!

We would be delighted if you would join us! We don’t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke. 

Sarah and I have shared our lists and decided to tackle them as written – but in my case I have diverged from this plan according to my mood.

‘Donnie Darko’ (2001)

The trailer is on youtube:

During lockdown I noticed this wonderful version of ‘Mad World’ by Curt Smith (of original performers Tears for fears), with his daughter Diva, had gone viral:

Another movie that, unfortunately, reflects my mood at the time of writing!

The film opens with troubled teenager Donnie Being drawn from his home by a voice whilst sleepwalking. He meets a mysterious figure in a bunny costume who warns him that the world will end in 28 days time. Donnie awakes lying in a road and goes home to discover that he has cheated death by being out when a jet engine crashes through the roof over his bedroom.. An engine with no known source – there were no planes overhead at the time.

Donnie’s world increasingly unravels as his visions continue and ‘Frank’ – the figure in the bunny costume, who only Donnie can see – goads him into committing several crimes and ultimately they lead to tragedy. At the end of the 28 days Donnie sees an opportunity to put right all the tragedies that have occurred to people he loves during the last few weeks…

I have a funny relationship with this movie. It escaped me on release ( it barely got any publicity as it was released just a few weeks after Sept 11th 2001 – not a good time for a movie with a plane crash in it….).

In around 2003 I was gifted this DVD by friends who had known me since I was Donnie’s age and who thought it was ‘perfect for me’. No comment. Anyway, they did not know that I was very mentally unwell at that time with generalised anxiety amongst other things. I took one look at the blurb on the back of the DVD, with its talk of the world ending, and decided it was staying in the wrapper. Which it did, for 3 years. In 2006 I started guitar lessons and my tutor started teaching me the song ‘Mad World’ – as featured in ‘Donnie Darko’. He was stunned I had not seen the movie so I decided to watch it at last – and instantly loved it.

That song is just one of the great things about the film. Others are the sly dark humour which my friends knew was perfect for me, and the performances. The plot itself is both clever and original, with a take on time travel and alternate timelines that was quite fresh.

Star Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic in the final role and has gone on to be a major star as has his real life sister Maggie, who plays his fictional sister here. His new girlfriend Gretchen is played wonderfully by Jena Malone.

My favourite character and performance has to be Drew Barrymore playing liberal and idealistic teacher Karen Pomeroy. Only a small role but my heart really went out to her in her frustrating battles against the conservatism of the school, and especially busybody gym teacher Kitty Farmer. I honestly do not think Barrymore has bettered this role or performance.

Probably the other big star names, albeit in supporting roles, are Patrick Swayze, playing a sleazy motivational speaker who Kitty idolises, and Katharine Ross playing Dr Thurman – Donnie’s therapist.

The film grips in the same way that an ‘unputdownable’ novel does. An example – my wife had never seen it as it was definitely not her cup of tea. Until one evening we watched a very grown-up Jake Gyllenhaal in another movie. So I put the first scene of Donnie Darko on as she was curious to see what he had been like as a youngster. She ended up hooked by the first scene and watched the whole movie.

Then that ending.. It wraps things up cleverly but still leaves you wondering how! Donnie’s final laugh as he realises what has to happen is wonderful in his appreciation of the irony.

Some geeky notes:

  • The film was shot over 28 days – the same timeline as the story
  • Tough the movie underperformed at the box office, the Michael Andrews/Gary Jules cover of ‘Mad World’ (originally by Tears for Fears), topped the UK singles chart for 3 weeks.
  • Jake Gyllenhaal has said even he does not fully understand the film but the confusing nature of the film, and the discussion it generates, is perfectly OK.
  • Drew Barrymore and her production company released the movie in theatres after it looked in danger of going straight-to-video

12 Comments

  1. Omg! Can it really be that long ago that I watched this film?! πŸ˜‚ And I loved it so much (and not just because Jake Gyllenhaal is a cutie πŸ˜‰)! So glad that you found your way to it even if it took a bit of time. πŸ˜€ And yay to Susan for falling for it too! I always think when people who watch or read stuff that’s actually not up their road and then happen to like it, it makes the object in question even better. Does that make sense to you?
    Anyway, awesome film!
    I’ve got the piano sheet for Mad World and should give it a try soon but first am about to tackle the Feather theme of Forrest Gump. πŸ˜‰ Still remember that awesome video to Mad World with the kids doing this great choreo filmed from up a roof! πŸ˜€ Thanks for reminding me of this classic, Darren! High time I watch it again!! πŸ’•

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, what you say makes perfect sense. It is as if some films are of such high quality that even non-fans of a genre cannot deny them. For instance you do not need to be a fan of westerns to appreciate Leone and Eastwood’s movies.
      Having said that, Donnie Darko, like Lost in Translation, rather defies classification anyway!
      I have still not seen Forrest Gump so excuse my ignorance of the feather themeπŸ˜‚. Good luck with it Sarah! 😍

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! πŸ˜€
        What?!?! Now that’s a huge hole in your film biography not having watched Forrest Gump yet! I watched it at the cinema when it came out and countless times since on tv. It’s film history! You have some homework now. πŸ˜‰πŸ’•

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m developing quite a list of films to watch (though I have ticked off Lost in Translation now β€” thanks for that. It is utterly wonderful not seen on an airline screen).

    I have a black hole in my cinematic history that coincides with birthing and raising a small screaming human who, ironically, has been making movies since he was about 11 and is the best person I know to watch films with.

    I really like the sound of Donnie Darko; love the Gary Jules version of Mad World, and β€” btw β€” haven’t seen Forrest Gump either.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So pleased you enjoyed Lost in Translation this time around!
      My movie watching gap, at the cinema at least, is between 1993 and 2003 – basically the years I was commuting a long distance each day and had little energy for cinema trips unless it was something really special.
      You shouod definitely see Donnie Darko – I think it would appeal to you for sure!

      Like

  3. While I’ve certainly heard of Donnie Darko, I had never seen it. Yeah, an ill-fated release for sure. You’ve piqued my curiosity though. It’s funny during this series I can’t help but think what amazing sales people we’d all make πŸ˜›

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so glad I read this because I don’t think I’ve seen this movie, though I have definitely heard of it. I want to watch it now! Wonder if it’s on Netflix (the only streaming channel I have). Also enjoyed the return of Curt Smith and the wonder Roland Orthabal (spelling?) recently including a must-watch session playing to about 10 people recorded and shown on YouTube I think. I will watch this clip with great respect πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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