Over the years, there have been a slew of time travel movies. Each have tried to put a different spin on the method of time travel, but most have basically still boiled down to three basic methods. One is the idea that, no matter what you do, you cannot change time. Think you're going to go back in time and kill your grandfather so you won't be born? Looking over the fact that you're kind of a douche for killing your grandfather, in this concept of time travel, your actions will be worthless. It's not that time is so much self-healing as it is that you're not quite as clever as time. The thing you think you changed never happened and whatever it was you did to change it made the very thing you didn't want to happen, well, happen.
There's also the idea that you can change time completely. That time is malleable like pottery and can be sculpted into something new over and over and over again, creating a new outcome each time. Parents are doormats in the future, forever being bullied by the high school bully? Take your time-traveling butt back to 1955, make your mom fall in love with you and, well, you get the picture.
And then there's the concept that involves bits and pieces of all three. That time is the one manipulating itself and everyone plays a part in it, whether they want to or not. In an essence, we're all time's bitch. That's the idea that drives Donnie Darko, a movie that has perplexed some, angered others and fascinated the rest.
At the center of the film is the character of Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a boy who seems to be losing control of his sanity. First of all, he's seeing a large, creepy looking bunny named Frank. And not only that, Frank is insisting that the world will end soon. In 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds to be exact. To the outside world, Donnie seems like another troubled teenager. In Donnie's world, he sees the fabric of the world unraveling and it appears that he's the one pulling the loose string.
Darko came about in an era where it seemed so many films were playing fast and loose with the idea of main characters being puppeteered by either delusions, hallucinations or some other mental machination to bring about world changing events -- at least for those characters immediately involved. That which most of us view as mental illness was an off-screen protagonist and, as such, films such as Fight Club, Memento and Donnie Darko birthed the genre known as "mind fuck" films, films that felt like they were screwing with your own mind as much as the characters they tortured.
Donnie Darko has the distinction among these of finally being explained by a "scientific" idea about the Fourth Dimension that the director, Richard Kelly, included not in the original cut, but in a later released extended cut. Before that cut, the film was discussed ad nauseum as fans and detractors tried to decipher what exactly had happened. Was the whole thing in Donnie's mind? Did any of the events actually happen? When the screen went dark, it was up to the audience to decide.
Then there's the music of Donnie Darko. Darko contains one of the best musical montage scenes ever put to film as Tears For Fears overscores the introduction to Donnie's high school life with the ever-appropriate "Head Over Heels." And the final nail in the coffin of the film with Gary Jule's cover of Tears' "Mad World" brings the film to its beautiful, haunting conclusion. If nothing else, Donnie Darko is a lesson in using popular music as a storytelling tool in modern film.
While Donnie Darko might infuriate you more than excite you, it's still one of those films that deserves at least one viewing. It's construction, dialogue and performances alone make it worth at least a look. The film is complicated, unnerving and proof that we've only just begun to explore the multiverse created by time travel films.