Movie review: 'Donnie Darko'

Mysteries continue to surround Richard Kelly's 2001 masterpiece


You know something is wrong the first time we see Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) lying in the middle of a hilltop road. Is he injured? Is he dead?

Well, it turns out, that’s only the first of many mysteries woven through director Richard Kelly’s 2001 sci-fi cult fave, some of which are still debated by ardent fans.

The director’s cut of the film is being screened at the Taos Community Auditorium starting Sunday (April 30) as a “one-off” presentation, much like last October’s “Sorcerer.” This movie certainly deserves another look, especially on the TCA’s huge new screen and great sound.

“Donnie Darko” is as difficult to sum up in one sentence as it is to pin down the number of YouTube videos purporting to “explain” what it was all about. Having gone through many of them, it’s clear most have only an inkling of what Kelly was trying to do. Was it about Donnie’s journey as mankind’s savior? Was it the ultimate hipster’s cosmic joke? Or, was it an artful exercise in depicting the ironies in time travel?

The best way to take a deep dive into this masterpiece of cinematic weirdness is by simply watching it.

Donnie is a teenager his teachers, child psychologists and dense adults might call “troubled.” That’s mostly because he is prone to speaking out harsh truths when others don’t want to or are embarrassed to hear them. He lives at home with his parents, Rose and Eddie Darko (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne), along with his sisters, Elizabeth and Samantha (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Daveigh Chase), all of whom don’t get along with him particularly well. That’s why he has been seeing a therapist named Dr. Lillian Thurman (Katharine Ross).

Dr. Thurman has been helping Donnie work through a variety of psychological issues related to brainy, outsider teens. In particular, he has been discovered asleep in odd places other than his own bed, such as the aforementioned hilltop road or the middle of a golf course, without any memory of how he got there. But, when we first meet him, the challenge is to deal with a startling incident for Donnie that will have far-reaching implications for everyone.

One night, a jet engine falls out of the sky and crashes through the roof of the Darko home, right through Donnie’s bedroom. If Donnie had been there, he would certainly have been killed.

Coincidence? Or, has something even more bizarre happened that has something to do with a creepy guy in a scary bunny rabbit suit named Frank, who tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days, six hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds?

Assisting Donnie as he tries to figure out what’s real and what isn’t is a new girl to his school, Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), who seems to understand why Donnie is the way he is. It’s certainly not the people at his school, classmates such as a pair of bullies who constantly threaten him with physical harm or the ineffectual teachers such as Mrs. Farmer (Beth Grant) and her adoration for self-help guru Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) — who harbors a stunning personal secret. At least his English teacher, Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore), and science teacher, Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wylie), are smart enough to transcend the status quo, but they are held back by rules and regulations.

As the events culminate in Frank’s prediction, Kelly’s script takes us through horror, revelation and a strange sense of peace. How he does that is something you’ll just have to see for yourself. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to make a YouTube video with your own explanation.

“Donnie Darko” is rated R for language, some drug use and violence.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (April 30) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (May 1-3).

Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit

Also showing in Taos


MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material

Mitchell Storyteller 7

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy — his spirited young niece, Mary (Mckenna Grace) — in a coastal town in Florida. Frank’s plans for a normal school life for Mary are foiled when the 7-year-old’s mathematical abilities come to the attention of Frank’s formidable mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Frank and Mary.

Octavia Spencer plays Roberta, Frank and Mary’s landlady and best friend. Jenny Slate is Mary’s teacher, Bonnie, a young woman whose concern for her student develops into a connection with her uncle as well.

Calvin Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, described the film as “an engaging comedy-drama that avoids becoming too much of a tearjerker. Working from a screenplay by Tom Flynn, director Marc Webb (’500 Days of Summer’) elicits strong performances and does a good job of keeping the outcome of the custody battle in doubt. But the film lacks the depth and nuance of the Oscar-winning ‘Kramer vs. Kramer.’”

However, Dan Lybarger of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette writes, “Essentially a watered­-down version of ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer,’ ‘Gifted’ is earnest but phony. In this case the precocious child Mary (Mckenna Grace) is a math prodigy instead of a budding chess champion. At times, the lass seems less like an exceptionally bright child and more like an intellectual superhero.”

This film will be screened daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit