Poor Donnie is a mess. He's a teenager in suburbia that occasionally finds himself waking up in strange places around the neighborhood. His parents have put him in therapy but it doesn't seem to be working. His home life is unremarkable, in that he's in a loving family without too many unusual stresses other than normal teenage angst. The problem is that Donnie's angst proves to be a little more complicated. One night he hears a strange voice telling him to come outside. Once outside he meets up with a strange "person" in a horrific bunny costume telling him exactly when the world is going to end. That same night an airplane engine crashes into Donnie's room and no one (government or otherwise) seems to know where it came from. Donnie is spared because he's outside talking to a giant rabbit (Frank).
Now in many cases this would be more disturbing than a beach volleyball scene in a 1980's Naval Aviation movie. In this movie, things are just getting warmed up.
The next day he meets the new girl (Gretchen) in school and despite his clumsy fumblings with the English language, they hit it off. As the movie progresses Donnie starts to realize things happening around him are happening for a reason but the disjointedness of the movie only offers hints as to what they are. It also keeps distracting the audience with Drew Barrymore's bewildering attempt at acting. Not to mention (even more frustrating) Patrick Swayze who kicks exactly no one in the ear and cleans up ZERO roadhouses in the movie, much to my dismay. A sad waste of Swayzian Justice if you ask me.
The ending leaves itself open to multiple interpretation (and it has been) but the real value of this film comes during a scene where Donnie and his buddies are having a serious discussion regarding the anthropology of Smurfs and the impact of Smurfette on their (Smurf's) society. It's a heady topic to be sure but Donnie explains it in a way that gives proof to the importance of paying attention while watching Saturday morning cartoons.
I mentioned earlier about having qualifiers for disturbing movies. I'd like to explain that here. To me disturbing movies are first separated into two types. The "Disturbing for the sake of being disturbing" type, and the "Disturbing to shock all those middle America hicks" type. In my opinion, making a disturbing movie for the sake of itself is honorable. The other kind is just for shock value and is in my opinion being dishonest and more than a little smug. Both kinds I usually rank on a scale of one to ten. One to five is increasing levels of strange, six to ten are disturbing to the point that they are no longer watchable in my opinion.
Here is a sample list of the Honorable List of Disturbing movies, this is by no means unalterable.
2. Repo Man
5. Donnie Darko
6. 1984 (arguable tie for 5th)
8. After Hours
10. EraserheadYou might notice that these are not horror movies. That's not my intent at all when it comes to disturbing movies. Often those are nothing but shock value shlock. I'm going for more of a Twilight Zone/ X-Files class of discomfort rather than gore.
Some of the movies that fall into my disingenuous "Shock The Man" type of drivel are: (All unwatchable)
Jonnie Got His Gun
Natural Born Killers
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I'm sure there are plenty more but I've decided not to waste my time with them since the producers have decided they are better than me.
In summation, Donnie Darko is worth your time.
p.s.- Manos, The Hands of Fate is a disturbing movie that deserves Honorable Mention status in the unintentionally funny category.
Donnie Darko Trailer
'80s Naval Aviation movie Trailer
Manos, The Hands Of Fate Trailer