credit: Newmarket Films

Review: Donnie Darko (2001) ****

This movie is pure vibe. I am *always* in the mood to play this movie and listen to it. The sound design, the soundtrack, the emotions I feel as everything plays out…it’s a nightmare on xanax where you’re too numb to feel how bad it is that these surreal things are happening.

I loved Donnie Darko as a kid. I was exactly the right age when it came out (thirteen and an edgelord). As an adult, I find myself thinking a lot more about how the movie feels irresponsible at its core, and maybe how that dangerous feeling is really the appeal of it. The titular character is a paranoid schizophrenic. The movie is essentially a paranoid episode if everything the voice in your head was telling you is true. And it glamorizes the tragedies that befall this sickly young man, bestowing him with attention and mystique and a degree of deranged coolness that resonates with damaged teenagers. “Your fantasies are true,” says the movie, “and you really do see the core of the way the universe works, and your untimely death fits into it aesthetically well.”

It would be easy for someone struggling with unreality to take Donnie Darko as a positive example. So it’s dangerous–evocative of sadness without being sad–and that sort of ferality is a lot of what makes it feel darkly delicious. Maybe that’s just me, as a frequent mental health patient.

It’s definitely a lot more relatable from a Millennial teen’s pov, but now as someone who has grown into something that vaguely resembles adulthood, I mostly enjoy it for the vibes. Donnie Darko makes emotional sense. Any rational analysis of the plot (and time travel/milieu) is going to fail to support the best qualities of the product, which is entirely vibes, the incredible cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal!!! my wife!!!!), and the sound design.

(This review was originally posted on Letterboxd on Feb 18 2023. Image credit Newmarket Films.)

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