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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Cult aspirations for Donnie Darko
Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko), Jena Malone (Gretchen Ross) and James Duval (Frank the Rabbit)
The film has a surreal quality

The production notes for this film helpfully asked reviewers not to give away any major plot points but chance would be a fine thing.

Donnie Darko is the type of film that is destined to be watched - over and over again - by a generation of students at three in the morning.

That kind of film does not normally bother with plot points, major or otherwise. Donnie Darko is no different.

So without wanting to spoil what is a genuinely surprising - and very confusing - ending, I will opt for the tried and tested "it's a bit like" approach.

James Duval as Frank the Rabbit
Is Frank the Rabbit a figment of Darko's imagination?
The product of first-time writer-director Richard Kelly's fertile imagination, Donnie Darko is one part 1980s Hollywood teen movie, one part sci-fi flick, with a dollop of David Lynch and a twist of Catcher in the Rye.

If you were cynical you might call that cocktail the "instant cult classic", but Kelly's film deserves more consideration than that.

The eponymous star of the piece, excellently played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a typical super-bright, mixed-up kid living in post-Reagan suburban America.

Donnie has a girlfriend, a new girl in town called Gretchen (Jena Malone), loving but bewildered parents (the superb Holmes Osborne and Mary McDonnell) and trendy teachers he can talk to (Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore).

But unlike all the other super-bright, mixed-up kids, Donnie also has surreal conversations with a man dressed in a Halloween rabbit outfit.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko
Things get out of hand for Donnie Darko
Things get stranger for Donnie when the rabbit, Frank, saves him from certain death by waking him up before a huge jet engine inexplicably crashes through his bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night.

Frank also lets Donnie in on a secret: the world is going to end before the month is out.

Before then Frank persuades Donnie to perform a number of increasingly violent acts - flooding his school, burning the house of a personal development guru (amusingly played against type by Patrick Swayze) and finally murder.

As if this is not enough, he also introduces Donnie to the joys of time travel.

But is Frank just a figment of Donnie's medicated imagination?

His shrink (Katharine Ross) thinks so, and his parents, friends and girlfriend know nothing about it.

But when so many things that Frank has told Donnie ring true perhaps it is everybody else who has got it wrong. Or maybe it is a bit of both. That appears to be Kelly's point - everything is up for question.

With nothing quite as it seems, the film does lack a little in structure. And perhaps it does pose a few too many questions about life, the universe and everything.

But it is nothing if not amusing and divertingly different. For that alone Kelly and his cast should be congratulated.

Donnie Darko is released in cinemas across the UK from Friday.

See also:

19 Jun 02 | Entertainment
26 Jan 01 | Entertainment
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