Alternate universes are a concept not often used in film because the concept itself is seen as nothing but a risky addition to a story. Despite this fact, the film Donnie Darko seeks to utilize the concept of alternate universes to tell a heartfelt and genuine story. Donnie Darko is able to successfully make a simple story turn mind boggling without making it devoid of entertainment and substance.
Set in the year 1988, Donnie Darko is a story of a teenage boy named Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) who suffers a lot of psychological problems. One night after arguing with his parents, Donnie is lured outside of his house by an "imaginary" humanoid bunny named Frank (James Duval) and is told that the world will end in 28 days. After being lured to a golf course and falling asleep, Donnie awakes the next morning and returns home only to find that a jet engine has fallen onto his house, specifically Donnie's bedroom. Donnie then takes this psychosis-induced threat seriously and spends the next 28 days trying to figure out how to prevent the end of the world.
Written and directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko is a film that showcases immense amounts of character development and unique plot devices. Plot devices as unique as a time traveling demented bunny help make this film most effectively send its message of how one's issues can help break through the conventions of society. Considering Donnie Darko is Richard Kelly's debut film as a director, it is very impressive that he is able to create such a well rounded story with such well written characters. For instance, characters such as Donnie turn from a psychologically challenged troublemaker to a quote unquote "superhero" as referenced in the film. The film itself does a very good job of making Donnie a relatable character. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal has quite an amazing performance as he goes on to make viewers truly believe Donnie's struggles. Being Gyllenhaal's first starring role, Donnie Darko took a risk and rolled dice with its chances of being an enjoyable motion picture. Similar films such as Unbreakable take risks by being a serious story accompanied with a superhero narrative. Although the film proves itself to be successful, there are some characters that could have been better written. For example, characters like Donnie's love interest Gretchen (Jena Malone) don't do a great job connecting with the audience and seem rather dull. Gretchen, like Donnie, is also a troubled teen, but she fails to make her struggles adequately believable to the audience.
Overlooking certain character elements of the film, Donnie Darko proves to satisfy its audience by having very beautiful and strategic cinematography. The film's opening scene showcases Donnie waking up on a dirty mountainside road with an enigmatic swirling storm of clouds and debris on the horizon. Another scene shows the jet engine gracefully yet violently collapsing on Donnie's house. Richard Kelly overall did an amazing job of crafting each and every scene.
Though many may view such a cult classic as "pretentious", Donnie Darko succeeds in strongly sending an underlying message of how nonconformity in a society is not a weird but rather important thing. It tasks viewers to think differently about the so-called "weirdos" in society. Weirdos are special...weirdos have the power to save the world. The film suggests that Donnie lives in a tangent universe, which can be created when the fourth dimension is corrupted. A tangent universe is similar to a primary universe in every way except it is greatly unstable and can collapse in on itself in only a few weeks after being created. The idea of saving the world is brought upon Donnie by his hallucinations: Frank tells Donnie that the world will end and then guides him to help stop it. Donnie soon comes to find that he must stop the tangent universe he is living in from collapsing in on itself and swallowing the primary universe. The story does such an outstanding job of coming full circle and it really makes you sit back and think about the philosophy behind it all.
Is Donnie Darko a film that's too difficult to grasp? I would say that it is not considering all the underlying philosophical jargon that is spread between the lines of the movie. Donnie Darko is a risk taker. It proves that incorporating difficult concepts to make a great story is not impossible. It ultimately sets up its own challenge and successfully tackles these challenges beautifully.