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Donnie Darko Shouldn't Work, But Does
jtvukovich22 January 2020
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.
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Beautiful, terrifying
evilmatt-32 December 2001
I think the main theme of this film was summed up somewhere in the middle, where Donnie is speaking to a not-so-helpful self-help guru and says something to the following effect:

"Yes, I am scared and I am confused. But I think you are the f**king antichrist!!!"

In the end, _Donnie Darko_ is a film about people who feel life and all the emotions within it very deeply. Donnie himself is a basically sweet-tempered (often courageous) young man who is pathologically terrified of loneliness and the thought of spiritual isolation. His quest for meaning and self-discovery drives him to the fringes of our reality, which only serves to isolate him more from the world he loves. The few who understand what Donnie is going through go largely unnoticed (such as his girlfriend Gretchen or a tragically overweight yet remarkable sensitive little girl) or unappreciated (such as Karen, the English teacher whose only sin is trying to show her students that there is no such thing as a true end.)

Of course, this movie far from polarizes its characters (indeed, polarization is the last thing this film wants to accomplish) and the majority are just a mishmash of the beautiful and the grotesque: Donnie's parents, who are at the same time loving and perpetually confused; the aforementioned self-helper Jim Cunningham, who is desperate to spread the lie that keeps him sane to everybody else; and Donnie's sister, struggling between her identity as an adult and her identity as a child. And then there's Frank. All I can say here is that nothing can prepare you for or adequately describe Frank.

Probably the best thing about this movie, though, is its incredible emotional range. It manages to inspire hope, love, dread, laughter, and tears at different points throughout the movie without making you feel least bit like there is a contradiction between those states. The scenes with Frank (especially the one that takes place in the therapist's office against the backdrop of a conversation about the end of the world) are quite frankly some of the scariest things I've ever seen in a movie, as they literally made my skin crawl.

Finally, the performances in this film are exquisite. The talent in this film is top notch and even Gyllenhall is just amazing. That said, though, this film has a dismal future. Combine the fact that the large majority of the moviegoing public is just going to find it unbearably weird with the fact that the movie begins with part of an airplane crashing into a building (this has got to be the very definition of bad timing) and it's pretty clear that this film is going to stay underground. However, if you are looking for a beautiful experience with a unique film, _Donnie Darko_ is just about as good as it gets.
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Bizarre, but oh so great!
megamatt-8019423 May 2020
Donnie Darko is a truly fascinating film experience. It's not a perfect film, but it's an ambitious one, and for the most part, it fulfills its ambition.

I will give no spoilers here, as the experience of watching this film for the first time is something I dare not strip away from any readers. For a small plot summary, Donnie Darko is a teen in high school who sleepwalks, and begins to experience ethereal visions from a ghostly rabbit named Frank, who informs him about a dangerous event, which plagues Donnie's life for a month.

Why is this film great?: Jake Gyllenhaal gives a stellar performance as Donnie Darko. The character goes through so many emotional beats, and Gyllenhaal nails each one. The teen angst is played perfectly, and he's truly someone we can all say we've felt like, or seen at some point. His development is realized expertly by Gyllenhaal, and is truly a character who has made a change by the end of the film. It's not heavy handed though, so you might have to go on a symbolism hunt whilst watching the film. Don't worry though, because it's a fun film to find symbolism in. Remember, in this film, the secrets lie within the subtext.

The script and direction from Richard Kelly are simply incredible for a first film effort. While some of Kelly's characters do have loose ends, and some aren't explained well or given enough screen time, the plot is fully realized, and mesmerizing. The twists in this film are confusing, but so ingenius once you understand the film. Kelly crafts a plot that makes sense in the end, and better yet, is not only constructed well, but has several meanings. The film is interpretable in many ways, and it uses ambiguity in the way ambiguity should be used: Sparsely, but effectively.

If you don't get this film upon first viewing like me, don't assume you didn't like it, and forget about it. Watch a couple of analysis videos, and it will not only make sense, but you might be like me, and feel like a big dummy for not noticing it the first time. That's the fun of watching film though! Learning about new things, and experiencing topics and messages in new visual experimentations and arrangements. Don't feel bad if you don't get it. It's meant to be understood over time. It's just that good of a film. It's the kind of film that lingers with you after the credits roll.

In conclusion, Donnie Darko suffers from some early 2000s corniness and has some faults in characters, but the plot and main character are so incredibly solid that it renders those mistakes seemingly unimportant and unnoticeable. You might not get it, but that's okay. Donnie Darko is a purposefully complicated film, and is also a purely emotional film upon first viewing. All that thinking comes after the credits roll. Not too many films these days make you think and feel directly after one another. Give this film a watch. I don't think you'll regret it if you give it a chance. It's a thought provoking film to view while in this time of quarantine!
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A tough film to explain or even discuss, as there are so many alternative explanations for what you've just seen.
MartinHafer21 July 2021
"Donnie Darko" is a mind-bending film that is VERY hard to rate or even review. It's incredibly strange and watchable...but also confusing and open to MANY interpretations. My advice is just watch it and see what you think.

The weirdness of this film doesn't surprise me that much since it stars Jake Gyllenhaal, an actor who seems to love taking chances with mind-bending and provoking scripts. Think about it...this actor hasn't just made one weird film but many...such as "Source Code", "Nightcrawler", "Brokeback Mountain", "Love and Other Drugs" as well as "Accidental Love"....all VERY unusual and difficult to categorize films. He certainly is a risk-taker....and I really appreciate that and seek out his films because of this.

The story is "Donnie Darko" is hard to describe....but I'll try. Donnie (Gyllehaal) is a disturbed high school student who apparently is in therapy after an incident involving arson. As the movie progresses, several things become obvious: he's brilliant, he can see the hypocrisy and bull around him, he's obsessed with time travel AND he's psychotic and dangerous. And, as the film progresses you see the world as he does...filled with all sorts of apparent delusions, including an imaginary friend dressed as a demonic rabbit, Frank. You KNOW all this will lead to something horrible...but what, you can't predict. What also is odd is that despite being highly disturbed, Donnie is, somehow, on to something...but what?!

The film is a mind-bending experience. I didn't love it, but I really respect it for trying to do something unique. I film you will probably either love or hate...I think it's worth your time.
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Philosophy and quantum physics mashed into a cult classic
UniqueParticle21 June 2019
I love everything about this film! It's been among my favorites for many years. The theories that could be well in depth for hours, the soundtrack, sweet camera shots, and the brilliant writing! I'm proud of the fact that this is my 300th review on here. I'd say this is my 4th favorite film ever after Fight Club, The Matrix, and True Romance. The floating wormholes is super cool to me and the soundtrack is so damn good!

Thought provoking films are my favorite ever, the fact that you could float on talking about different aspects and possibilities is beyond fascinating to me! It's extremely impressive that Richard Kelly was 26 when he wrote the script and made such a profound experience!
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You can't watch it only once
Jim-5122 March 2004
I first saw this on cable tv. Thumbing through the channels I stopped just as Donnie Darko was beginning. I thought the title was weird, and readied my thumb on the remote channel selector...pointed it at the TV...and it stayed there for the rest of the movie! I couldn't stop watching! I've never seen a movie like this. The movie has a beautiful aspect (especially the end). And there are a few chuckles as well. Contrary to the more critical commentary, there is depth and complexity to the story that kind of requires you to see it more than once. I'm no genius, but what I gathered the basis of Donnie Darko to be is about our part in the deliberate DESIGN of our destiny, and I catch more each time I watch it.

Regardless of anything, sincere thought and expression went in to the making of Donnie Darko. Mixed with skill and technical ability = Art.

A WORK OF ART! In the top 100 movies of all time in my opinion.
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Perhaps the most relevant social commentary on U.S society ever put on screen.
gogoschka-116 December 2013
Above all, this film has a kind of flow to it like nothing I've ever experienced in any other film before. The magic sets in from the very first moment, when we see Donnie waking up (and the song 'The Demon Moon' starts), and you just go with that flow and let yourself be drawn into that world. The story unfolds like a dream and the ambiguity (at least in the theatrical cut) as well as the fantastic songs help create an absolutely unique and strangely compelling atmosphere.

Fantastic script and fantastic performances: this film has a richness in its characters that amazes me every time I watch it. Forget the director's cut - here for once the theatrical version is the masterpiece. Probably the best social commentary on American society I've ever seen but beautifully woven into an ambiguous, slightly surreal fantasy tale with a haunting soundtrack.

My vote: 10 out of 10

Favorite films:

Lesser-known Masterpieces:

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the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
lwjoslin23 May 2002
"Harvey" meets "The Mothman Prophecies," as a troubled teen starts hallucinating a horrific 6-foot-tall bunny rabbit that brings him dark forebodings about death and disaster in the very near future. A streak of "Heathers" is mixed in as well, with trenchant satirical observations of high-school life in the late '80s (story set in Oct. 1988), involving a priggish teacher, a self-help guru (Patrick Swayze!), and a put-upon fat girl at the fringes of the herd. Finally, a whiff of "Back to the Future," in the form of a local eccentric who just may have discovered the secret of time travel, but a secret that has more to do with spirituality than technology.

A lot goes on here. There's a meditation on the possible overlap between madness and the ability to perceive the divine. There's a demonstration of why, in the Bible, angelic messengers (if that's what "Frank" can be taken to be) are often so terrifying that they have to start by saying "Fear not." There's an enlistment of what martial artists refer to as the "ki" (or personal energy, emanating from a person's midsection) in the type of time travel depicted here (the term "ki" is never used in the flick, but the term "path," another word for Tao or "Way," is). Quantum physics theory about wormholes is tied to the Fortean phenomenon of things falling unexplained from the sky, in a way that's more pivotal, and therefore more interesting, than the gratuitous rain of frogs in "Magnolia."

Time travel paradoxes and ironies enter the picture as well. One character (no spoiler!), whose life is saved by Donnie's ultimate trip back in time, wouldn't have died in the first place if he hadn't dragged her along to the opening of the wormhole. Another character (again, no spoiler!), whose truly terrible secret comes to light in the wake of an arson investigation, must go unexposed as a result of that same time reversal, since the arson now won't happen. Surely that's no oversight on the part of the screenwriter; it must be an acknowledgment of the choices and trade-offs in life, as well as of a confidence that no such terrible secret can remain hidden forever.

Somehow this pastiche works, largely on the strength of good performances. Jake Gyllenhaal is appropriately moody and, also appropriately, not always likeable in the title role. Drew Barrymore, who executive produced, appears as a frustrated first-year teacher. The movie's often dreamlike atmosphere is enhanced by the cinematography, the subdued but effective special effects, and the choice of the music on the soundtrack, which includes '80's pop tunes, of course, and a haunting original song (over the end credits) titled "Mad World."

Not for all tastes, but better, stranger, and more complex than I expected.
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yellowrobe27 October 2001
The fact that this is the Directors first film is amazing to me. The scenes dripped with style, yet that style never seemed distracting. None of it was self congratulatory or gluttonous. The visuals were supported by a truly emotional score and its hard to find fault in the 80's pop tunes that found their way into some of the more impressive scenes.

The story is very much thought provoking. Its the type that leaves you pondering the possibilities voiced by the characters. There is nothing condescending about this film. Answers arent simply handed out, rather the viewer is left to draw many conclusions instead. The acting is also top notch. If i hadnt known beforehand that Patrick Swayze was in this film I would have been shocked. His character is amusing and interesting all at the same time. A great cameo for him. Drew Barrymore is forgetable, though that in no way detracts from the film. Of course the star is Jake Gyllenhaal. There is nothing that can be said to properly praise his performance. The rest of the cast chosen fit their roles perfectly. All of these things combine to create a stunning film. One can only hope that filmgoers will give this little gem a shot and support a true wonder. This is the only film I have awarded a 10/10 on the IMDB.
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compelling, eerie, intense, haunting, evocative, potent, sad, heroic
mstomaso22 April 2005
Being an angst-ridden teenager has never been easy, especially when you can see what's down the road, and it looks a lot like the end of your world.

Writer and Director Richard Kelly is an artist whose films I will anticipate and Jake Gyllenhaal is truly remarkable among a very rich cast. He plays a troubled young man with a brilliant intellect and a vast imagination, struggling with the boredom of standard education, and a society afraid of its own shadow (e.g. contemporary America). An imaginary friend, Frank - a seven foot tall metal-headed skull-faced demon-rabbit saves his life by removing him from the the scene of a catastrophe just before it occurs, only to lead him down an alternative path to an even more terrible oblivion complete with forecasts of doom, psychiatrists, and self-help charlatans.

This film feels as creepy as any well-made ghost story I have ever seen, yet redefines the genre of supernatural storytelling in a very unique and original way.

Donnie Darko is a film about heroism and sacrifice, decorated with disturbing imagery, the horror of everyday life, and a soundtrack reminiscent of Lynch's best. It is also a film worthy of several viewings and at least as many varied interpretations.

I can not honestly recommend this to anybody who attends films for the pure sake of entertainment. Nor can I recommend it to people who need straight answers or have limited attention spans. It's art, and does not need to provide pat explanations for itself. As entertaining as this film may be, it has an unrelenting and merciless dark side, and might disturb even the most veteran indy film carmudgeon.

This is a great film. See it.
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Weird, Creepy, Emotional, Funny, Beautiful. All at the same time.
FioMnsfld22 January 2006
I don't know what to type. Honestly. This is just one of those movies you have to see for yourself.

Its also one of those movies that to fully get it, you have to see it more than once. Its a brilliant film, but a bit confusing.

Well, the plot may sound stupid, and if it hadn't been as brilliantly executed, it probably would have been. But its brilliant. I am going to attempt to explain it. Here goes...

A giant rabbit (no kidding) comes to proclaim the end of the world (no kidding) to troubled teenager Donnie Darko. Then, an aeroplane engine crashes into his bedroom while the rabbit is proclaiming the end of the world. (no kidding. Donnie then is able to see peoples 'paths', (represented as a long tube in front of the person, showing where they are going to go next) and is able to deny his own path. Confusing eh? This is a movie I can't explain any more. The rest has to be seen for yourself. Don't go in expecting a fully blown horror movie or any type of film with a straightforward, easy to understand plot. Because this film is really deep. Thought provoking, captivating, mesmerising and moving, this is a work of genius. This isn't the sort of film you can just watch casually though. You have been warned....
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I liked this much less than I hoped
Oliveraandreasson6 February 2020
This movie had a really cool feeling to it that I liked a lot, and I completely understand why it's sort of a cult classic. It's very interesting and, in a way, also quite charming.

Having said that, I.. did not enjoy this all that much. It just does too poorly of a job explaining its plot and instead of feeling satisfied, I felt confused and almost irritated to the point of losing almost all interest inte the film. I watched the director's cut that, at a 25 minutes longer run-time, still didn't have enough time to show the piece of exposition needed to understand what the hell was going on.

Unpopular opinion maybe, but apart from some cool bits, "Donnie Darko" seriously let me down.
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Great movie
buckwheat889 January 2005
Donnie Darko was a great and thought provoking movie. Most people will probably not understand the movie the first time they watch it, because they don't know what to watch for, but the 2nd time you watch the movie most will consider it a great and profound movie. Another way to understand Donnie Darko is to have someone that has already seen the movie to watch it with you and tell you which parts of the movie to remember towards the end of the movie. This is not a movie to watch if one does not like to think during movies. Donnie Darko is also not a movie for the lazy movie watcher to watch. I normally like the easy brained movies that require no thought-process but this is one thought provoking movie that I give a 10 out of 10.
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Not as impressive as the original
FilmOtaku21 September 2004
*This is a review of the Directors Cut*

I've already reviewed the originally released cut of 'Donnie Darko' so I am not going to review the film again. Instead, I'll comment on the differences between the two versions; unfortunately most of the differences took away from the original film, which I think is truly excellent.

I traveled two hours round-trip with several friends to see the Directors Cut since it was not playing in Milwaukee at the time, and while I am glad that I saw it, I feel that the original is the superior version. There were many superfluous scenes in the new cut which did not add to the film; rather I almost felt that they made the pacing falter a bit. For example, the new scene between Donnie's parents in the café – a completely unnecessary scene which did not add anything relevant to the story. There were a handful of scenes like this, as well as some added dialogue that indeed added to the development of some characters, (Drew Barrymore's character, the teacher 'Karen' was enhanced a bit) for some it just seemed silly (One of Donnie's bus stop friends telling Cherita that he 'hopes she gets molested' turned him from just being an incidental character into being an incidental character who is a jackass.)

Another major difference between the two films was the addition of several special effects to the new cut. There were a lot of dream-like sequences (the file cabinets floating among the clouds ala Rene Magritte) and all of the stuff focusing on Donnie's eyeball, computer-ish codes, etc, that just did not work in my opinion. Also, some of the most subtle changes, soundtrack for example, were disarming. The opening song was 'The Killing Moon' by Echo and the Bunnymen in the original, which provided a great backdrop in the introduction to Donnie, his environment and his family. Kelly used 'Never Tear Us Apart' by INXS in his directors cut. Certainly, a good song, but after using a perfect song originally, it is hard to get used to an inferior replacement.

Which is how I sum up my feelings about Kelly's directors cut in general? Why mess with (near) perfection? 'Donnie Darko' is a fantastic film that was so thought-provoking it made some people run the other way. Only those who were interested in something beyond the ordinary stayed to ponder and theorize its meaning, and still are to this day. Kelly's new cut does not enhance the film, rather, it made it plodding and a little dumbed-down – two adjectives I never thought I would ascribe to this film. See the directors cut to play 'spot the new stuff', but stick with the original.

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Don't Be Ashamed To Say It's Not A Masterpiece
Theo Robertson6 August 2005
I've heard so much about this " Wonderful , mind blowing masterpiece " . Interestingly enough most of the rave reviews of DONNIE DARKO came via this very website which goes against the grain of other reviewers . Roger Ebert only gave the movie two and a half stars while many other websites dedicated to film reviews claim this movie is confused and overrated . It should also be mentioned that if it's such a great , thought provoking piece of cinema then why did it miss out on so many nominations at the more prestigious film award ceremonies ? And don't say politics , an independent feature like IN THE BEDROOM didn't pick up any Oscars but that didn't stop it being nominated for several

DONNIE DARKO is by no means terrible but it is overrated . Dare I say it's a case of the emperors new clothes ? That is people are somewhat embarrassed upon seeing this film and not understanding it that they feel they must praise it in order to spare their supposed ignorance . Let me ask you this - What genre of film is this ? Everyone will give a slightly different answer I'm sure and if an audience is undecided about the genre then how can they decide what the ending is about ?

And there is a quite serious plot hole involved in the story . Donnie sees a demonic rabbit called Frank throughout the movie who tells him at exactly what moment the world will end . Wormholes , time warps etc may actually exist in scientific reality as may the ending but the central plot does not since the whole movie rests on Frank or Donnie being able to see into the future and no scientist will claim there's any scientific basis for fortune telling . So you see it's not really about time travel , it's about mysticism , predestination and other superstitious mumbo jumbo which Richard Kelly is using to fool the audience . In effect this movie is one big cheat and most people have failed to notice this

Having said that Richard Kelly does deserve some credit for making a movie that's not about car chases and explosions , this is a movie dealing with teen angst and the dark side of middle American small town values but Kelly has missed an opportunity to make the most of the potential . I know the film was released before the war on terror so there'd be little need to see news broadcasts on the fall out of the original Gulf war but from a pop culture point of view wouldn't this have been better set in the early 1990s when grunge culture was the rage instead of 1988 ? I mean what music best suits this movie's atmosphere ? Echo And The Bunnymen or Nirvana ? In fact if it had have set in the presidential elections of early 1990s this would have coincidentally tied in with what's going on in the world today with Saddam and Iraq getting a mention ! And wouldn't this movie be held up in superstitious awe now ?

As it stands it's nowhere as clever as it thinks it is for the reasons outlined . Perhaps Mr Kelly started out on with two movies , one a high concept science fiction thriller and the other a low concept drama about a mentally ill teenager and decided to merge the two with not too successful results . Watching DOnnie Darko this was the gut feeling I got
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Nothing more than tricks... but, god, how they work.
Patuquitos8 February 2005
Sweets. They are not nourishing, but they're delicious.

This is how I feel about this film. If I make a conscious attempt at explaining why I like "Donnie Darko", I can see no real meat in it. I got no lessons from the flick, I hardly got a story... Forget what others say about this movie as "philosophical", "clever" or "trascendent". It's not. But, my!, how such a young director almost manages to make you believe it is... I don't know about you, but I call that talent.

Yes, the movie is empty. The story goes nowhere, there is no message, no moral, but the way it's all wrapped up keeps you salivating throughout. Don't think it's mere flashy fireworks, though. This is not a case of style over substance. It's something more complex, and that's where "Donnie Darko" distances from the rest. This movie is freaking special, is full of personality. I wish more films had this character. The charm of this film relies on a lot of pieces that fit like a giant puzzle:

-Chosen time (1988) is strangely proper (you'll have to see this movie to understand it, sorry).

-The movie is BLUE. Its photography is blue, its characters are blue, its story is blue. Everything is blue.

-Music is great.

-Emotions are overwhelming. They come from everywhere and at the same time. You don't know what's happening, but what might be happening actually affects you.

-I can see some Lynch influences. The scene where the gym teacher talks to Donnie's mother at the doorstep is 100% Lynch.

-Some scenes are, almost, scary.

-This is one of the movies that present the idea of "beyond" in a most seductive way. You feel there's something more than this world. It never gets explained, but heck, I don't care.

-Finally, and most important, the main appeal of the movie is that it throws together unrelated concepts in such a way that they feel ghostly linked. The movie is a melting pot of vague ideas, that, thanks to a great direction, get connected in the subconscious.

Exactly because of this, I understand this movie has so much appeal for some people, and so little for others. If you fall in the trap, it will touch you, and this movie could mean the world to you. If you don't, it won't, and you won't see more than a bag of tricks. Whatever the category you fall in, you have to recognize the skill of Richard Kelly. The execution of "Donnie Darko" is more than remarkable.

I like to think of "Donnie Darko" not as a movie, but as a niche some people feel comfortably unsafe inside, that people being 25-30 year olds with an affection for sci-fi and darkness. The more you fit in this role, the more you'll get into this.

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An interesting little gem
limau7 March 2006
This is an intriguing film with Jake Gyllenhaal playing the title role. Is Donnie Darko slowing going mad, is the weird giant rabbit a friend or an enemy, and is there something sinister going on? The story unravels and you get drawn into the strange world of Donnie Darko and his journey which reached an inevitable, melancholy but strangely satisfying conclusion.

I won't say much about the plot, but you might need to have a second look to understand exactly what is happening. Only one thing needed to be said - if you ever want to watch this film, watch the original version, avoid the Director's cut version. The director's cut added unnecessary scenes and pointless graphics which, although perhaps the director thought might think help explain the movie better, is a big mistake. The original version is mysterious and all the better for it, and if you don't understand it completely, it matters not a jot. In fact it is silly to try to make sense of the science as some tried to do because it is hardly the point of the film, and in any case Hollywood simply can't do science well in most of its films. Just enjoy an intriguing journey through the mind of a disturbed (or may be not) teenager.
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Quirky film that's wide open to interpretation
BrandtSponseller20 February 2005
Upon awakening, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds that he's been asleep in the middle of a secluded mountain road. It seems that Donnie regularly wanders out at night and sleeps in strange places. The night that he ends up on the neighborhood golf course, a stray jet engine crashes through Donnie's bedroom. He's saved by his odd behavior. Shortly after, we witness him hearing voices and having visions of an odd, evil-looking, bipedal, man-sized bunny. The voice begins giving him unusual suggestions, and Donnie slowly finds himself as the key player in a grand scheme.

Donnie Darko is an unusual film. It spans a number of genres and leaves itself wide open to interpretation. Quite a cult of hardcore fans has developed around it, and for those folks, the film is essentially immune to criticism and reinterpretation.

The biggest surprise to me was that the bulk of Donnie Darko is a realist drama. I had long heard about how strange the film was, and heard it described as being partially sci-fi (which it is) and horror (which it isn't if you ask me). It was supposedly a "reality-bender". I'm much more of a "genre" fan, and I much prefer fantasy, surrealism and absurdism to realism. My preconceptions were throwing me off of the film initially. The realist drama stuff seemed to drag on, and it made much of the film a hard sell. I loved the touches of weirdness, but they were too little, too far between--at least until I reached my personal interpretation of the film around the halfway mark.

The film is also odd in that it's so retro. At one point I double-checked the DVD box, thinking that Donnie Darko had to be a late 1980s film. Nope, 2001. Then I started thinking that writer/director Richard Kelly must have had the script in storage for 15 years. But that can't be the case, either, as his bio says he was born in 1975, and it's unlikely that he would have written Donnie Darko when he was 10 or 11. The film is mired in late 1980s pop-culture references, style and music. Realizing that Kelly was born in 1975 still makes this weird. He says on the new DVD commentary that he was following the clichéd advice to write what you know, and he knew school in the late 1980s. He wouldn't have even entered high school until 1989, so it seems odd that he would only know school in the late 1980s. The retro feel of the film was a bit artificial to me, although I enjoyed the way the pop music was integrated.

There were also some questionable performances for my tastes, including Drew Barrymore's, and some bizarre (but not bizarre enough) scenarios that I never quite figured out, such as why a gym teacher was showing motivational videos to a class sitting in desks.

But most fans of Donnie Darko tend to overlook the minutiae, even though it takes up most of the screen time. The hinge tends to be on the overall arc and the meaning of the film. If minutiae are dwelt on, it's usually concerning the "Philosophy of Time Travel" book, or some bit of dialogue that is thought to be clever, such as the Smurf discussion. The theme of the film is often said to be something like "possibilities", and the film is routinely interpreted as having a messianic subtext, as well as often being interpreted more literally, as a kind of sci-fi story. After I watched the film and it didn't quite pay off as I had been hoping, I was anxious to listen to the commentary and watch the documentaries. Kelly seemed to intend more of the literal, sci-fi interpretation of the film. That was disappointing, because interpreted that way, the most fascinating thing to me is that Kelly believes it even approaches coherency. The Philosophy of Time Travel material, which is a core of this interpretation, is arbitrary sounding gobbledy gook. It has nothing to do with time travel, and even less to do with philosophy. It's more a naïve attempt at something like a parallel universe, ala the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics (which tends to be nonsensical anyway).

To make matters worse, there is little attempt to integrate most of this material into the actual meat of the film--the sci-fi interpretation seems very "grafted on". Many of the actual scenes we witness aren't there to service the eventual interpretation of the film as a sci-fi story, but are there because it's some snippet of actual life that Kelly remembers or has thought about or had conversations similar to in the past, and he thinks it's clever or character developing. For me, this material was neither.

But my personal interpretation of the film made much more sense to me, and under it, I enjoyed it more. To me, Donnie Darko is just a depiction of a kid with schizophrenia (and this is even explicitly suggested, although Kelly seems to be overlooking or not mentioning the interpretation). Even the smallest details of the film make sense in this context. Schizophrenics hear voices. They can have visual, tactile and other sensory hallucinations. Some have delusions of grandeur, such as messiah/superhero complexes. They often feel alienated. Donnie mopes around, mumbling, fairly expressionless much of the time and has periodic emotional outbursts. He acts out in anti-social ways. He goes into semi-catatonic states. Even the end of the film makes more sense under this interpretation, as it can be seen as an intentional delusion that Donnie has created due to the relationship-oriented tragedy. He's fantasizing about things being different than they turned out. To me, the film has much more depth under this interpretation.

If you haven't seen Donnie Darko yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out. No matter your final verdict, it's an interesting, quirky film, and one that's sure to be talked about for a long time.
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grendel-3719 July 2003
I went into this flick because a couple different reviews and reviewers pointed me in that direction. I'm not a critic, I don't waste a lot of time disecting the bad, I prefer to spend time praising the good.

So I'll be brief.

This movie will probably appeal to the same segment who thought Blair Witch was original and good. And like Blair Witch this movie is neither. If you've opened a sci-fi book in the last fifty years, the concepts touched on are less than revolutionary, and even the mixing of disparite genres handled far better elsewhere, one movie that comes to mind is SIGNS. Or even the films of David Fincher, this idea of pieces coming together, of everything having meaning is a capable idea, in the hands of acapable script and director.

An idea that kept running through my head, triggered by certain scenes in the film, is how derivitive DONNIE DARKO is of better movies. Sometimes an ambiguous story isn't the mark of a brilliant director, and a witty script, sometimes it's just uneven filmmaking. It's just an inability to put on the stage, the ideas on the page. Many reviewers have said, well get the DVD, because the notes from the book really explain it, and I have to chuckle softly, because I realize that perhaps a movie that requires crib notes... isn't really that cohesive of a movie.

People are quick to slam hollywood movies, and praise indie movies, often simply because they are labeled "indie" movie.

Some hollywood movies are bad, some are brillant. Some Indie movies are brilliant, and some are... empty. DD is an empty movie. People argue about Tangent Universes, and Premonitional Dreams, and ultimately if a movie lacks heart, if you don't care about the characters, who cares what happens to them? Whether their world ends? And ultimately that's the failing of Donnie Darko, Drew Barrymore mentions apathy, and that descibes the failings of this flick as well as any.

You don't learn to care for the characters, so why worry about their world coming to the end? While the director shows capabiity moving the camera, the glaring/cynical looks of the lead [his distuberd/homicidal look maybe?] after the fourth or fifth glare left me hoping 10 or 12 jets fell on his head.

Condemn Hollywood movies if you choose, but like most prejudice, you condemn the good with the bad, because Hollywood at its best, its LAWRENCE OF ARABIAs, its LION IN WINTERS, its UNTOUCHABLES, its BRAVEHEARTS gives us works that speak to the heart, and I will take that any day over this new self-indulgent indie cinema that speaks only to the hubris[That said there are directors doing great things in the Indie Field, THE SWEET HEREAFTER popping immediately to mind, a movie that has all the heartrending emotional energy and interest, that this film lacks].

Donnie Darko like Blair Witch is an exercise, a preamble to a film, that would make a decent short flick on the Indie Film circuit, but blown up to feature length, the cracks shown... and the holes become... apparent.

** out of ****.
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I'm writing the 1889th comment on Donnie Darko here. When it hits 1988th comment, the world will come to an end; as Frank told me.
CihanVercan9 December 2008
"The dreams which I'm dying are the best I've ever had..." Most of the authorities reviewed Donnie Darko as a psychological thriller. Though, the look of this angle straitens the true understanding of this epic movie. Donnie Darko is a sci-fi classic and is mainly a superhero movie. "If only I could go back in time and take all those hours of pain and darkness; and replace them with something better..." was Gretchen's wish. Donald died in his dream to prevent Gretchen getting killed in the real life. Although he believes that the greatest invention ever to benefit mankind is antiseptics(!), Donald had a vision. He gave whatever Gretchen wanted from life; and when she got all of her desired, the destiny was rewritten putting effect the fact that she has actually never met with Donald. Gretchen had been killed accidentally by Frank. In order to make Donald save Gretchen's life; a restless supernatural spirit,that wore Frank's Halloween night dress, sacrificed Donald and saved Frank's life.

Donnie Darko brought out who rule the destiny of the world. The answer is neither God or humankind. It is angels(and/or daemons) that forms the fate and represents the balance of the nature. It is also clarified that only angels(and/or daemons) can travel in time.

Jake Gyllenhaal performed Donald(Donnie Darko) and totally took on the tough responsibility of playing a schizophrenic superhero. Maggie Gyllenhaal, his sister both in the movie and in the real life, looked as the cutest of all her performances ever. Jena Malone was surely the right choice to perform as Gretchen, although she didn't give any extra effort to catch viewers' attention. Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze couldn't hold onto the blood-freezing atmosphere of the film. Best of all, Richard Kelly has done a great work of cinema. His style of holding the tension at the highest, and hiding clues of the storyboard all over the script were extra-ordinary. Cinematography was so brilliant and unique. Donnie Darko totally deserves to be one of the best sci-fi movies of all time for every aspect.

Editing and theatrical cut was also a good job. There were deleted scenes that I got the chance to view from the DVD, just good to know. The film has been edited in a smooth and clever style. I got people all the time telling that Donnie Darko is a schizophrenic film, which is not fair. That would straiten the wide implications we can get. Those implications may include not just scientific thesis of quantum mechanics but also very important social criticisms. It is a mad world.
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A waste of time, film and effort
SevenComeEleven19 April 2002
Although I do not recommend this film, neither do I recommend reading this review without first seeing the movie. Though I have not given away the ending, or most of the plot twists, this movie would be best viewed without any prior information. It's hard to pinpoint the chief problem with the film Donnie Darko, as there are many to deal with. Richard Kelly, in his first feature film, seems to have collected enough scenes of adolescent rage, late-night stoner diatribes, self-righteous justifications and inoffensive, banal philosophy to inspire twenty teen-angst dramas; then mashed them into a single two hour package with a sci-fi twist. The result is deeply distressing-- for all the wrong reasons. The film attempts to lead the audience down convoluted paths without any sense of symbolism or meaning, to make them sympathize with one-dimensional characters, and above all hopes that they will ignore the underdeveloped plot, full of unreconciled loose ends, by hiding it under a veneer of CGI effects and neo-surrealism. The main character, Donnie Darko, is a young man, committed to therapy, misunderstood by his friends, and rendered hostile and disaffected by his suburban life. We are meant to feel that he is more intelligent than his schoolmates, although sometimes that is a difficult assumption to make. For example, when one of his friends comes up with an absurd theory about the Smurfs, and Donnie counters with a theory of his own, his friend complains about Donnie acting "all smart." Donnie's speech, however, is no smarter than that of his friend-- just angrier. The only clear evidence of his intelligence is his principal's description of his standardized test scores as `intimidating;' but given the director's slant against simple categorization of human elements (as shown in the FEAR-LOVE sequence), this is a poor substitute for character development. Donnie takes prescribed drugs to combat mental problems, which are not addressed directly in this film. In fact, the entire issue of the drugs is understated, and one of the first chances the director has to redeem the film is lost. The ambiguity of Donnie's strange destiny, the possibility that all of this may be a product of his imagination, is pushed into the background, making the film 100 percent science fiction. This would not be a bad thing in itself, except that the "science" behind the "fiction" is very shaky. The explanations of time travel are weak, at best sounding like detached, uninformed rambling. We get the idea that the film's writer once read a book about time travel or a few chapters, and can't quite remember how it worked, but was sure that it was really interesting and wanted to work it into the film. The scientific portion, as a result, depends more heavily on expensive computer animations than actual development of the theories involved (at one point, a teacher discussing time travel states that if he continues to speak on the subject, he'd be fired. Apparently no further explanation is needed). Donnie's dealings with a visitor from the future lead him to commit several vicious actions. The justification for these actions is a tricky business. He damages his school, but it's okay, because his school doesn't treat him like a person. His punishment of a creepy self-esteem advocate (somewhat similar to Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia) results in the man's public humiliation. But should the audience believe that Donnie is some sort of avenging angel, striking out against ignorance and debauchery? He himself seems ignorant of the effects of these actions until after the fact. Aside from these flaws, the film is riddled with flat, uninteresting generalizations of humanity. The story is set in 1988, just before the Bush/Dukakis election, and the director touches on this point during the film. The focus, however, extends exactly this far: Donnie's gruff, blue collar father is voting for Bush, while his free-spirited, rebellious daughter plans to vote for Dukakis. There is nothing even remotely resembling a political statement here; simply a statement of the obvious. The former are not necessary to make a good film, but the latter should be left out. Likewise, Donnie's heartfelt speech about not being able to lump all human emotions into the bland categories of "fear and "love;" this doesn't ask the audience to make any great leaps of understanding. Everybody knows that there are more that two human emotions, and particular emphasis on this fact is worthless. Mr. Kelly gives homage to several symbols of 80's pop culture in his film: E.T., Stephen King, the Smurfs, Back to the Future. At it's heart, this film feels like the director's homage to himself, a collection of his own experiences, interests, personal heroes and adversaries, affirmations and disenchantments, roughly stitched together by untrained hands. Entire songs are played in music video format to the characters actions, seemingly because the director likes the songs. Characters who have little to no bearing on the plot (including the archetypal bully, fat girl, and right-wing idiot teacher) are given unnecessary focus, because the director really wanted to pack them in somehow. The awkward mess that is Donnie Darko leaves us wondering if Mr. Kelly has enough ideas left in his head to make another film, or if he has wasted all his creativity in one pointless, cluttered, meandering effort.

My rating: 1/10.
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Back to the Future...
jackharding89-119 February 2008
Donnie Darko is often described as a cult film. But what is it that makes a film 'cult'? Well, they usually have a hardcore fan following formed on the basis of the film having quotable dialogue, memorable characters and/or scenes, a low budget and a rather eccentric plot. Donnie Darko falls into all these categories with ease; especially the latter. It's one of those films that invite more than one viewing, maybe more than two. Or three. And if The Matrix left you asking "what?" and Fight Club left you asking "how?", then Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko will simply leave you asking "WTF!?" It's c-o-n-f-u-s-i-n-g and a little odd but ever since its 2001 release this sombre suburban tale has been striking countless chords amongst mid-to-late teens and sci-fi fans alike. Why? To be honest, there is no one answer. What I can tell you, though, is that Donnie Darko is black, bold and illusively cool; as fresh and provocative now as it was then. Pure independent cinema.

So, what's it all about? I hear you ask (including those who've seen it). Well umm OK explaining to someone what Donnie Darko is actually about is about as easy as mastering a rubix-cube in less than 30 seconds, in the dark, underwater. Admittedly, it's a ridiculously perplex film but there's something just, well, brilliant about it. It's a melodrama-cum-sci-fi- cum-black comedy-cum-teen movie, with a truly mystifying plot that'll prompt all first time viewers to scratch their heads and question everything. And even though there are many who still don't really "get it" thus opting to label "it" as some strange form of sci-fi crap, there are many (myself included) who consider it to be one of modern-American cinema's most understated masterstrokes. OK, so, with that said, here it goes; Set in 1988, the film revolves around this grinning, groggy-eyed teen', Donald J. Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal). Not only does Donnie get into regular trouble at school, he's also prone to depression, schizophrenia, sleepwalking, waking up on golf courses, hearing voices and visualizing a giant bunny-rabbit called Frank. Donnie's one messed-up kid, then, and what-do-you-know- things get even worse when Frank tells him that the world's going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Oh, and there's also this book on time travel. And Gretchen. And Grandma Death. And there're these worm holes that kind of appear from people's chests. There's a tornado as well. And Patrick Swayze plays a pervert. Yep, Donnie's world, or parallel world, sure is a mad one but he tries his best to make sense of his ghostly visions; do they hold any value or truth? Is he a modern-day messiah? Or just plain bonkers? And why has a jet engine from an unidentified aircraft landed his room? The answers do become clear-ish as Donnie unravels the mystery surrounding, well, everything; discovering what he has to do to bring a halt to the madness and ease his pain. Happy ending? Sad ending? You decide.

The real beauty of Richard Kelly's debut feature and perhaps one of the reasons as to why it's so popular is besides its unique blend of every genre imaginable, it's highly ambiguous; a compound prism of manifold meanings and interpretations. Some things just don't make sense and to be honest, its true quality will always be open to interpretation: you'll either love it, hate it, or hate it watch it again and love it. Me? I fall into the latter camp and would venture a guess and say I'm not alone. Which is probably why it performed so badly at the box- office, grossing more in the UK (£1.1m) than in the US ($728k). When Darko became available on DVD, though, word spread of its outlandish quality and it soon became a huge hit among sci- fi fans and teenagers. Why the latter? Again, I couldn't possibly say. It could be because it's rebellious in every sense of the word or because Jake Gyllenhaal is just so damn cool as the sinister protagonist. Or maybe even because the film itself expertly juggles high entertainment value- juvenile humour, endless intrigue, choking suspense- with a solemn tone as it chew on the themes of love and sacrifice, intolerance and depression, fate and redemption. Some of which, are subject-matters many teens know all too well.

To cut a long review short, then, Donnie Darko is a pure and not-so- simple mind-boggler whose sheer weirdness does conceal its brilliance. In spite of its ever growing popularity, there are many who just won't take to it's off-the-wall temperament. Granted, it is a head- scratcher and if you're one of those who just can't bare to watch a film without having those precious answers handed to you on a silver platter, you best steer clear of this one. But, if you like your movies dark, doomy and challenging then may I suggest (if you haven't already done so) that you pick yourself up a copy just to see what all the fuss is about. But do not (and I repeat) do not expect to be spoon-fed the answers. Not all loose ends are tied-up for you and it's up to you, and you alone, to press rewind and tie them for yourself.
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Captivating but ultimately frustrating
hall89522 December 2014
Putting together a jigsaw puzzle can be fun. And make no mistake, Donnie Darko is a puzzle of a film which asks the viewer to put the pieces together. But in the end there is frustration as you realize you were never going to be able to put it all together. There are pieces missing. So while the film, which is certainly captivating and thought-provoking, is often fascinating it ultimately is setting you up for a bit of disappointment. It's nice to have a film which makes you think, which makes you work to understand it. It's also fine to have a film which is open to interpretation. But if in the end you don't have all the information necessary to make a reasonable interpretation that is a problem. And that is the case here. What just happened here? Hard to say. The untidy ending doesn't completely ruin the film, this is still a film well worth seeing. But there's no denying that the ending is a bit of a letdown.

So who is Donnie Darko? He's a high school kid, a really smart guy. But he's got issues. Paranoid schizophrenia maybe, at least that's what his therapist thinks. He suffers from hallucinations, he sees things. And right now he's seeing a giant bunny rabbit named Frank. One night a jet engine crashes into Donnie's bedroom. But Donnie's not there because Frank has summoned him to a golf course where he tells Donnie that the world is going to end in 28 days. What is Donnie meant to do with this information? Is this schizophrenic teen supposed to somehow save the world? Oh by the way, that jet engine? The one that would have killed Donnie had a giant bunny rabbit not summoned him to a golf course in the middle of the night? Nobody knows where that engine came from. No airplane lost an engine. Well that's weird. Things are only going to get weirder but then again you probably already guessed that since the plot revolves around a giant bunny rabbit.

So the clock ticks down toward the bunny-prophesied doomsday. Among other events Donnie gets himself a girlfriend, rebels against life lessons taught by a ludicrous self-help guru and discusses time travel with one of his teachers. Time travel? Is that what this film is actually about? Who knows. The film never comes close to fully explaining itself. But the film certainly holds your attention. You can't help but be intrigued. You expect that all the weirdness will ultimately pay itself off with some sort of brilliant finish. Sadly that is not the case. The ending, while admittedly powerful, only adds to the confusion. There is a director's cut which makes things a little clearer but in the original version you're left to figure everything out for yourself. And you don't have near enough information to be able to do that. Donnie Darko is a very compelling film. And it is performed wonderfully. Jake Gyllenhaal hits all the right notes in his portrayal of Donnie, a character who is just as confused as we are. And the supporting cast is by and large excellent as well. Whether it be big stars like Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze, or lesser-known performers who you've never heard of, everyone fits their role very well, contributing their solid piece to the puzzle. But that puzzle never does fully come together. And that ultimately makes Donnie Darko a somewhat frustrating film. There's so much good stuff here to recommend it. But there's also that little tinge of regret, a wish that perhaps the giant bunny rabbit could have told Donnie, and us, what the heck was going on.
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That bunny...
darylanders28 September 2018
Ok I might be late to the party but I just watched DONNIE DARKO. Amazing film!!!!!!!! Jake Gyllenhaal as a youngin - now I can see how he came into the shell is has created for himself. An amazing film as much as it is depressing! Definitely recommend to anyone into cult classics and was living under a rock at the turn of the century like me!
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I didn't understand the story but I still enjoyed it.
roujin_d17 October 2021
From the first scene this movie had me hooked till the end. There wasn't a single dull moment. The characters were interesting, had good acting and sound design.

I'm rating this movie a 7 after my first viewing. The problem I have with it is the fact that I don't understand the story, I blame this on my own limited intellectual capabilities rather than being the fault of the writer/director. Last thing I would want is for movies to dumb themselves down to appeal to a wider audience. So the 7 score might be underrated to the true value of the movie but it helps me to keep track of how my perception changes in case I decide to watch it again in the future. I hope whoever reads this can understand.

All that being said, I would recommend this film to any adult fan of cinema, it's well executed and entertaining.
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