Darkly Disturbing Moral Relativism
Release Date: October 26, 2001
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone,
Mary McDonnell, Drew
Barrymore, Noah Wylie, Holmes
Osborne, Katharine Ross, &
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/Fantasy
Audience: Teenagers & adults
Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 109 minutes
Distributor: Newmarket Films
Director: Richard Kelly
Executive Producer: Drew Barrymore, Hunt Lowry,
Casey La Scala, William Tyrer,
Chros J. Ball, & Aaron Ryder
Producer: Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen
& Adam Fields
Writer: Richard Kelly
Address Comments To:
Set in the Fall of 1988, DONNIE DARKO tells what happens to a schizophrenic teenage boy who barely escapes death when an airplane engine crashes through his bedroom. Although he apparently takes his medication, Donnie Darko has scary visions of a demonic trickster rabbit, who tells him to commit acts of vandalism. He also clashes with one of his teachers, a God-fearing woman who uses the pop psychology of a popular local “fundamentalist” guru. This vaguely anti-Christian attack leads to a scene where Donnie burns down the man’s house, and the police discover that the man is selling tons of child pornography.
Donnie falls in love with a new girl in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, he becomes intrigued by the time travel theories of an old demented recluse, a gray-haired old woman who has a fetish about checking her mailbox. These events lead to a confrontation with two local bullies. The confrontation leads to tragedy and murder, and Donnie finds a possible solution through time travel and suicide.
DONNIE DARKO is very imaginative and well acted. Young Jake Gyllenhaal does a tremendous job in the title role. He is supported by an able cast of veteran performers, including Mary McDonnell, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wylie, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, and Patrick Swayze. Writer and director Richard Kelly has done a good job despite the low budget.
Regrettably, however, DONNIE DARKO is a bit too clever for its own good. Surprisingly, two of the producers call their movie “inspiring” and “a real hero’s journey,” but those words don’t convey the movie’s disturbing qualities. These dark qualities make DONNIE DARKO come across more like a horror movie than the science fiction/fantasy/social satire that the filmmakers apparently intended. Also, Donnie’s challenge to his teachers, like his nasty, foul-mouthed comments toward his sister in the beginning of the movie, are not endearing, provocative or courageous – they’re just rude and ignorant.
Although the filmmakers pretend in the movie’s production notes that DONNIE DARKO is open to individual interpretation, it is clear that the movie presents a humanist, politically correct worldview that attacks traditional family values and mocks belief in God. Donnie suffers no real consequences for his criminal behavior. The movie tries to turn his final sacrificial act into some kind of morally positive decision, but it doesn’t really work. It doesn’t work because Donnie is attempting to rectify a moral wrong which he himself deliberately caused, but his answer results in another moral wrong being committed. These are not good messages to send to today’s children and teenagers.
Donnie’s alleged mental illness also can’t absolve him of his moral guilt, either, no matter what the psychobabblers and misguided excuse peddlers might tell us. God is the final judge of our behavior, but society still must render its own justice this side of Heaven, always using, of course, the principles of justice that God has laid down in His Word, the Bible. Moral relativism, like that in DONNIE DARKO, will earn God’s wrath on Judgment Day.
DONNIE DARKO contains a significant amount of strong foul language. It also has a humanist worldview that mocks the middle class, traditional family values and belief in God. It is a darkly disturbing tale about teenage rebellion that comes across more like a horror movie than the social satire that the filmmakers apparently intended. Donnie’s final sacrificial act is morally tainted because it results in another wrongful death. This is not a good message to send to today’s children