The film Donnie Darko is set in a middle class school in small town America. It is a far cry from most teen movies on offer today. It is a satire about the end of US president Ronald Reagan’s era in the late 1980s. Donnie Darko shows how you have to deal with more than your sexuality and your parents when you’re a teenager. This film recognises that you also have to confront the world you live in.
The values of capitalist America, and a good dose of Christian fundamentalism, pervade every aspect of school and town. This gives rise to some of the wittiest parts of the film. Just wait for a self help guru played by the Hollywood actor Patrick Swayze. There are also moments of real joy when Donnie rages against the narrow right wing attitudes.
The banality and hypocrisy of society are not just brilliantly derided. They are signs of a social system which alienates us. This is portrayed intensely in Donnie’s overwhelming fear that he is utterly alone in the world. This film is also about mental illness, but it avoids the cliches. There is no real reason Donnie in particular should be breaking down like this. He has good friends, he’s attractive, and his parents are likeable.
The emphasis is squarely on the mad world we live in, not the individual. At the same time it shows movingly how frightening and isolating the experience can be.
This does not make it a bleak film – it is actually full of hope. It also has a great soundtrack from the 1980s which adds to the film’s atmosphere. Above all this is an emotionally gripping film which cuts to the core of what it’s like to be a teenager. I don’t care how long ago that was – go and see it!
A quietly evocative film
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