Childhoods End

Whats eating Donnie Darko

When Kelly points his camera, he isn't just getting the shot. Like Donnie, he's putting a frame around the world, trying to make some sort of crazy sense out of the mess all around him. The mysterious beauty of his film's title extends through to Steven Poster's cinematography, which envelops the day in velvety shadow and turns night into a phantasmal dreamscape. One of the film's most poignant allusions is an eerie, nocturnal shot, echoing one of the defining images from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, in which Donnie and his friends jump on their bikes, as Elliot and his friends once did, and race toward the finish. This time, the kids are older, sadder and more scared, perhaps in part because the alien here isn't from someplace far away, but somewhere too close. Melancholy hangs over the moment, but because Kelly takes adolescence seriously, and refuses to sentimentalize or heroize it, the Spielberg allusion doesn't feel portentous. Kelly takes being a kid as seriously as a middle-aged man facing down his mortality, but he sees the rest of it, too—the tender absurdities and the cruelties of childhood. For Kelly, being a kid isn't about outgrowing some phase, or any of the other bromides that adults employ in hindsight. It's about being wrenched into a new state of consciousness and coming to terms—or not—with the rest of your life.

Donnie Darko was written and directed by Richard Kelly; produced by Sean McKittrick and Nancy Juvonen; and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne and Katharine Ross. Now playing at Edwards University Town Center, Irvine; Edwards Rancho Niguel, Laguna Niguel.

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