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Just when you’re getting over your irrational fear of clowns, along comes the psychotic rabbit. The title character of Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a schizophrenic teenager whose delusions and unconscious acts of destruction aptly mirror the underbelly of the suburbia he inhabits. Led by the voice in his head, Donnie sleepwalks through his neighborhood every night and has conversations with the voice’s owner, a giant, scary-freakin’ man-rabbit named Frank. On the night of a bizarre accident at the Darko home, Donnie’s wandering saves his life, yet Frank warns him that the world is going to end in 28 days—on Halloween. As the movie counts down the remaining days in October, we see Donnie alternately as a lucid, cynical high school student and a very sick individual who readily obeys Frank’s commands to burn down a house and flood his school. Complex and hypnotic, the film touches on the absurdities of American education (the PTA’s attempt to ban a Graham Greene novel, a teacher’s reluctance to discuss religion for fear of termination), the worthiness of the heroes we worship (Patrick Swayze plays a much-revered but criminal motivational speaker), whether destiny can be changed (Donnie has hallucinations of people’s gelatinous-looking auras extending from their chests and leading them from moment to moment; his own ushers him to a gun), and the meaning of life in general (the only words uttered by a frail, demented neighbor are “Every living creature on Earth dies alone”). Gyllenhaal, with Tobey Maguire’s sleepy eyes and sly smile, is fascinating as Donnie, smoothly making the frequent transitions between normal, beyond-his-years angst and the delusional misfirings of someone truly disturbed. Mary McDonnell, as Donnie’s mother, and Katharine Ross, as his psychiatrist, are standouts in the supporting cast as they gradually discover, with palpable dread, the extent of Donnie’s psychosis. Less effective are Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle as out-of-the-box teachers at Donnie’s school; their instantly recognizable faces take you out of the darkness-in-anytown story, and their characters add little to the plot. Though laden with tragedy, Donnie Darko unfolds with a haunting lyricism that’s more moving than melodramatic. —Tricia Olszewski