Edythe Smith 11/02/2015
Donnie Darko is one of the quintessential cult film of the 21st century. It maintains style and story while simultaneously asking the most existential questions relating to God, good and evil, purpose and place. All the while it presents the music, pastimes and feel of the '80s better than films made during the time did. More realistically, at least. It also showcases and/or introduces the talents of an ensemble cast and has a truly righteous soundtrack.
Our protagonist shares the same name of the film. Donnie, the middle child of a wealthy family in Middlesex, Iowa, stands out from his peers and community in many ways. His earlier years, we later discover, were quite troubled. He sees an expensive shrink twice a week and takes medication. He's bright, though hard to discipline in school. He sleepwalks, ending up all over town in various places - compelled by an imaginary man in an eerie rabbit costume who calls himself Frank. One particular sleepwalk allows him to cheat death when a mysterious jet engine crashes into his bedroom on the same eve. The event changes Donnie's life and the lives of everyone around him forever. This is the film's skeleton, more or less. The flesh is much more enticing and can be considered a religious fable of sorts, where Donnie could easily represent Christ and all supporting characters provide an amalgamation of arch-angels, prophets, messiahs, and the anti-Christ.
On the eve mentioned, Frank delivers a prophecy of a precise point in time when something unthinkable will occur. This prophesy propels Donnie to figure out his place and power within this time frame and use his awareness of it for a greater good – thus, perhaps, understanding God's will and manipulating a realm of existence that most people are not privy to. In short, he grows to understand and acknowledge martyrdom. But since navigating the pangs of youth is hard enough without such a task, young Donnie can't help but reach out for guidance. It comes from various places, including his shrink – who starts to second-guess Donnie's supposed schizophrenia. Two of his teachers (Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle), both liberal and passionate, are intrigued by his existential and metaphysical hangups. The last is more of a compass, similar to Frank – an elderly woman, whom the local kids have nicknamed Grandma Death.
The films takes place in the early '80s, starting roughly on October 2nd and going through Halloween, making it an oddball choice of films for the holiday but perhaps one of the more eclectic. Outside of the Darko family (which includes actual siblings Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal) there's a wonderful supporting cast that provides plenty of heartfelt dramatics and/or dark comedy. The new girl, Gretchen, is not only a kindred spirit to Donnie but someone accustomed to the mundane. Patrick Swayze plays a spiritual philanthropist held in high-regard that spreads proselytizing motivational dialog in the school and community. Even two bullies have a role in the larger scheme of things, one of whom is played by Seth Rogen.
There are two cuts of the film and a lot of hubbub surrounding the differences. The theatrical cut, for most fans of the film, is recommended. Perhaps this one is best suited for the elitist or for those who prefer to ponder the meaning of things more so than have them revealed. The director's cut (which I saw before the theatrical), is the exact same film except for one element; pages of a book featured in the plot are transposed over certain scenes. They explain what is happening both for the lead character, and the audience. As someone who loves research, I enjoyed and felt included (if that's possible) in the mystery by reading these passages alongside Donnie. I also feel that they enhance suspension of disbelief because they incite involvement and provide fluidity - two things that, if maintained poorly, can easily break a film's spell.
Outside of the plot, the acting, and the superb soundtrack (consisting of Joy Division, INXS, The Church, Tears for Tears and more), my favorite thing about the film is the fact that it exists. Drew Barrymore was an executive producer and, for this being Kelly's first feature film, I feel that her involvement was crucial. It was released shortly after 9/11, causing box office sales to be quite bleak. Yet somehow it prevailed and grew into a cult classic. There are so many subtle details in the film that make it enjoyable to re-watch. It gets better as you get older and come to understand certain things that are referenced; I see something new each time, and that says a lot since I've watched it several times for over a decade. Highly recommended, and not just for Halloween.
4-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Fifteen years before Stranger Things, Richard Kelly set the template and the high-water mark with his debut feature, Donnie Darko. Initially beset with distribution problems, it would slowly find its audience and emerge as arguably the first cult classic of the new millennium.
Donnie is a troubled high school student: in therapy, prone to sleepwalking and in possession of an imaginary friend, a six-foot rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days 06 hours 42 minutes and 12 seconds. During that time he will navigate teenage life, narrowly avoid death in the form of a falling jet engine, follow Frank's maladjusted instructions and try to maintain the space-time continuum.
Described by its director as ''The Catcher in the Rye as told by Philip K. Dick'', Donnie Darko combines an eye-catching, eclectic cast pre-stardom Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, heartthrob Patrick Swayze, former child star Drew Barrymore, Oscar® nominees Mary McDonnell and Katharine Ross, and ER star Noah Wyle and an evocative soundtrack of 80s classics by Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears and Duran Duran. This brand-new 4K restoration, carried out exclusively for this release by Arrow Films, allows a modern classic to finally receive the home video treatment it deserves.
- Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone
- Format: Color, Dolby, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Subtitles: English
- Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Number of Discs: 4
- Rating: R
- Label: Arrow Video
- Release Date: 04/18/2017
- Run Time: 133 minutes
- Catalogue #: 87
- Audio commentary by writer-director Richard Kelly and actor Jake Gyllenhaal on the Theatrical Cut
- Audio commentary by Kelly, producer Sean McKittrick and actors Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross and James Duval on the Theatrical Cut
- Audio commentary by Kelly and filmmaker Kevin Smith on the Director's Cut
- Deus ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko, a brand-new documentary by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures on the making of Donnie Darko, containing interviews with writer-director Richard Kelly, producer Sean McKittrick, director of photography Steven Poster, editor Sam Bauer, composer Michael Edwards, costume designer April Ferry, actor James Duval and critic Rob Galluzzo
- The Goodbye Place, Kelly's 1996 short film, which anticipates some of the themes and ideas of his feature films
- The Donnie Darko Production Diary, an archival documentary charting the film's production with optional commentary by cinematographer Steven Poster
- Twenty deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary by Kelly
- Archive interviews with Kelly, actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Noah Wyle and Katharine Ross, producers Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry and Casey La Scala, and cinematographer Steven Poster
- Three archive featurettes: They Made Me Do It, They Made Me Do It Too and #1 Fan: A Darkomentary
- Storyboard comparisons
- B-roll footage
- Cunning Visions infomercials
- Music video: Mad World by Gary Jules
- Exclusive collector's book containing new writing by Nathan Rabin, Anton Bitel and Jamie Graham, an in-depth interview with Richard Kelly, introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal and contemporary coverage, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials