Donnie Darko - Director's Cut (2001/2004)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell
Writer: Richard Kelly
Director: Richard Kelly
Donnie Darko cheats death by sleepwalking when a jet engine of unknown origin comes crashing through the roof of his bedroom. This particular sleepwalking event introduces the troubled teen to Frank, a 6 foot tall bunny rabbit, who tells him the precise time in which the world will end. 28 days... 6 hours... 42 minutes... 12 seconds.
Donnie Darko --the theatrical cut-- was one of those movies I simply bought on a whim upon its original DVD release. I just read the synopsis online and went with it, as it sounded pretty interesting. I figured at best that it would be an enjoyable B-movie. Talk about having my fucking mind blown out the back of my head. It wasn't a film I ever fully understood, but I couldn't stop watching it. Showed it to all my friends and watched it alone countless times. I didn't do this to try and decipher any deep meaning to it, I just couldn't stay away from it. The theatrical cut leaves much to interpretation; I actually think that's what most people took a liking to. Going online after the first couple of viewings and reading everybody's theories on what it meant was damn near as entertaining as the actual film.
Enter the director's cut, which is a whopping twenty minutes longer of a film. That's a monumental amount of time in terms of a movie. It blew my mind on a whole new level. All kinds of new imagery, tons of little added bits with characters, songs rearranged, I fucking loved it. While some of the new stuff doesn't necessarily do anymore explaining than the theatrical cut did, it gave more personality to a lot of the characters. Seeing how I loved damn near every person in this world of Middlesex, I was more than happy to get to spend more time with them. However, much of the imagery does in fact infuse a more solid meaning to the picture. Though, I didn't truly understand what Richard Kelly was trying to say until I listened to the Director's cut commentary. Mind fucking blown once again. The downside of the commentary is Kevin Smith dissing on some of the added elements and just generally being an asshole during a few parts. But Kelly is a fascinating individual. A lot of people may have been able to piece things together without the commentary, but again, without listening to it at least once, I think a person's view is still just more or less their own interpretation. Some may prefer just having their own take on things, and I respect that. Some may prefer the theatrical cut just for that reason, and that's cool, too. But hearing Kelly talk about his creation and what he was trying to do makes me think the dude is a fucking genius.
If you care not to listen to the commentary but are still interested in it all, there's a fabulous breakdown of the whole thing on the Donnie Darko IMDB FAQ page. I highly recommend it.
So, essentially, technologically advanced beings from the future are responsible for the jet engine entering Donnie's universe. They have the power to manipulate the past and give Donnie powers to save the world, as well as lining up every figure in the film to be at the right place at the right time, hoping for it all to work. The futuristic beings give Donnie a Messenger in the form of a bunny to let him in on everything he has to do. I kinda look at it as a mouse in a maze making the right decisions to get to a piece of cheese. If the mouse fails and makes wrong turns while trying to reach its destination, the world will collapse. Also leading him on his path --as well as a lot of people in the film-- is an Abyss-like transparent sphere, which protrudes from his chest and wanders. Of course, there is a shitload more to the story, and even attempting to explain it all would probably kill the overall amazingness of discovering it for yourself. Plus, there still will be a lot of things that can be interpreted. Not only that, but many may still want to make their own theories, and that's really the beauty of the film. It's amazing anyway you want to view it.
On a visual level, I think even a hater of this film could admit that it's astounding, especially for a director's feature debut. In my review for Lady in White, I talked about those few and far between times where nearly every single thing seems to fall into place to make a film seem perfect, even through its flaws. I think Donnie Darko is another one of those films. Even when I had zero knowledge on Richard Kelly's ultimate explanation of the story, I still couldn't find anything I disliked about it. He made Middlesex into a town that I longed to be a part of. I wanted to know the characters. I wanted to hang out with Donnie and his buddies talking about Smurfette's true origins. Of course, I would rather live in a Middlesex without the whole Tangent Universe thing going on, but I would more than likely have no idea about any of that shit, so it would still be cool. The autumn setting is strongly apparent here, too, and it's about the closest feel to an 80's movie you can get without actually watching an 80's movie. The camera work here is amazing. One particular moment that I love to pieces is the slo-mo/speed up segment in the school hallway that basically introduces you to a lot of important characters in the film, to the tune of Tears For Fears' Head Over Heels. Sometimes, I find scenes like this to be way too Matrix-like for my taste. Here, I think it's fucking brilliant. Another sequence I really like is also early on, when we first see Donnie interrupted from sleep to Frank's voice. As he towards the front door of his house, the camera slowly pulls up to a chandelier, and when it comes back down Donnie has already exited the house and the door is closing. There's so many more; the Halloween party, the bike ride to Grandma Death's Cellar Door, the finale, the Evil Dead theatrical experience... I love it all, truthfully.
Acting is all around on point. Even people in the most miniscule roles in the film are on top of their game, if you ask me. That's one big element that makes Donnie Darko so likeable and it's what makes this type of town realistic. While this wasn't Jake Gyllenhaal's first film, I think his performance is definitely the reason he is so popular now. He simply kills as the troubled teen superhero; there's so many moments where Donnie says the types of things I've always wanted to say to false personality authority figures. Darko is so fucking boss, which kinda makes me question why the school bullies would chose someone so awesome to hate on. Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone's chemistry as young lovers with troubled emotions feels so completely true, as well. Maggie and Jake work well off of each other, also, but it probably wasn't too terribly difficult for them to pull it off. Everyboy essentially rules in the movie, but if I were to pick a favorite apart from the leads, I'd have to say Holmes Osbourne as Mr. Darko. Dude fucking owns the scenes he's a part of, such as his comical reaction to Donnie's behavior in school, as well as his introduction with the leaf blower. He just completely owns the loving fun Dad role with ease.
Donnie Darko is one of the few films where I find the rock soundtrack every bit as rewarding as the film score, which is composed by Michael Andrews. First, the rock soundtrack: I originally thought that the opening of Donnie riding his bike home to The Killing Moon was epic; it still is. But INXS' Never Tear Us Apart gives it so much more emotion. It's hard to say how many times I've watched the director's cut, but that scene gives me goosebumps every time. Joy Division, Duran Duran, The Church, Oingo Boingo, so many great bands and songs here. The song Mad World is a Tears For Fears song originally, but the Gary Jewels and Michael Anderson version in the movie is exceptionally awesome. Incredibly haunting, much like the rest of Andrews' film score. The music makes up a large part of what this film is.
I can go as far as saying that Donnie Darko is in my top ten favorite films of all time. Before this review, I watched the Director's cut twice back to back (second time with commentary) then the theatrical cut shortly afterward. I'm not sure if I will ever go back to the theatrical, as now it just feels like a brief summary of something that is meant to be so much more. I certainly don't hate it; it was my first introduction. But the director's cut has a lot more to give. Recommended.