DONNIE DARKO (2001)

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Richard Kelly is a director with a questionable back catalogue; Donne Darko was a film that brought of attention towards Kelly, and ever since its release, he written many screenplays over the following years. However, time has shown how much of a one-trick-pony he was. At one point, he was commissioned to write the script for the adaptation of the children’s book, Holes, but he ended up delivering something that was the equivalent of a sci-fi fantasy (uncovered corpses from a nuclear holocaust) and was completely detached from what the story was supposed to be about, so it was no surprise he was booted off the film in favour of the original author. He also wrote Domino, which (kind of) was about the life of Domino Harvey and ended up being an uninspired mess. But, his crowing achievement of failure was in the form of Southland Tales, a confusing, convoluted, messed-up piece of garbage that is best left forgotten and never spoke of again. Despite the growing rise of travesties that have followed, none of that changes the fact that Donnie Darko is still a compelling, surreal and tragic movie about existentialism and spirituality.

This is the type of movie that is so multi-faceted and complex that it promotes hard thinking and even harder re-thinking. After the film ends, it’s hard to keep yourself from thinking of all the different ways you could interpret such a film like this. It is surreal and can be quite quirky, yet it’s also darkly foreboding as it slowly builds towards the inevitable event that happens right at the end of the film, and that ending sequence is still one of the greatest moments in cinema history. This can make sense on one level, makes no sense on another, yet finally making perfect sense by the time it all finishes. Just a shame that the Director’s Cut loses that sense of ambiguity and intrigue; like with the Redux version of Apocalypse Now, this also suffers from the issue of a director going back and messing up his own movie even though it was almost perfect the first time round, and in a scary way, predicted the kind of messed up style of filmmaking we came to expect from Kelly after this.

Even though at the time, Kelly himself was fresh off from film school, he managed the get himself a solid cast that help cemented the film’s enduring legacy. For starters, it made Jake Gyllenhaal a talent to watch out for, and it’s thanks to his emotionally-charged and nuanced performance in this that he went off to land great roles in movies like Nightcrawler and Source Code. Whilst there was solid support from the likes of Katharine Ross, Mary McDonnell and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jake’s real-life sister), the real standout has to be Jena Malone (who conquered big this year thanks to The Neon Demon) whose performance is very quiet and mercurial, yet full of vulnerability and pathos.

Despite the fact that Richard Kelly’s filmmaking career ended up becoming something of a downward spiral, all that doesn’t overshadow the legacy Donnie Darko has endured. Kelly did create an instant cult classic by being extremely well written with compelling characterisation and surreal iconography that will long stay with audiences (the demonic bunny suit). Granted, this film is not for everyone, but this is highly recommended if you’re the kind of person that enjoys putting the pieces of the puzzle together long after the film has ended over and over again. Plus, with the film recently restored in high-quality 4K, now is the perfect time to reconnect with this complex gem of a film.

DONNIE DARKO 15th Anniversary 4K Restoration will screen at the BFI from December 17th and in cinemas nationwide from December 23rd. BFI Tickets are on sale now: http://bit.ly/2eww8r3

DONNIE DARKO (2001) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: RICHARD KELLY / STARRING: JAKE GYLLENHAAL, HOLMES OSBORNE, MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL, DAVEIGH CHASE, PATRICK SWAYZE / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 9TH

 


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