Donnie Darko: Director’s Cut

Director: Richard Kelly

U.S.A.| 2004. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 133 mins.

Richard Kelly’s stunning debut feature is a science fiction fable which pushes cinematic time-travel into a whole new dimension. Its somnambulant teenage protagonist slips into a parallel universe, where a giant demonic rabbit called Frank proclaims that the end of the world is nigh—in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. A bastard cousin of James Stewart’s imaginary white rabbit in Harvey, this furry philosopher is an unlikely harbinger of apocalyptic doom. But then a jet engine detaches itself from a plane’s wing and destroys the sleepwalking Donnie’s bedroom. Soon afterwards, ‘Grandma Death’— a reclusive eccentric who once wrote a book about timetravel— whispers a morbid truth into Donnie’s ear: ‘Every living creature on this Earth dies alone.’ Is Donnie sliding into paranoid schizophrenia, as his sympathetic female shrink seems to think? Or has the troubled teenager passed through a worm hole in the space/time continuum, into some tangent universe where everything is oddly out of kilter?
Set in 1988, this genre-shattering movie is not only an intriguing meditation on time-travel and a deeply disturbing horror picture; it is also a John Hughes-style coming-of-age movie and a black comic satire on Reaganite greed, individualism and Christian fundamentalism (Patrick Swayze is hilarious as a bouffant-haired ‘self-help’ evangelist). ‘Donnie Darko,’ observes his equally alienated girlfriend Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), ‘What kind of a name is that? Sounds like a super-hero or something.’ To which Donnie replies cryptically, ‘What makes you think I’m not.’ Dysfunctional anti-hero Donnie, played with charismatic intensity and sly humour by Jake Gyllenhaal, inhabits a familiar suburban high school milieu; but like Kelly’s brilliantly original film, his skewed perspective on life is deeply subversive.
The extended version of ‘Donnie Darko’ contains 20 minutes of previously unseen material, new special effects and a re-mixed soundtrack. Director Richard Kelly welcomed the opportunity to put out a new version of the film that would allow him to achieve all the things he couldn’t afford for the original released version, which had a limited budget and was required to have a running time of less than two hours.
‘What I hope is that the movie is a more logical and fluid experience, and that viewers are able to tap directly into Donnie’s consciousness,’ says Kelly. In the Director’s Cut, unlike the original, pages from the book ‘The Philosophy of Time’ appear at key intervals, guiding the viewer through Donnie’s understanding of time travel. This new version also includes a number of added special effects shots, including close-ups of Donnie’s eye, layered with a tapestry of subliminally edited imagery that indicate his relation to the film’s scrambled time frame. ‘There are surprises in store for everyone,’ says Kelly, ‘even those most familiar with the film’.

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