-This review pertains to the Director's Cut DVD edition of Donnie Darko-
WARNING: This review contains spoilers! DO NOT READ THIS UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN THE FILM!
In Richard Kelly
's Director's Cut
of his cult classic, Donnie Darko
, we are given nearly twenty minutes of additional footage, which pulls us deeper into the tangent universe. In 2001, Donnie Darko
was praised by critics and audiences during its exhibitions at film festivals, however during its theatrical release the film failed to grab the attention of the mainstream U.S. audience. It wasn't until British filmgoers hailed the film as being one of the most original movies of the decade that the film was given a second chance.
Now with this 2-disc Director's Cut
edition, we can explore the fractured world of Donnie Darko
in greater detail. Though the theatrical cut has become a cult classic, the Director's Cut
is an even more complete film. Now that Richard Kelly
has established himself as a noteworthy director, he's able to reclaim creative control and reassemble the film to match his original vision (20th Century Fox
executives ordered the film to be shortened and simplified after a disappointing showing at the Sundance Film Festival
). In this new cut, the characters are given more attention, which is wonderful as each member of the cast gives an amazing performance. The story, which will still likely mesmerize most of its viewers, is clarified with the addition of new dialogue scenes.
The story is set in the year 1988, in Middlesex, Virginia. Here Donnie Darko, a troubled teenager, begins to have disturbing blackouts and hallucinations. During these episodes he loses track of time and often regains consciousness only to find himself in some strange place with no memory of how he got there. Donnie's home life is also stressful, as his emotional problems lead to conflicts with his family. One night, after a confrontation with his mother, Donnie is awakened by an eerie voice. It's the voice of a man in a rabbit suit, a man named Frank. Frank tells Donnie that the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. After Donnie wakes up the next morning in the middle of the country club's golf course, he walks home to find out that a jet engine landed on his family's house, destroying his bedroom. When Donnie returns to school the following day, he is treated like a quasi-celebrity... and he meets the new girl in school, Gretchen. Donnie and Gretchen are immediately drawn to each other. On his ride home from school, Donnie's father almost hits Roberta Sparrow, a reclusive 101-year-old woman, who tells Donnie, "Every living creature on Earth dies alone." Donnie confides in his psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman, and tells her about his problems and anxieties.
Meanwhile, Frank tells Donnie to flood the school, which he does by taking an axe to the school's water main. When school is canceled Donnie walks Gretchen home from the bus stop and they develop a close relationship. Donnie is given support by Gretchen, but also by his bohemian teacher, Ms. Pomeroy and his science teacher, Dr. Monnitoff. However he also faces obstacles put in his way by Mrs. Farmer, the school's puritanical and patronizing gym teacher and by Jim Cunningham, a self-righteous and hypocritical self-help guru, who uses cheap New Age philosophy and pop-psychology to control people. Donnie rebels against these two negative influences when he makes an obscene comment to Mrs. Farmer and accuses Jim Cunningham of being the anti-Christ.
One day Donnie asks Dr. Monnitoff what he knows about time travel and Dr. Monnitoff gives Donnie a book that was written by none other than Roberta Sparrow. The book describes an anomaly in which one universe is split into two by a disruption in the space-time continuum. The tangent universe, or secondary universe, is made unstable and will collapse upon itself. This is only preventable if one can travel back in time and stop the tangent universe from being created. If the tangent universe cannot be unmade, if the timeline cannot be corrected then the tangent universe will collapse destroying both itself and the primary universe. Donnie tries to explain these discoveries to his psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman, but she sees no connections between Roberta Sparrow's book and Donnie's "hallucinations" of Frank. Dr. Thurman believes Donnie to be a paranoid-schizophrenic. Unsurprisingly, Donnie isn't convinced that that's the case. There are too many similarities, too many parallels between the chapters of the book and what Frank has been preparing him for. Donnie consults Dr. Monnitoff about the nature of time travel and how it would be possible, but when the discussion takes on theological overtones Dr. Monnitoff ends their talk.
One night Frank reveals his identity to Donnie, by taking off his rabbit mask. Frank is a young man, not much older than Donnie, and his right eye is missing. Frank tells Donnie that he must burn down Jim Cunningham's house. Donnie torches the house while the rest of the town is at a school talent show. There, Donnie's little sister, Samantha, is part of a dance team called Sparkle Motion. When Sparkle Motion is invited to appear on Star Search, Donnie's parents must accompany Samantha on a plane trip to California. While his parents are away Donnie throws a party for his older sister, Elizabeth, who's just been accepted to Harvard. Donnie and Gretchen leave the party prematurely and a series of incidents lead to Gretchen being killed when a car hits her. Donnie, using a gun he stole from his father's closet, shoots the driver in the face, in the eye. It was Frank.
Early the nest morning Donnie watches as a black hole forms in the Earth's atmosphere, dissolving the Earth's gravitational pull, dramatically affecting the weather, and pulling apart the jet that his parents are on. Using the knowledge that Frank gave him, Donnie sends the jet's engine into a wormhole, back through time where it lands on the family's house, destroying his bedroom. By doing this he prevented the creation of the tangent universe, thus saving the world. But because there was no longer the threat of absolute destruction, Frank never died at Donnie's hands; his death was effectively reversed, so his ghost never went back in time to warn Donnie that night that he went sleepwalking. Donnie was in his bed, laughing at the realization of what he'd done, when the jet engine crashed through the ceiling, landing on him. He sacrifices himself to save Gretchen, his family, and the world.
may very well be one of the most complex, thought-provoking debuts for a filmmaker. Not only does Richard Kelly
direct, but he also wrote the meticulous screenplay, which utilizes a knowledge of quantum physics, psychology, mythological archetypes, religious concepts, and modern moral and family issues.
The film's multi-layered characters are portrayed by a talented ensemble cast including Jake Gyllenhaal
as Donnie Darko, Holmes Osborne
as Mr. Darko, Maggie Gyllenhaal
as Elizabeth Darko, Daveigh Chase
as Samantha Darko, Mary McDonnell
as Mrs. Darko, James Duval
as Frank, Patrick Swayze
as Jim Cunningham, Beth Grant
as Mrs. Farmer, Jena Malone
as Gretchen, Noah Wyle
as Dr. Monnitoff, Drew Barrymore
as Ms. Pomeroy, and Katharine Ross
as Dr. Thurman.
The 2-disc Director's Cut DVD
includes an audio commentary with Richard Kelly
and Kevin Smith
, "Production Diary" documentary, "They Made Me Do It Too- The Cult of Donnie Darko" featurette, "Storyboard-to-Screen" featurette, "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary" featurette, and the Director's Cut trailer.