phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Rediscovering: Donnie Darko
Rediscovering: Donnie Darko

Rediscovering: Donnie Darko

16 December 2016 Edd Elliott

It seems only fitting that 15 years after its original release Donnie Darko is looping its way back into cinemas. The time-travel teaser has been a staple of millennial’s DVD libraries for the past decade. Now with Arrow Pictures’ 4K restoration re-release there is a chance to see it once again on the big screen. The graphics have been improved and the soundtrack given an extra kick. Deep down inside, however, it’s still that same old film you used to watch, and re-watch, and re-watch, week after week.

Donnie Darko – “What the hell kind of name is that? It’s like you’re some kind of superhero or something.” – is a troubled teen in an American every-town. He sleep walks at night and is visited in trances by—brace for it—a 6-ft bunny rabbit named Frank. The visions turn out to be a blessing in disguise. When an airplane engine mysteriously lands on Donnie’s room, he is off dreaming elsewhere. The end of the world is coming though, the omniscient Frank forecasts. Only Donnie can save those he loves. This benevolent quest ironically leads the confused protagonist on a trail of destruction through his humdrum town, flooding schools and burning down mansions. Slowly, however, Donnie begins to unravel the doomsday riddle and the time-travelling implications rapt therein.
 
Falling within the uncanny chasm of film present and film history, it’s easy to forget just how brilliant a movie Donnie Darko is – or should that be was? In a period deplete of true cult classics, Richard Kelly’s second feature stands a large bunny head and broad, fluffy shoulders above the rest. It has all the midnight movie traits: a bizarre plot, a killer soundtrack, strange camera tricks, and unending wormhole of memorable lines – “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!” Off-screen, all the cult boxes are ticked. The film opened to middling reviews and poor box office beset with distribution problems. It was only on DVD that Donnie began to find a following.
 
Looking back at Donnie Darko 15 years on, it’s remarkable how melancholic the film now feels. Maybe this was to be expected: it is after all two hours of waiting for the end of the world. But the struggles of the schizophrenic Donnie and the resulting detachment he experiences from his family appears both sad and prescient from our later viewpoint. The millennial generation that championed the film on DVD, watching as teens late at night eyes glued to the screen, would grow up to suffer an “epidemic” of mental illness and depression on a previously unimagined scale. Although time-travel and wormholes are fanciful, the daily pains experienced by the Darkos now feel horribly poignant; Patrick Swayze’s hokum “love-fear axis” certainly seems less ridiculous. In a heartbreaking scene Rose Darko, Donnie’s mother, breaks down upon hearing her young son’s psychiatrist suggest more medication and therapy. “Whatever will help him,” she builds herself up to say. “We’d just like to experience him. So if you think more medication will do that, then I think we should give it a try.”
 
Loneliness and depression are notable features across many cult films of the noughties—Punch-Drunk Love, Garden State, Fight Club, and even Lost in Translation. Donnie Darko, however, somehow cuts the deepest. As the camera glides down the Middlesex High corridor to the sounds of Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels” the sense of detachment is overwhelming. This is the John Hughes’ heartland – the 80s school-scape, with jockish boys, pretty girls and disapproving teachers. The warmth and sense of possibility, however, has been ripped out. What remains is a mess of embittered, disappointed adults and mean, scared, lost students. “Hello teacher, tell me what’s my lesson: looked right through me, looked right through me,” the film’s Gary Jules cover of Mad World mourns. This is a world where not even a Ferris-style day off or Saturday morning detention would provide meaning.
 
Jake Gyllenhaal has reported recently that what drew him to Donnie Darko’s script was how relatable it was to his own high-school experience. Many viewers then and now will feel the same way. For all the film’s sly 80s references to Stephen King, Spielberg and John Carpenter, it lives and breathes in the present. Donnie Darko isn’t timeless: it is timely – now in its time-travelling re-release more than ever.
 
***** - Five stars.

Donnie Darko 15th Anniversary 4K Restoration will screen at the BFI from 17 December and in cinemas nationwide from 23 December. BFI Tickets are on sale now. 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Summer Events at the British Library

Summer Events at the British Library

Fake news, David Bowie, Los Angeles, folk music, Michael Palin & Jane Austen...

The Best Family Events in London this June

The Best Family Events in London this June

There’s a buzz in the air, and London is starting to come alive after a period of hibernation, so it’s a great month to take the…

Win a 3 Course Dinner, Cocktail & River Cruise For 2 People

London Day Out - Win a 3 Course Dinner, Cocktail & River Cruise For 2 People

See a different side of London with an exciting and unlimited cruise down the Thames, followed by a delightful meal at the Hilton Green Park Hotel.

Indian Summer at Horniman Museum and Gardens

Indian Summer at Horniman Museum and Gardens

Expect a feast for the senses as the sounds and spirit of South Asia come to London.

Win Tickets a Fringe Comedy Show

The Pleasance - Win Tickets a Fringe Comedy Show

Catch Nina Conti, Tim Key, Jayde Adams, Geins Family Giftshop, Adam Riches & more great comedy at The Pleasance this summer.

Win Cream Cakes and Cocktails for Two!

Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour - Win Cream Cakes and Cocktails for Two!

Indulge yourself at this sumptuous London spot perfect for gin lovers.

Morning Gloryville Sky High Solstice

Morning Gloryville Sky High Solstice

An sunrise rave at the top of The Shard

This Week June 5-11

This Week June 5-11

There’s plenty to put a smile on your face this week in London. Literally, in the case of Dr. Mark Williamson. He runs Action for Happiness,…

Top 5: Cycle Cafés

Top 5: Cycle Cafés

It’s National Bike Week from June 10 – 18, so we thought it was high time we celebrated some of the finest cycle cafés London has to…

S•E•V•E•N - an exhibition by George Katralis

S•E•V•E•N - an exhibition by George Katralis

An exhibition of prints from artist George Katralis' debut solo show

Most popular

Win a 3 Course Dinner, Cocktail & River Cruise For 2 People

London Day Out - Win a 3 Course Dinner, Cocktail & River Cruise For 2 People

See a different side of London with an exciting and unlimited cruise down the Thames, followed by a delightful meal.
Win four tickets to a Dustin Hoffman screening plus cocktails!

BFI - Win four tickets to a Dustin Hoffman screening plus cocktails!

Your chance to win four tickets to a Dustin Hoffman film screening, with two cocktails, throughout June/July.
Win Cream Cakes and Cocktails for Two!

Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour - Win Cream Cakes and Cocktails for Two!

Indulge yourself at this sumptuous London spot perfect for gin lovers.
Win Dinner for 2 and Entry to Gilded Interiors

Wallace Collection - Win Dinner for 2 and Entry to Gilded Interiors

We're giving away dinner for two in the beautiful Wallace Collection Restaurant, with entry to their Gilded Interiors exhibition
Win two weekend passes to a celebration of Japanese culture

HYPER JAPAN - Win two weekend passes to a celebration of Japanese culture

Tobacco Dock hosts a weekend of food, music, performance and more
Win a copy of the artist’s new book Arctic Light!

David Bellamy - Win a copy of the artist’s new book Arctic Light!

David Bellamy's new book documents his travels round the Arctic though watercolour
Win Tickets a Fringe Comedy Show

The Pleasance - Win Tickets a Fringe Comedy Show

Catch Nina Conti, Tim Key, Jayde Adams, Geins Family Giftshop, Adam Riches & more great comedy at The Pleasance this summer.
BRICKLIVE 2017

BRICKLIVE 2017

Get ready for the return of the fantastic BRICKLIVE this summer - on tour for 2017!
An interview with comedian Tom Green

An interview with comedian Tom Green

We talk Trump, comedy and counter-culture with Tom Green

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!