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

Rediscovering: Donnie Darko

16 December 2016 Edd Elliott  | Entertainment

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

Electricity: The Spark of Life at the Wellcome Collection

Electricity: The Spark of Life at the Wellcome Collection

‘It’s alive! It’s alive!’ The sound of thunderous bolts, cracks, currents, and this famous line from 1931 film adaption of Frankenstein ring through the exhibition rooms, live…

Pushing the Boundaries of Heritage - The National Trust present Queer City

Pushing the Boundaries of Heritage - The National Trust present Queer City

When you think about The National Trust, romantic images of grand country estates and lush green parks are undoubtedly conjured up in your mind. The…

Passage/s at Victoria Miro

Passage/s at Victoria Miro

One imagines for some the idea of going to an art exhibition about the home seems completely paradoxical. We came to this gallery in order…

FILM REVIEW: Moonlight

FILM REVIEW: Moonlight

The Oscars are just around the corner and the film world has been cleaved in two between awards hopefuls and everything else. Spare a thought…

Alternative Valentine’s Day Events

Alternative Valentine’s Day Events

Valentine’s Day has the manifold ability to both excite and inspire dread in the hearts of the population. Whether you’re loved up, happily single, coupled up…

Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion

Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion

Tracing the presence of some of the prominent modernists in the unlikely rural setting they flocked in the early days of the twentieth century, Sussex…

Fire! Fire! at The Museum of London

Fire! Fire! at The Museum of London

It’s 1666, and inside a bakery on Pudding Lane a fire breaks out that sees the path of a developing city change irrevocably. The Great Fire…

Top 5: Storytelling Experiences in London

Top 5: Storytelling Experiences in London

The phrase storytelling is everywhere, from mainstream media to the worlds of marketing and business, as Joan Didion said “We tell ourselves stories in order to…

Ghost In The Shell Rerelease

Ghost In The Shell Rerelease

Just before Hollywood’s remake, starring Scarlett Johansson, is released in March, the original, the mother of all anime, comes back to London’s cinema screens on January 25…

The BFI’s Martin Scorsese Season – What To See

The BFI’s Martin Scorsese Season – What To See

The BFI commemorate Martin Scorsese this January and February with a season of films to run alongside the film-maker’s latest release Silence, in cinemas now. The…

More inspiration...

Electricity: The Spark of Life at the Wellcome Collection

Electricity: The Spark of Life at the Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection's latest exhibition focuses on the so-called silent servant - electricity.
A Guide to Indian and Pakistani Food in London

A Guide to Indian and Pakistani Food in London

There's such an overwhelming choice of Indian food in London that it's sometimes hard to choose. Luckily, we've picked out the very best Indian and Pakistani food from across the city.
Top 5: Places to Celebrate Pancake Day 2017 in London

Top 5: Places to Celebrate Pancake Day 2017 in London

It's the most wonderful time of the year - Pancake Day! Find out where to enjoy the best Pancakes in town with our guide.
Pushing the Boundaries of Heritage - The National Trust present Queer City

Pushing the Boundaries of Heritage - The National Trust present Queer City

The National Trust's latest project is a world away from its traditional reputation, delving into the queer spaces of Soho to amplify LGBTQ+ voices and stories.
‘I like to take journeys away from myself’ – An Interview with John MacMillan

‘I like to take journeys away from myself’ – An Interview with John MacMillan

We speak to actor John MacMillan about his challenging new role in Philip Ridley's latest play Killer.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!