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

Festival of Film at the Royal Albert Hall

Festival of Film at the Royal Albert Hall

A season of gigs, screenings and talks celebrating the power of music in film

The Best Family Events in London this August

The Best Family Events in London this August

With the summer holidays in full swing, we’ve selected some of the best family friendly events to keep even the pickiest of kids entertained. Explore some…

An interview with photographer Terry O’Neill

An interview with photographer Terry O’Neill

Over the course of his illustrious career, photographer Terry O’Neill has uniquely captured the evolution of pop culture. Through his lens, the charismatic Londoner witnessed and…

The Best Films in London this August

The Best Films in London this August

So, you’ve seen Dunkirk and Baby Driver and now you’re looking for something a little different? Our new feature rounds up the best independent cinema, film…

Win Stephen King Tickets & Cocktails

BFI - Win Stephen King Tickets & Cocktails

Don’t miss the BFI’s tribute to The King of Horror this autumn!

Win Tickets to The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Win Tickets to The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

We've got a pair of tickets to give away to this hilarious show.

Film Review: A Ghost Story

Film Review: A Ghost Story

American indie filmmaker David Lowery returns with a provocative fourth feature film. Told through awe-inducing simplicity, leaving viewers heartbroken yet hopeful, A Ghost Story is…

This Week August 14-20

This Week August 14-20

With two weeks to go till the Bank Holiday weekend, the best way to prepare for the celebrations is by partaking in wholesome activities this…

Win Two Tickets to the Gladiator Games

Museum of London - Win Two Tickets to the Gladiator Games

Forget Westeros, it’s all about Londinium this summer!

Win Cocktails at a (not so) Secret Garden Bar!

Win Cocktails at a (not so) Secret Garden Bar!

Pull up a deckchair and enjoy delicious cocktails in the idyllic period gardens of East London's Geffrye Museum.

Most popular

Win a Viennese Afternoon Tea for Two

The Delaunay - Win a Viennese Afternoon Tea for Two

Treat yourself to a relaxing afternoon tea with an Austrian twist at The Delaunay in Covent Garden.
Win a pair of weekend tickets to a music festival on Blackheath Common!

On Blackheath - Win a pair of weekend tickets to a music festival on Blackheath Common!

Travis, The Libertines and De La Soul all perform at this weekend festival on Blackheath Common.
Win Film Tickets and Cocktails!

Rooftop Film Club - Win Film Tickets and Cocktails!

Watch Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, The Breakfast Club, or The Godfather on a London rooftop!
Win Stephen King Tickets & Cocktails

BFI - Win Stephen King Tickets & Cocktails

Don’t miss the BFI’s tribute to The King of Horror this autumn!
Win Tickets to The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Win Tickets to The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

We've got a pair of tickets to give away to this hilarious show.
Win Cocktails at a (not so) Secret Garden Bar!

Win Cocktails at a (not so) Secret Garden Bar!

Pull up a deckchair and enjoy delicious cocktails in the idyllic period gardens of Hoxton’s Geffrye Museum.
Win Tickets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Strawberry Hill - Win Tickets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Watch cycling troupe The Handlebards perform one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies at Stawberry Hill House & Garden!
Win a pair of tickets to the Young Women’s Empowerment Festival

The Jewish Museum London - Win a pair of tickets to the Young Women’s Empowerment Festival

You Know I'm No Good: Young Women's Empowerment Festival is a day of inspirational talks at the Jewish Museum London.
Win two tickets to Britney Spears: The Cabaret

The Other Palace - Win two tickets to Britney Spears: The Cabaret

Australian performer Christie Whelan Browne takes her acclaimed show Britney Spears: The Cabaret to London for one week only.
An interview with Billie Piper

An interview with Billie Piper

Billie Piper returns to the stage in Yerma, and London Calling spoke to her about life and her career to date.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!