Cult classic Donnie Darko set for re-release
It’s difficult to believe Donnie Darko has been around for 15 years. A true zeitgeist movie if ever there was one.
2001 will forever be connected with the image of those two planes crashing into the World Trade Centre one sunny September morning and the world changing in what felt like the blink of an eye. This event was perhaps what made Donnie Darko such a valid movie that year, juxtaposed with the image of a jet engine, plummeting through the clouds onto the bedroom of the title character. An accidental metaphor for the fate of America.
The film made a name for both Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the director Richard Kelly became a cult director overnight (the sequel 2009’s S.Darko could only ever disappoint).
Watching the film again after a long hiatus a number of things spring to mind, mainly what a great movie it is. Stylish, slick, and just plain different; it is clear why it was embraced by a certain type of teenager on its release.
All the elements of a classic 80s teen movie are there, (it is set in 1988), the sleepy suburbia full of bored teenagers, the slightly alternative but not quite punk clothing, and the British New Wave soundtrack. Joy Division, Tears for Fears Head over Heels never sounding so good and the inspired use of the Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon as Donnie cycles bewildered through the dawn to his home is a spine tingling stroke of genius.
Kelly attempted successfully to raise the film above the standard teen movie model by bringing in themes of Lynchian perversity in the sinister body and mind guru, Jim Cunningham played so sleazily by Patrick Swayze and in the time travel sub-plot. The debate of whether or not the film is fantasy, sci –fi or neither continues. It is hard to say whether the whole time travel thing still works, it feels clumsy at times, but the image of Donnie’s imaginary friend Frank, complete with Bunnyman suit remains eerily iconic and timeless.
Donnie Darko pulls no punches either, it becomes quite clear that no-one is safe and this too drags it screaming from the confines of the standard teen flick. Donnie himself is a deathly sight to see throughout the film, as his life spirals into a dark labyrinth, the viewer is forced to question themes of mortality and possibly their own sanity.
A new 4k restoration will provide an opportunity to revisit this great film and for younger film fans to taste the darkness for the first time on the big screen. It is easy to imagine the current cohort of goth kids embracing Donnie like the kids of 2001 did, the sentiments remain as valid as ever.
The fully restored 4K makeover will be crash landing at the BFI on December 17 and appearing elsewhere on the 23rd, a perfect Christmas treat for those of us who like our Christmas movies a little left of centre. Look out for a young Seth Rogan too.