A strange title; a strange story; a film that journeys outside any known
genre guidelines. When you take a small town boy who's a rebel at school and
in his suburban home, that's one thing. But when an antennaed rabbit with
the secrets of the universe starts visiting him from some alternate
time-space warp, we seem to be in Steven King territory.
Teenager Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on medication. His delusions and
erratic, rebellious behavior are well known to his family and a growing
problem at school where he just won't adjust, or accept teachers'
inadequacies or tendencies to create falsehood. Mom and dad are constantly
reminding him to take his pills but, even when he does, he sees the rabbit
and they don't.
Is this a delusion to help him cope with pain over his dissilusionment with
an unsatisfactory and mendacious society? Or is it an advisory council, as
it purports to be, from somewhere out in writer-director Richard Kelly's
universe. The answer to that might be suggested when an airline engine falls
out of the skies dead smack into his bedroom. Jarring, but he seems to have
been in another place at the time. Needless to say, everyone's freaked
Except Donnie, who seems to be discovering a power to alter time and destiny
and, at the same time, is discovering love.
But this mixture of screen elements aren't nearly as unfamiliar as the film's
strange path in the marketplace where it was, at first, rejected and
forgotten. Was it too edgy for its time, despite the participation of a
pre-stardom stellar cast? I mean, like Jake's wondrous sister Maggie, cute
Jena Malone, academic touch-stone Noah Wylie, slime-ball Patrick Swayze,
Katharine Ross and valiant Drew Barrymore who doubles as actual co-producer!
Just as Donnie Darko wasn't meant for this orbit of the solar system as we
think we know it, the film, originally released just after 9/11, refused its
early placement in oblivion. Wouldn't you know the midnight screeners would
take to its demented weirdness and sardonic humor played as straight ahead
seriousness? (It was a midnight movie at the 100-seat Two Boots Pioneer
Theater in Manhattan's East Village for two years running). Then, it hit the
DVD racks, and a cult classic was born and nurtured.
So much interest has been boiling since that a re-release, with 20 additional
minutes woven in, results in this old/new non-sequel for exposure to
audiences who have been awakened like so many movie fans zombied out on its
originality. That explains the strange title and the phenomenon. As for its
destiny, its bottom line is bringing to our attention a new writer-director
on the scene with a somewhat fearless and singular vision who thinks nothing
of sprinkling suburban family life with a little space dust.
Those who are brought down by the film's sense of lonely disattachment might
just feel that the lengthened version of the genre-busting fable isn't much
more appealing than it was first time out. No doubt, though, there is an
appreciative audience for it for others who embrace parallel realities, like
for people who got behind "Adaptation," perhaps.
~~ Jules Brenner