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Donnie Darko: Director's Cut

. "Donnie Darko: Director's Cut"

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 out.

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  

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Donnie Darko and his rabbit

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