Fifteen years ago, a little film called Donnie Darko was released in theaters and didn’t make much of an impact at all. But with years of DVD viewing, a director’s cut and hundreds of theories to what it was all about, Donnie Darko may be one of the most popular cult films of all time. So popular, that this December, director Richard Kelley is bringing a restored version back to some UK theaters December 16th before a full digital re-release on December 23rd.
On one hand, it feels unbelievable that this movie has been around so long. But on the other hand, to think that within a short amount of time, it has had two re-releases (previously the director’s cut). Well, that seems such a short amount of time for a movie few people saw in the actual release. But that may be why Donnie Darko is one of the greatest cult films of all time (but I don’t want to oversell it). Or better yet, it is a film the benefits by multiple viewings, so yes, give me new cuts and restorations!
Donnie Darko is a mind bending movie that addresses subjects as broad as time travel, while still focusing in on the joys and horrors of teen life. It stares death straight in the face, while also celebrating life and love. It’s funny, scary, thought-provoking and so many other adjectives that I could list here, but I won’t.
Now I know there are some skeptics out there who feel the movie makes no sense, or the ending is stupid. And hey, we’re all entitled to our opinions, but I found this movie to be like an onion. Every time I watch it, I peel away another layer and get another meaning out of it. Is what I think the movie is about what Richard Kelley suggested? Who know? But, he may be the kind of artist who believes you take out of it what you come into it with (ala David Lynch).
By this point I’m either starting to sound trippy or pretentious (or both). So let’s focus on the more concrete elements that not only make Donnie Darko a great cult movie, but also the subject of some great t-shirts. First off, the cast is out of this world. A pre-oscar fave Jake Gyllenhaal; his sister, Maggie; the late-great Patrick Swayze; the beautiful Drew Barrymore; a post-ER Noah Wylie; and a pre-Battlestar Galactica, Laura Roslin; and the former Ms. Robinson, Katherine Ross. Damn.
There are lots of great images in the movie. To start with, there’s the giant bunny names Frank:
And probably one of the most quotable movies of the decade.
“Sometimes I doubt your commitment to sparkle motion.”
“Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”
Grandma death stays true to her name with: “Every living creature on this Earth dies alone.”
A positive message in the darkness, “I can do anything I want, and you can, too.”
And a very important date:
For us 80s music fanatics, the soundtrack is amazing. INXS, ‘Til Tuesday, Oingo Boingo, Joy Division to name a few. And that melancholy version of “Mad World” by Gary Jules that turned out to be a major hit. And depending on which version you watch, the Sparkle Motions song is either The Pet Shop Boys or Duran Duran (apparently The Pet Shop Boys wanted much more money to use their song in the Director’s Cut). And of course, the powerful “Killing Moon” by Echo & The Bunnymen.
And if you want some more obscure images:
And there are so many clever mash-ups: