Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut (2004) – Review

Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut (2004) Poster

Directed by Richard Kelly

Written by Richard Kelly

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase, Holmes Osborne, Mary McDonnell,  James Duval, Jena Malone, Katharine Ross, Patience Cleveland, and Patrick Swayze

Length: 1 hour and 53 minutes

Genre: Drama, science fiction, thriller

MPAA Rating: R

Description from IMDB:

“A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a man in a large rabbit suit who manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after he narrowly escapes a bizarre accident.”

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a teenage boy at odds with the world around him. His older sister, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is waiting on an acceptance letter from Harvard, his younger sister, Samantha (Daveigh Chase), is in the school’s dance group, and his parents (Holmes Osborne and Mary McDonnell) are trying to figure out how to deal with his troubling behavior. In October of 1988, Donnie begins having visions of Frank (James Duval); a demonic bunny rabbit who saves Donnie from being crushed by an airplane engine that falls in his room one night. Donnie then begins to carry out various acts of vandalism while under Frank’s influence and becomes obsessed with time travel. Adding on top of all of this is a new girl in town, Gretchen (Jena Malone); she soon begins dating Donnie and the two try to make sense of the strange things happening before the foretold end of the world.

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What a weird third-wheel.

Donnie is part of a nuclear family that was the ideal archetype in 1980’s America. His mother and father both work while his sister awaits an acceptance letter from Harvard during a year off from school. They all have their own distinct personalities and are able to exist within the societal system that they live in despite being naturally inclined to rebel against it. Donnie, however, is unable to behave within the structures of school appropriately without questioning authority and is in turn sent to see Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross), a psychotherapist. During these sessions, we see that Donnie is able to talk about the visions of Frank and his concerns about life, loneliness, and death. It is within this modicum of reality that Frank enters and Donnie begins to wonder if his visions are symptoms of schizophrenia or something more.

Frank’s appearance is the catalyzing force in Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut (2004), and as such adds the element of supernatural to the story. He is able to affect Donnie, with his modulated voice sounding in Donnie’s head during the day and appearing to him at night. He saves Donnie from being crushed by the plane engine, which causes a redundancy in the time-space continuum that can only be fixed with Donnie’s death. These visions could be chalked up to Donnie’s mental illness, but there are too many connections to the local pariah, Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), whom the kids call “Grandma Death”, to be coincidence. Years ago, Roberta wrote a book called The Philosophy of Time Travel before becoming a total recluse; it is this book that makes Donnie question the reality of what he is seeing because it describes many of his visions.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it!

Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut (2004) makes reference to The Philosophy of Time Travel by showing pages from the fictional book that coincide with what is happening to Donnie. It talks about the different elements of time travel (water and fire), which are mirrored in Donnie’s vandalism when he floods the school and burns down the house owned by Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). The book talks about how the person saved from death has disturbed the natural order of events and, as such, must be neutralized so that the world can be put right again.

Sound plays a huge part in the film’s story-telling ability as well as setting the mood and tone. The score of the film features ominous piano and ambient sounds to create a sense of tension and mystery as Donnie goes about trying to figure out what is going on.  Much of the movie’s soundtrack uses popular songs from the 1980’s by artists such as INXS, Duran Duran, and Tears For Fears. There are also period elements, such as the upcoming presidential election, that are discussed by the Darko family, as well as the popularity of self-help video tape programs like the one touted by Jim Cunningham.

I have never seen the theatrical cut of Donnie Darko (2001), so I can’t compare it to this version in any regard. I have read that there are differences that are both beneficial and detrimental in the director’s cut, but cannot vouch for that myself. All I know is that this is a movie that continues to puzzle me in the best of ways. Does Donnie really die at the end, did any of it actually happen, and if not, then what was the point? We are left with these questions after watching the film and they plague us much like the memories of those who committed evil acts in the tangent universe of the film. Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut (2004) is a fantastic film that entertains as much as it puzzles in the lives of its characters; I suppose some people are just born with tragedy in their blood.

Verdict: 4 demonic bunny rabbits out of 5

Recommended for: Fans of Jake Gyllenhaal, those who enjoy 80’s music, time travel enthusiasts, adults, and emotionally troubled teenagers.

Not recommended for: The easily confused, people who can’t disassociate Jake Gyllenhaal from his role in Bubble Boy (2001), children, or the easily scared.

The images featured in this post can be found through the hyperlinks below.
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