Release Date: February 10, 2009
Own it on Blu-ray
Director: Richard Kelly
Writer: Richard Kelly
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Daveigh Chase, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, Seth Rogen
MPAA Rating: R
Donnie Darko is a tricky film to summarize and one that can be a bit difficult to understand. It’s the story of an emotionally disturbed, sex-obsessed teenager (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who begins seeing visions of a bunny named Frank who tells him the world will end in 28 days. Frank convinces Donnie to complete a series of tasks that ultimately force him to make a very difficult decision.
If that description sounds a bit odd, it’s because Donnie Darko is an odd film. It’s also one that’s tough to nail down into a specific genre or theme. At its heart, the film is a character driven story about a damaged teenager trying to find his way in life, but the film also deals with time travel, mental illness and religion.
While the science fiction elements of the film and Frank the Bunny’s claims of impending Armageddon set the film apart, it’s the more ordinary and mundane scenes in the film that make Donnie Darko so much fun to watch. Listening to Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is Jake’s sister both in the film and in real life, tell her brother to “Go suck a fuck!” or hearing an exasperated Kitty Farmer tell Donnie’s mom “Sometimes, I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!” are the memorable scenes that will stick with you. There is also a fantastic scene where Donnie is forced to correct his two moronic friends on the mating habits of Smurfs. It’s also fun to see a young Seth Rogen, in his feature film debut, play a bully at Donnie’s school and it’s both enjoyable and slightly disturbing to watch Patrick Swayze play a motivational speaker with a “kiddie porn dungeon” in his basement.
Originally released in theaters in 2001, the film didn’t quite make enough at the box office to break even, but it later became a cult classic. In 2004, a two-disc director’s cut of the film was released on DVD. Today, Donnie Darko is being released on Blu-Ray for the first time in a two-disc collection that includes both the original film and the 2004 director’s cut.
The original version of the film can be somewhat difficult to understand, especially the first time you watch it. However, the theatrical version of the film does make sense if you pay close attention to the plot. The director’s cut, which adds an additional 20 minutes to the film, is much more direct and straightforward. Ultimately, the biggest difference between the two versions is the fact that the theatrical version leaves room for interpretation while the director’s cut clearly spells out writer/director Richard Kelly’s version of what it all means.
Deciding which version of the film you prefer is a matter of personal preference. I personally prefer the original cut of the film, which portrays the decision Darko makes at the end of the film as a more personal one, while the director’s cut implies that forces surrounding him are doing everything in their power to compel Donnie to make his decision. (If that sounds vague, forgive me, I’m doing my best not to give too much of the plot away.) To me, Donnie’s ultimate decision seems more noble in the original version of the film, while the director’s cut makes it seem like he didn’t really have much choice in the matter at all. Also, I feel like the original film just flows better. The director’s cut, with its additional 20 minutes of footage, clocks in at just under two hours and fifteen minutes.
In some ways, I almost wish that Kelly hadn’t come out with a director’s cut and had instead decided to let the original film speak for itself. The original film is a bit like an abstract painting, one that you can stare at and attempt to draw your own conclusions about the meaning of the work, while the director’s cut feels like the painter is standing behind you while you view the painting, telling you in great detail what it actually means. Sometimes the fun is in not knowing.
Still, I like the fact that the Blu-Ray version of Donnie Darko includes both versions of the film (thanks to the amazing storage capacity of Blu-Ray discs). When the director’s cut was originally released on DVD, it didn’t include the original film, which forced fans to buy two separate DVDs, so it’s nice to have both films together on one disc. If you’ve never seen the film before, I highly suggest picking it up and watching the theatrical version first. Then, if your head hurts at the end of the movie, go back and watch the original film a second time. If you still don’t get it, then check out the director’s cut.
If you are already a fan of the film and you already own it on DVD, I can’t in good conscience recommend picking up the Blu-Ray copy. Since the film was shot in 2001, there isn’t much of a difference in quality between the Blu-Ray and DVD versions of the film. And the special features included on the Blu-Ray version are identical to the ones released with the director’s cut of the film on DVD. But if you love the film and haven’t gotten around to purchasing it yet, this is the perfect version to pick up.
Written by Joel Murphy. Donnie Darko is available on Blu-ray today.