Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Donnie Darko (5 Stars)


30 films to watch before you die, #24

This film was made in 2001, and it was the first film directed by Richard Kelly. When it was released it went unnoticed, despite making a small profit at the box office. I remember walking past the UGC cinema when it was showing and seeing the poster. It was a blue-ish picture with a giant rabbit. I don't think I recognised it as a rabbit at the time, I thought it was a horned demon. This put me off going to see it. I thought it was a low budget horror film.

Within the next two years the film gained popularity when it was released on video and DVD. I was chatting online with two friends from Norway, and they both told me that "Donnie Darko" was the best film ever made. If someone tells me a film is his favourite film I'm curious, but whenever two people say the same thing I have to check it out as soon as possible. I bought the film on DVD, and it knocked me off my feet as soon as I watched it. I didn't understand it at first, I needed to watch it a few times, but the imagery and the atmosphere gripped me from the beginning. My list of my favourite films fluctuates from year to year -- I last listed my 10 favourite films in 2011 -- but "Donnie Darko" has never left the top five.


I've described the plot in previous reviews, but I'll repeat the basics here. On October 2nd 1988 Donnie is woken up by a person wearing a rabbit costume and led to a golf course. This saves Donnie's life, because in his absence an aircraft engine falls on his house. The person, who calls himself Frank, tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.The rest of the film shows Donnie working to save the world with guidance from Frank. Through a series of seemingly random actions carried out under Frank's instructions unstoppable events are set into motion, until Donnie learns how to create a time machine with the power of his mind. The world can't be saved without sacrifice. Frank has to die, Donnie's girlfriend Gretchen has to die, and finally Donnie himself has to sacrifice his life by going back into his house at the moment the aircraft engine fell on it.


In 2004 a Director's Cut of the film was released, containing 20 minutes of additional footage. By that time I'd watched the original version so often that I knew the events by heart, and the new changes disturbed me. It's been about 10 years since I last watched the Director's Cut. Maybe I should go back and give it another chance.

Riding the wave of the success of "Donnie Darko", Richard Kelly was given money to make new films with bigger budgets, "The Box" and "Southland Tales". "The Box" was moderately successful, but "Southland Tales" flopped abysmally, made with a $17 million budget but earning less than a million dollars at the box office. Since then he hasn't been allowed to direct any more films. He's a one-hit wonder. I can't recommend his other films, and no films have been made quite like this by other directors.

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