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This weird little gem should be on a double feature with the similar but much more kinetic "The Butterfly Effect." Its one of those little films that keeps saying "See how quirky & haunted I am?"
Donnie is a class oddball who foresees a horrific future, sometimes as described and guided by a giant rabbit (!) with a demon head. He is academically superior, yet is a behavioral pit of quicksand, saying intense shit to people and going into fugue states. He's obviously heading for a big kaboom of some kind.
Many of the twists and turns seem to occur for their own sake, rather than being part of an evolving dialogue. Sure, I like movies about people going nuts; I can relate, har har. I appreciated that the loose ends were basically tied together, unlike some cult-type films that just STOP rather than having a resolution of some sort. Those make me itch, as they're like watching stoned Goths stumble out of a club at 4 a.m. and bounce off each other in zombie slo-mo.
The difference here is that the story is coherent enough that you can SORT OF decide which parts are real and which are hallucinations. It veers around and makes you do some work in the process -also a welcome element- and there is some vicious Funny to be had in a couple of spots. Not ha-ha, but humorous enough for anyone who ever wanted to slap a boss. The whole film makes you feel clammy, which is part of its success as a good story.
As Donnie disintegrates, the contrast between him, his semi-Pink parents, f'd-up classmates, cooly freaked-out therapist and pre-Goth-y girlfriend is made more sharp with each turn. You can FEEL the kid wobbling in ever-more-loopy circles. His dread concerning the wretched things he is "learning" is palpable. There's no lack of impact with this one; it creeps up on you in layers, but its solid.
The time travel paradox makes a good match with his growing, apparent insanity. Trying to forestall a Bad Thing or go back and undo one makes for a wistful process and often a rough ride. I love how it tied the whole thing together at the end. Time travel as a story device usually smells like wet badger, but in this case, it was smartly executed, yielding a bit of a Whoa! effect.
It's essentially a nihilistic roller coaster ride on a tumble full of Nyquil, but I have to give it a thumbs-up. Its well-crafted, the actors do a GREAT job across the board and when the credits were rolling after the 1st time I watched, I sat there drawing all the threads together mentally such that I watched it a 2nd time for added clarity. When a film does that, its worth your time. A deserving cult offering.
– Review by St. Huey
It took me forever to see it, but I finally saw Donnie Darko when the Director's Cut was released to theaters. And I was sort of on the fence about it (except for one thing – Drew Barrymore SUCKS; saw March of the Penguins last night and one of the trailers before it was for some movie about a guy wanting to Date Drew Barrymore, and I turned to my companions and said "Hey, at least he's setting his sights low".), but after thinking about it came up with a really good explanation for it that I thought worked and explained the flaws and whatnot…
…then, I read the thing Salon published about it, with a lot of stuff from Kelly hisself in interviews and whatnot which basically said that the film was to be taken at face value and I always thought that was the worst possible interpretation of the film, and if that was the movie he made, it sucked.
For those interested, and SPOILERS if you haven't seen it, my version of the film is basically that the only things that happen are the first chunk of the film, and Donnie getting squished by the jet engine. The rest of the film is Donnie's brain basically making up this story for him in his last moments of consciousness – sort of a Final Death Dream, since the brain can make up experiences and such that last longer perceptively than they do in Real Time (for example – we've all had dreams that felt like they were a few hours long, but they actually took place in just a short amount of time). Anyway, this explains why the film has sort of a feel of a story written by a naive but talented teenager; parts of the story that don't really work, or just seem kind of stupid or whatever (like, OK, I'm sorry, the whole "Sit next to the boy you think is the cutest!" thing is oh god so lame, but it's so something that'd happen in an Obvious Fictional Story). I always figured that was a good version just because, well, it means all the lame stuff like that isn't actually lame, but intentionally so, since the character of Donnie is a bright, creative kid, who if he'd been around longer and had more practice and stuff probably would have been doing good stories – the bulk of the film is like a story where you go "Well, it's not great, but the writer (Donnie) definitely has potential and will be a great writer some day".
Then, well, I find out that Kelly actually didn't intend that at all and that all the worldline bullshit was supposed to be The Real World and that the reveal with Gretchen at the end is supposed to be OMG SHOCK!!1111 or something (in my version: in the real world, Donnie'd seen Gretchen around, hadn't met her or anything, but gone "Oh, she's cute" or whatever, and his brain in the Death Dream decided to fulfill that particular fantasy of hooking up with that cute girl he'd seen around the past day or two, giving her a backstory and everything), and it's just… urgh.
I basically went from "This film is very, very overrated, but I'm glad I saw it" to "Actually, upon further examination, it's kinda neat" back to "Oh, god, this film is so overrated and the director's kind of an idiot."
It's been a while since I've seen it, but upon reading the article, I basically remember my main Point Of Compliment for Kelly was that I did think it was pretty cool that he did get the Smurf-lore pretty much right.
Then I got kind of embarrassed that I could tell whether or not it was right.
I might see the new film by Richard Kelly, though – since, well, after all, my view of Donnie Darko was that it was written by someone who wasn't great but had quite a bit of potential he he'd gotten more experience, and, well, I always thought I was talking about the character, but apparently I was talking about Kelly himself.
(and hopefully Drew Barrymore won't be in this one – she was easily the worst thing about Donnie Darko. She so cannot fucking act.)