Donnie Darko at 20: the soulful student favourite comes of age | Movies


Midway by Donnie Darko, a inventive younger English trainer performed by Drew Barrymore repeats the previous maxim – recycled over the years by linguists, students and writers together with JRR Tolkien – that the easy, banal phrase “cellar door” is the most purely, pleasingly harmonious mixture of phrases in the English language. There’s one thing to be stated for that, however one wonders if writer-director Richard Kelly was providing a problem to the declare by naming his protagonist Donnie Darko – an irresistible, completely ridiculous identify for an peculiar suburban schoolboy that nonetheless encapsulates his fey, eccentric aura. His new girlfriend says the identify aloud, lolling it like a mint in her mouth, earlier than observing that it makes him sound like “some kind of superhero”. “What makes you think I’m not?” he replies, deadpan.

Well, what certainly. Kelly’s sci-fi-tinted story of adolescent isolation got here out six months earlier than Spider-Man, the movie that kick-started the now all-consuming superhero film revival, and the two have extra in frequent than you would possibly initially assume: each are tales of a clumsy teenage boy coming to phrases with what look like otherworldly skills, and assuming accountability for the world round them. For plucky Peter Parker, meaning standard-issue feats of derring-do and defeating evil; for downcast Donnie Darko, it means ending and altering the very timeline wherein he exists, in the end dying in order that others might reside. As superhero origin tales go, it doesn’t have a lot franchise potential: Donnie’s legend begins and ends in a single fell swoop. But it has an eerie, enduring energy: would that many comic-book heroes’ tales had been so noble and haunting and finite.

A twentieth anniversary is an odd one for Donnie Darko to have fun: if any movie needs to be granted everlasting teenagedom, Kelly’s vastly formidable debut characteristic is it. I first noticed it after I was 19 or so, which was just about superb. The movie, with its mix of peculiar high-school angst and trippy, whoa-what-was-THAT philosophy was just about designed to be shared amongst youngsters like a secret – a piece that each understands their view of the world and affords to increase it in cosmic, complicated methods.

That high quality was enhanced by the bitty gradual burn of its launch. Following combined opinions from its Sundance premiere, the movie went unclaimed by a distributor for a number of months. Released right into a handful of US cinemas in October 2001 – in the bleak shadow of 9/11, notably unlucky timing given its inciting incident of airborne misfortune – the movie didn’t precisely discover an viewers, grossing solely half 1,000,000 {dollars} by the finish of its run.

Its cult, as an alternative, was born of residence video and DVD, which in flip prompted renewed life in cinemas: by the time it made it to the UK, a full 12 months after its US launch, the movie had constructed sufficient cachet to change into an indie field workplace hit and hipster object of fascination. (A street-art exhibition was devoted to it at the Shoreditch bar Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes, which is about the most early-2000s measure of fashionability you might ask for.) By the time its key soundtrack reduce – a mournful cowl of Tears For Fears’ Mad World by swiftly forgotten singer-songwriter Gary Jules and the movie’s composer Michael Andrews – topped the subsequent 12 months’s UK Christmas prime 40, its pop phenomenon standing was assured. The launch of a director’s reduce the subsequent 12 months saved the word-of-mouth cycle going for a movie that was, by then, on each different college student’s listing of all-time favourites.

This all feels an awfully very long time in the past: revisiting the movie in my late 30s, I used to be involved that Donnie Darko, itself a Reagan-era interval piece, would now play as a quaint time capsule of my millennial youth, reflecting my very own then-callow concepts about time, house and society. Yet give or take some visible results that had been at all times on the resourcefully ropey finish, the movie stands up superbly. A decades-on coat of nostalgia now solely enhances its prevailing sense of disappointment, its sorrow for lives curtailed and misunderstood by the superficially useful American suburbia represented by Patrick Swayze’s devilish motivational speaker and Beth Grant’s Christian-fundamentalist harpy.

They’re caricatures, of course: the movie saves its nuance for its outcasts. As sensitively written by Kelly and exquisitely carried out by Jake Gyllenhaal – then gawky and goth-eyed, at odds together with his lanky physique, eons away from the dreamboat he’d change into – the reluctantly therapied, closely medicated Donnie now performs as a prescient touchstone for a later technology of psychological well being consciousness. In the wake of the Columbine tragedy, American indie cinema was awash with tortured younger males on the brink of one thing dreadful, but Donnie’s sense of separation from others is neither romanticised nor made unduly sinister: the movie’s solemnly soulful adventures in time journey supply a form of symbolic validation for anybody who sees, feels or experiences the world otherwise from everybody round them. It’s not precisely a comforting expression of solidarity – as you select to see it, the movie is bittersweet at finest, and plungingly tragic at worst – but it surely feels sincere and inclusive in its despair. Would that almost all teen dramas, to say nothing of most superhero motion pictures, had fairly a lot weighing on them.

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