Donnie Darko (Blu-ray)

What would you do if you had a vision about the end of the world, and slowly realized you had the power to change it? DONNIE DARKO is a film that tries to answer this question, but often the answers just bring more questions. This freshman effort from Richard Kelly (SOUTHLAND TALES, THE BOX) takes us on a wild ride. Sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it fails but it is an ambitious endeavor which has earned a completely new life thanks to a cult fan-base built through multiple VHS and DVD releases. Here it is presented on Blu-ray in this 10th Anniversary edition (which includes 2 DVD’s with tons of extras and a digital copy).

 Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko

DONNIE DARKO stars Jake Gyllenhaal (SOURCE CODE, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) as the title character in one of his first leading roles. Gyllenhaal did a great job. Donnie is troubled by hallucinations and mental illness, and something has started to cause him to sleepwalk. The movie opens with Donnie waking up by his bike on a cliff overlooking his town. The next evening, he is awakened by a strange voice which leads him from his home to a secluded area on a golf course. What Donnie finds is a large, crazy-scary bunny named Frank (played by James Duval) who tells him about the end of the world. When he wakes up the next morning, he discovers that a jet engine has destroyed his room; he would not have survived if he had not been called out by Frank.

 Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone in Donnie Darko

A lot of the time the movie feels like it’s trying to get something across to the audience… but it doesn’t come through. In fact, if the movie didn’t have so many amazing moments, it probably wouldn’t work at all. One is the introduction to Donnie’s school about 15 minutes into the film. Do you want to know why I watch movies? This is why. This scene. You learn so much – it’s just a few long shots with no dialogue – but you get an introduction to essentially everyone in the movie and it is just so beautifully done.

 Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone in Donnie Darko

As the film progresses, Donnie’s… hallucinations/visions(?) start to dominate his life. We start to wonder if he really is crazy, or if he’s actually experiencing something that is beyond our understanding. His sessions with his therapist become more and more intense. Frank is asking him to do things: vandalism, arson… each of which has unintended consequences that push Donnie (and us along with him) to believe that there is a reason for everything that is happening. He even falls in love with the new girl at school, proving that he can connect with someone.

 Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone in Donnie Darko

All the while his family struggles with how to love and care for their son and keep their family together. Donnie’s mother is played by the amazing Mary McDonnell (recently of the Sci-fi BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot). She puts so much emotion into the smallest looks; her performance is beautiful and painful. Donnie’s father is played by character actor Holmes Osborne (LARRY CROWNE), and his family is rounded out by sister Maggie Gyllenhaal (THE DARK KNIGHT) and Daveigh Chase. The cast is filled out with incredible character performances from Noah Wylie, Drew Barrymore, and Beth Grant as teachers at the high school, Patrick Swayze as a local motivational speaker, and even Jena Malone gives a nice performance.

There are a few ways to look at this movie. Until I watched it here, I hadn’t seen it in probably 5-6 years. I liked it when it first came out… but it was so confusing to me that it was lost in my movie collection. Honestly, I just didn’t get it… not until I watched both versions and started reading about the movie on the internet. I wanted to understand why the movie gets under your skin. Do I think this is a perfect movie? No. Are the scenes as ideas presented in the clearest way? No. But I do feel like there is something really interesting going on and it makes me want to watch it again. Very few movies have the kind of raw power that inspires repeated viewing, but if you give it a chance you might just agree.


Video: (1080p, 2.35:1 Widescreen) The movie is only 10 years old, but there is a marked difference between the visual images on the theatrical version and the Director’s Cut. Both looks crisp, but the Director’s Cut has added digital effects which are much clearer than the original transfer.

Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French Dolby Surround) The sound is really wonderfully done. The highs and lows are presented in startling quality, adding to the overall mood of the film.

Director’s Cut: (2 hours 14 minutes) The Director’s Cut is included on the disc. The added content is mostly not noticeable, but there are a few key scenes including shots of the ‘book’ Philosophy of Time Travel – written by one of the characters in the movie it provides us with clarity that is missing from the theatrical cut.

Commentary with Richard Kelly (Writer/Director) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Actor) – Theatrical version  This is recycled from the initial DVD release. It’s clear that Gyllenhaal and Kelly have become friends since working together on this film. Gyllenhaal shares some interesting tidbits but it’s Kelly who shines here, explaining how they made the movie on a small budget with a limited amount of time and giving us insight into the ‘real’ story that he was trying to present.

Commentary with Richard Kelly (Writer/Director) and filmmaker Kevin Smith – Director’s Cut A bit weird that Kevin Smith is included here – but he loves movies so much that its infectious. This commentary was recorded for the initial Director’s Cut DVD release and again is recycled here, but it’s worth it. Weird note – while I’ve read that the pair has become close friends since this time, the commentary feels thrown together. I’m not sure that Kelly even knew why Smith was involved, but once you get past the first 20 minutes it really takes off.

Commentary with the Cast and Crew – Theatrical Version I’m actually not sure who all is included in this commentary. The ones I can confirm – Holmes Osbourne, Mary McDonnell, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, James Duval, and Richard Kelly. The first five minutes are so confusing trying to figure out who is in the room. Barrymore (as arguably the biggest name in the room) gets the majority of the Mic-time; thankfully she has a lot to share. Again, recycled from the
DVD release.


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