Cellar Door: A Look back at Donnie Darko.


Back in 2001, director Richard Kelly brought us a bold, original and mind expanding piece of psychological science fiction. A story of growing pains, time travel, tangent universes and a 6ft bunny called Frank. 

Donnie Darko is a brilliant but troubled young man, prone to overthinking, anxiety, bouts of sleepwalking and the small matter of an imaginary friend who happens to be a 6ft bunny called Frank who informs him the world will end in 28 days, 6hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie must now navigate the minefield that is high school whilst following the instructions of Frank to maintain the stability of the space time continuum.

With Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly created something that was largely missing & sorely needed at that time, an intelligent piece of contemporary science-fiction, a coming of age tale mixed with a complex time travel story. Kelly himself described Donnie Darko as ‘The Catcher In The Rye as told by Philip K Dick’, an incredibly accurate description of this extraordinary piece of work. Filmed in a suitably fitting 28 days for a relatively small $4.5 million. The film was destined for a straight to video release until cast member Drew Barrymore stepped in and theatrically released the film through her production company Flower Films.

Peppered with memorable performances from Jake & Maggie Gyllenhaal, real life brother and sister playing brother and sister onscreen, their sibling chemistry is great, particularly their insult slanging match. An established cast featuring such names as Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Noah Whyle and Mary McDonnell all offer tremendous support turns.

One of the standout facets of Donnie Darko is its use of music to convey a time and place. Between the theatrical & directors cuts there are songs by INXS, Joy Division, a wonderful use of both The Killing Moon by Echo & The Bunnymen for the opening scene and Head Over Heels by Tears For Fears in the high school establishing tracking shot. The film also fostered a hit single for Composer Michael Andrews and Vocalist Gary Jules with their piano driven cover of Tears For Fears’ Mad World, topping the charts in the U.K. 

After viewing the recent Arrow video remaster of Donnie Darko, the film still holds up remarkably well to this day, still feeling as fresh and boldly original as it did when I first saw it some 15 years ago, testament to a great idea brilliantly executed.

Donnie Darko is available on DVD & Bluray now via Arrow Video.

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