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

9 months ago 119

Midway done Donnie Darko, a originative young English teacher played by Drew Barrymore repeats the aged maxim – recycled implicit the years by linguists, scholars and writers including JRR Tolkien – that the simple, banal operation “cellar door” is the astir purely, pleasingly harmonious operation of words successful the English language. There’s thing to beryllium said for that, but 1 wonders if writer-director Richard Kelly was offering a situation to the assertion by naming his protagonist Donnie Darko – an irresistible, perfectly ridiculous sanction for an mean suburban schoolboy that nevertheless encapsulates his fey, eccentric aura. His caller woman says the sanction aloud, lolling it similar a mint successful her mouth, earlier observing that it makes him dependable similar “some benignant of superhero”. “What makes you deliberation I’m not?” helium replies, deadpan.

Well, what indeed. Kelly’s sci-fi-tinted communicative of teen isolation came retired six months earlier Spider-Man, the movie that kick-started the present all-consuming superhero movie revival, and the 2 person much successful communal than you mightiness initially assume: some are stories of an awkward teenage lad coming to presumption with what look to beryllium otherworldly abilities, and assuming work for the satellite astir them. For plucky Peter Parker, that means standard-issue feats of derring-do and defeating evil; for downcast Donnie Darko, it means ending and altering the precise timeline successful which helium exists, yet dying truthful that others whitethorn live. As superhero root stories go, it doesn’t person overmuch franchise potential: Donnie’s fable begins and ends successful 1 fell swoop. But it has an eerie, enduring power: would that galore comic-book heroes’ stories were truthful noble and haunting and finite.

A 20th day is an unusual 1 for Donnie Darko to celebrate: if immoderate movie should beryllium granted eternal teenagedom, Kelly’s vastly ambitious debut diagnostic is it. I archetypal saw it erstwhile I was 19 oregon so, which was beauteous overmuch ideal. The film, with its blend of mean high-school angst and trippy, whoa-what-was-THAT doctrine was beauteous overmuch designed to beryllium shared among teenagers similar a concealed – a enactment that some understands their presumption of the satellite and offers to grow it successful cosmic, confusing ways.

That prime was enhanced by the bitty dilatory pain of its release. Following mixed reviews from its Sundance premiere, the movie went unclaimed by a distributor for respective months. Released into a fistful of US cinemas successful October 2001 – successful the bleak shadiness of 9/11, peculiarly unfortunate timing fixed its inciting incidental of airborne misfortune – the movie didn’t precisely find an audience, grossing lone fractional a cardinal dollars by the extremity of its run.

Its cult, instead, was calved of location video and DVD, which successful crook prompted renewed beingness successful cinemas: by the clip it made it to the UK, a afloat twelvemonth aft its US release, the movie had built capable cachet to go an indie container bureau deed and hipster entity of fascination. (A street-art accumulation was dedicated to it astatine the Shoreditch barroom Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes, which is astir the astir early-2000s measurement of fashionability you could inquire for.) By the clip its cardinal soundtrack chopped – a mournful screen of Tears For Fears’ Mad World by swiftly forgotten singer-songwriter Gary Jules and the film’s composer Michael Andrews – topped the adjacent year’s UK Christmas apical 40, its popular improvement presumption was assured. The merchandise of a director’s chopped the adjacent twelvemonth kept the word-of-mouth rhythm going for a movie that was, by then, connected each different assemblage student’s database of all-time favourites.

This each feels an awfully agelong clip ago: revisiting the movie successful my precocious 30s, I was acrophobic that Donnie Darko, itself a Reagan-era play piece, would present play arsenic a quaint clip capsule of my millennial youth, reflecting my ain then-callow ideas astir time, abstraction and society. Yet springiness oregon instrumentality immoderate ocular effects that were ever connected the resourcefully ropey end, the movie stands up beautifully. A decades-on overgarment of nostalgia present lone enhances its prevailing consciousness of sadness, its sorrow for lives curtailed and misunderstood by the superficially functional American suburbia represented by Patrick Swayze’s devilish motivational talker 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 performed by Jake Gyllenhaal – past gawky and goth-eyed, astatine likelihood with his lanky body, eons distant from the dreamboat he’d go – the reluctantly therapied, heavy medicated Donnie present plays arsenic a prescient touchstone for a aboriginal procreation of intelligence wellness awareness. In the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy, American indie cinema was awash with tortured young men connected the brink of thing dreadful, yet Donnie’s consciousness of separation from others is neither romanticised nor made unduly sinister: the film’s solemnly soulful adventures successful clip question connection a benignant of symbolic validation for anyone who sees, feels oregon experiences the satellite otherwise from everyone astir them. It’s not precisely a comforting look of solidarity – arsenic you take to spot it, the movie is bittersweet astatine best, and plungingly tragic astatine worst – but it feels honorable and inclusive successful its despair. Would that astir teen dramas, to accidental thing of astir superhero movies, had rather truthful overmuch weighing connected them.