on October 23, 2003
While this doesn't provide any definate answers as there are many interpretations, it does provide a foreword by Jake Gyllenhaal, an interview with Richard Kelly (info on the film), the screenplay, images from Roberta Sparrow's Philosophy of Time Travel, artwork and images from the movie and additional artwork from the "They Made me Do It" exhibition.
Not exactly what I was expecting, I thought it would be more of a novel. But it's definately not your average movie book. You don't have to be a fanatic to read this either, it's an interesting read.
on March 22, 2005
I like how popular films can cause a demand in which the screenplay is released in book form for all those inspiring actors and screenwriters out there to read, act and learn from. Most of them are just the screenplay and nothing else, so its a pleasant surprise to see one like this, which includes a lengthy interview with the writer/director, some drawings, and a peek at the prop Time travel book by Roberta Sparrow. Some overzealous fans mistakenly thought it was a real book and on the Director's Cut dvd, you see a special documentary by one such fan who demanded of the director the rest of this fictional book. Give Director Richard Kelly a break...the book was nothing more than a prop for the film's characters.
This book is worth having for any Donnie Darko fan. For me, the best part of the book is the interview, as it is nice to hear the thoughts and ideas of Richard Kelly about his famous first movie. What he says embodies a lot of our generation in terms of cultural influences and how we grew up...a world perhaps vastly different to the current generation growing up in the hip-hop drenched, corporate universe. This book will be a keepsake for that distant future, when Richard Kelly will be known as our generation's Steven Spielberg, with a library of unique films. Don't expect to find this book then, because it'll probably be out of print and hard to find. Get it now when its still available! Donnie Darko is probably the film that will still be remembered 25 years from now.
on October 2, 2014
The last great era of American film started in 1989 with Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and ended in 2001 with “Memento” releasing around March and the ill-fated September release of “Donnie Darko”. Yes, there have been a few bright spots in recent memory like “Wall-e”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “The Dallas Buyer’s Club” “The Wrestler” and “Argo”. But as a whole it’s been a grim thirteen years certainly not on par with what we saw in the nineties with films like “Schindler’s List”, “The Piano”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Clerks”, “Forest Gump”, “The Crying Game”, “Sling Blade”, “Titanic” “Bound” “The Unforgiven”, “Fargo”, “The Full Monte”, “Good Will Hunting” “The Truman Show” and the list goes on. Unfortunately most of the good films do not come out of America these days but rather from other countries with things like “Blue Is the Warmest Color”, “A Prophet” and “The Chaser” to name a few. But as a whole unlike the television industry which has had a stellar run in recent years, the movie industry has sloshed around in a cesspool of mediocrity for over a decade.
When I first saw “Donnie Darko” I sat there stunned. This was a film that broke all convention. It did not give into the confinement of genre but rather told its story the way it chose to and eluded any specific definition. It can be called a horror film, a drama, a mystery, a thriller, science fiction and even a comedy. It was what I thought at the time would be the future of film. Alas, it wasn’t…and most independent features are a genre in themselves now telling dull stories about one dysfunctional family after another.
Richard Kelly will tell you in this marvelous book “I found my art amongst the mundane”. Donnie Darko is not about a dysfunctional family but rather a loving and functional one burdened with an unexpected crisis. If you think the mundane is art free, consider Steven Spielberg’s classic (my favorite of his) “Duel”. It’s about an ordinary salesman trying to drive home until something extraordinary happens. Once it starts you’re hooked and you can’t take your eyes off it yet its story surfaces out of the mundane. Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” is really just about a photographer on sick leave. But as he plays voyeur to the simple goings on of everyday life that happen outside of his window we get deeper and deeper into its utterly riveting world.
“Donnie Darko” is open to all sorts of interpretation and analysis and I feel I would not be doing it justice were I not to at least dwell somewhat on its symbolism and subtext. If you have not read the shooting script or seen either the original or director’s cut I might suggest this being a place to stop reading this review until you have done so as it may reveal a few things that are better experienced through the story itself.
Though the film can be interpreted in many ways the core of what “Donnie Darko” is essentially about is divine intervention. And here I must point out what I’ve always found to be the film’s only true flaw; that the scene which shows what the story is really about is cut from the film. The unabridged dialogue in the shooting script located on page ten of the book (where Donnie first meets Frank) is greatly reduced in the original and even more so in the director’s cut. The scene which takes place on the golf course at night was actually filmed in its entirety even though it was cut and it can be found in the Special Features on the original version DVD which can be played with or without commentary. I suggest watching it both ways. Frank’s lines go (per the shooting script) “Helluva night for a walk…huh, Donnie? Tonight is special.” To which Donnie replies, “What?” “I’ve been watching you. Do you believe in God? God loves his children, Donnie. God loves you. My name is Frank (the name Frank means “truth”). I want you to follow me.” “Why?” “I’m here to save you. The world is coming to an end, Donnie. Look up at the sky, Donnie. 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes 12 seconds. That is when the world is going to end.”
The dialogue here is brilliant setting up with very little verbiage that this outwardly bizarre rabbit is a messenger from God of some nature such as an archangel (a type of angel which delivers messages) that the “world” or rather the tangent universe will end in the span of time of a lunar month which is set up exactly the same way as the lunar month of October 1988 (ironically the film itself was also shot in twenty eight days). It is a lunar month because Donnie who suffers from mental delusions has moments of clarity which is common with people who are considered lunatics (the film has Donnie diagnosed as a schizophrenic). And it shows Donnie is being given a divine gift. He will get to live in a tangent universe for just over twenty eight days so he can get a glimpse of what things would be like if his fate were different allowing him to make a choice as to whether to make a sacrifice or cling to an unstable world.
The scene is set up to bookend with the famous movie theatre scene and without the prior scene’s crucial lines fully in tact the film’s premise becomes somewhat vague. The film still makes sense but being as the earlier scene is the inciting incident it should be shown in its entirety. Apparently a decision was made during production that the scene was too much on the nose, too obvious of this being a film about divine intervention and this is the rational on which the scene was cut. Quite frankly (no pun intended) it’s one of my favorite scenes and had it been my film I would have left it in.
The name Donnie means “World Ruler”. The name Darko means “gift”. So the name Donnie Darko literally translates to “Gifted World Ruler”. In Irish mythology the Irish “Donn” is the king of the underworld. This goes along nicely with the idea of him being some semblance of a superhero as pointed out by the lines on page twenty eight where Gretchen Ross says, “Donnie Darko is a cool name. Sounds like a superhero.” To which Donnie replies, “What makes you think I’m not?” The name Gretchen means “pearl” and Ross means “red” so her name literally translates to “red pearl”. Perhaps her name was chosen as a way to harken back to Frank’s car or say something about the parallel of white and red. One of the first things to note in the film is how when Donnie is riding home on his bike on Saturday morning to his left are two female power walkers coming down the sidewalk. One is in red and one is in white. Precisely after that the camera pans to Donnie who is also in white and shows him passing the fateful red Pontiac Trans Am. A red Ferrari will later appear in a video game in the scene where Donnie is talking to Gretchen.
The name Frank refers to three different people: the classmate Donnie’s father had in high school who died in a car accident whom he tells his wife when they’re at the hotel everyone said was doomed, the name of the kid on the card Jim Cunningham shows at the assembly and of course Frank the bunny rabbit. In the famous theatre scene Frank also lists a trilogy of Franks saying besides Frank being his name it was also his father’s name and his father’s name before him which may loosely refer to the holy trinity. The wound in Frank’s eye which is he exposes in this scene and its history is later explained may represent a kind of stigmata. In the scene Donnie says, “Tell me why you’re wearing that stupid bunny suit?” to which Frank replies “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” Essentially Frank is asking Donnie in reference to his “man suit” why haven’t you made up your mind about saving the world from the destruction of this unstable tangent universe? I am under the impression when people watch the film they think Donnie’s hallucinations, which are symptoms of schizophrenics, are when he sees, hears and talks to Frank. As most of the film takes place in the tangent universe, I look at Donnie’s hallucinations being his life in the tangent universe and his moment he talks with Frank as being his moments of clarity and that’s the point of the dialogue in that scene.
Making Frank a bunny rabbit as opposed to a different animal or creature allows for a few different references to literature. We first see him on a golf course which allows the audience to draw a reference between Donnie being like “Alice in Wonderland” with golf courses being a place filled with holes. We can consider that Donnie, much like Alice, finds his own version of the white rabbit and much like Alice he goes down a rabbit hole except his is the tangent universe, a wormhole in space. Also changing Graham Green’s book in Karen Pomeroy’s class (the name Karen means “pure” the name Pomeroy means “apple orchard”) from “The Destructors” to Richard Adams' “Watership Down” can be construed as a parallel shift from destruction to salvation. Donnie must chose to make a sacrifice in order to move the path of the parallel universe back to the direction it should be going in order to escape destruction and find salvation. Ms. Pomeroy also points out later “cellar door” is considered one of the most beautiful phrases used in the English language suggesting that a door can be a reference to the entrance of a portal into another world thus bringing back the allusion to “Alice in Wonderland” and the tangent universe/rabbit hole.
The number forty four is of certain importance in the film. It is the year in which Roberta Sparrow (the name Roberta means “famous” literally making her name “famous bird”) published her book and it is exactly forty four years later that the movie takes place. It is a tribonacci number and an octahedral number but what forty four might be referring to is possibly the name of a savior referenced in a poem by the Polish national poet Adam Mickiewicz which says, “Born from a foreign mother, his blood of ancient heroes and his name will be forty four.” In other words it’s possible the number forty four may be an alternate name for Donnie Darko. Just as a small note I’ll just add that in the film I found it interesting that the picture of the young Roberta Sparrow looks eerily similar to Donnie’s sister Elizabeth.
Equally interesting to the number forty four in the story is the number nine which may explain the presence of the “Mystery Woman”. Consider this; there are five members of “Sparkle Motion”, Donnie’s mother and the Mystery Woman get on the fated plane with them, and then there is Frank and Gretchen and their fates in the tangent universe. That makes nine people total, all of whom we know will reach an untimely death if the parallel universe is not rectified back to the correct time line. From the fifth century forward there are considered to be nine orders of angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Principalities, Virtues/Strongholds, Powers, Dominions, Archangels and Angels. If Frank is a messenger from God and possibly an archangel are we to see the other eight people as representations of other orders of angels as well? Are they in the tangent universe to serve a purpose similar to Frank’s? Gretchen’s character is referred to as one of the Manipulated Dead per the director’s cut of the film. Are we to then see the Manipulated Dead as being angels? Is this the reason Gretchen and Rose wave at each other at the end and Rose does not cry? Do they share some sort of unspoken knowledge?
One of the reasons “Donnie Darko” has had such incredible success in its DVD/video release may be because of the climate of the world at the time. In the early years of the new millennium lots of products were becoming more and more assimilated. One store would basically sell the same items as another. Clothes had very little dissimilarity with one store carrying the same fashions as another. The embracing of process was gaining foothold. Perhaps people, especially younger generations were looking for a way to stand out. “Donnie Darko” sends the message that everyone has a purpose, which to me is the premise of the film. It celebrates the individual and the importance each person has in the greater expanse of the universe. Setting the story in the eighties further promotes this ideal as it was a time which had a boom in art and individual expression. Showing the students at the school all in the same uniform but each character managing to stand out on his or her own from Cherita to Seth the movie takes the time to individualize seemingly small parts thus supporting the idea each has their own purpose in this mad world.