You didn’t watch this movie when it was in theatres. Pretty much no one did. A weird little film you knew nothing about starring a pair of then relatively unknown Gyllenhaals, Noah Wylie whose ER star was fading, Drew Barrymore who was still in the midst of her resurgence and the late Patrick Swayze. Why would you?
But a friend whose opinion on film you trusted saw it and it blew his or her mind. So you went ahead and watched it, too. And nothing has been the same since.
Donnie Darko is woken up on 0ctober 2nd, 1988 by what appears to be a hallucination of a person in frightening rabbit costume. He is Frank the Rabbit and he tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days. Donnie proceeds on mind bending expedition through his own sanity and his perceptions of reality. Frank guides him through this journey, taking him to where he inevitably and unavoidably needs to be.
This film is an achievement in creating a narrative that cannot be explained, only experienced. To be blunt, creating a truly unsettling rabbit costume is in and of itself an achievement. Donnie is a young man with issues yet to be fully explored but what he perceives and experiences is so much deeper than that. It is a treatise on the nature of reality itself. Following Donnie’s journey as he navigates this newfound perception as guided and tormented by Frank is both illuminating and frightening.
Despite being an amazing film, Donnie Darko was a box office bomb, making just over 7.6 million worldwide. Then again, the budget for the film was 4.5 million so they at least made their money back.
Still, the cultural zeitgeist didn’t catch up with Donnie Darko until it was out on DVD and word of mouth had a chance to really take hold of it. This film is now recognized for what it is, a brilliant story and the epitome of the term cult classic. Inevitably, a sequel called S. Darko was produced without the approval or involvement of Richard Kelly, the writer and director of Donnie Darko. That’s never a bad sign. S. Darko follows Donnie’s sister who ends up on her own dark journey in a film that is a pale, shallow imitation of the original. Unfortunately, Kelly didn’t own the rights to the franchise and had no way of preventing this atrocity from happening. If you are a fan of Donnie Darko or are in danger of becoming one, never watch S. Darko. Ever.
It’s hard to think of a time that this film wasn’t a highly respected cult classic but that was definitely the reality at its release. Donnie Darko is an interesting case study in the effect of prolific online reviewing and social media on films. Had such practices been more prevalent in 2001, Donnie Darko may have become a verifiable hit sooner and while still in the box office.
Then again, it’s not a film that everyone will necessarily get or even enjoy. It’s a little more demanding than your average romantic comedy.
Frank the Bunny is disturbing.