Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut.
Donnie Darko - a film that could not be understood in its full glory neither on its first nor on its fifth viewing - deserves a user manual. In his own version of this motion picture, that is exactly what director Richard Kelly is offering.
Contains mild spoilers.
Do not read unless you have seen the original Donnie Darko film
Donnie Darko is, of course, the story of Donnie, a young man going against the grain of society, of life, and subsequently of Everything. A deeply tormented boy who, through his special gift (or is it his insanity) is penultimately offered a choice of his life for that of somebody he loves, ultimately choosing his own demise for the Greater Good.
With undying characters such as the secretly-in-love fat chinese girl, the psychoanalyst whose highest purpose in life is to make sure Donnie does not succumb to atheism, the paedophile-ring-leading self-help-video star, the devilishly handsome but conclusively cowardly science teacher and, of course, the extraordinarily well-tuned brother-and-sister duo Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal, the scene is set for a truly remarkable and memorable movie.
This extended, director's cut edition is topped up with footage that was obviously gathered up from the cutting-room floor - some of it is of particularly bad quality, with scratches, dust, and other problems. Some frames even have crosses and other editor's marks through them. But in considering this film, it becomes thoroughly clear that Kelly has taken a good, close look at why the film seemed to confuse so many people, and push them in the right direction.
It is difficult to tell whether viewers who did not see the original cut of Donnie Darko will get much out of the director's cut; Darko purists will point out that the director's cut is different from the original in much the same way that erotic art will be different from porn: Whereas erotic art goes through great trouble to allude to something that is definitely there, but avoids showing it at all cost, porn will fold those labia out across the screen, and add a few fluorescent blinking arrows pointing - just in case the viewer had not yet realised what s/he was supposed to be looking at.
Part of the sin is committed by letting the book, "Philosophy of time-travel" by Roberta Sparrow ("Grandma Death") play a far more active role in the film. The narrative is now driven forward, chapter by chapter from the book corresponding with segments of the film. It works, but it also rather patronising to the viewers who actually cherished being challenged, for once, when going to the cinema.
While Kelly has made the error of shaving off a great deal of the mystery about his debut masterpiece, he has also made the film a lot more accessible - both to those of us who somehow miraculously understood the film the way it was "supposed" to be understood, and to those who failed to grasp the concept the first time around (or even missed the picture altogether). This wheelchair-ramp director's cut of accessibility may be opening up the Darko experience to a larger audience - or milk the market for some cold hard cash - but its motives are largely irrelevant: The result is that Donnie Darko has become a far less active viewing experience - without adding much brain-power to the mix, it has become a far more enjoyable movie.
The sad thing is, Donnie Darko was never meant to be a movie to enjoy. It is a movie that was made to shake you awake, much in the same way that the Matrix films tried - but in a far less obvious, and significantly more existentialist kind of way.
Do not, under any circumstances, believe anyone who tries to tell you that this is a comfortable popcorn flick, however. Its punch-lines and twists offering the comic relief in this film are poignant as ever (not fewer, but further between, due to the overall increased length of this cut), but the film would have stood just as fine without them: It is a good, firm kick in the groin area. Not hard enough to kill you, but certainly firm enough to grab your attention remorselessly, directing your consciousness inward.
The director's cut is not only longer. It is stronger. It is scarier. It is more beautiful. Because it is easier to understand, it opens up a completely different path of contemplation. Instead of spending time trying to understand the movie, its message becomes clearer; This version of the movie stands as an immovable post-it note inked across your refrigerator, in such a manner that it becomes unavoidable - uncomfortably so - as you in your early-morning stupor grab for the milk to go with your cereal. It is serving as a reminder to the viewer: You are alive. But you shan't be forever. What are you going to do about it?
In many ways, the Director's cut of Donnie Darko is a beautiful piece of film-making. Ultimately, however, this edition primarily serves as an instrument of appreciation: The director's cut is a reward that deepens the satisfaction and understanding of the original movie, while having only limited value on its own. Then again, nobody but admirers of the Darko saga would spend £5 on watching a movie in a local art-house cinema at 11:15 on a saturday night, instead of investing the money in measures of alcohol at the public house.
You know there is something special going on, when you stumble out of a darkened cinema hall, out among a thousand drunk, singing people whose highest priority in life it is to try and hail a cab, and if they have enough cash left for the fare home, and you find yourself thinking... "I am alive. But I shan't be forever. What am I going to do about it?"