Donnie Darko returns in 4K

Director Richard Kelly on Donnie Darko

Words: James Luxford

Fifteen years on, Donnie Darko remains a cult classic – hypnotically cool and underground. Director Richard Kelly looks back at the mad world he created

THE RED BULLETIN: How hard was it to get the film made?

RICHARD KELLY: The consensus was that it was impossible to produce. It became a mission to prove the narrative could be realised on screen, and that I could direct it. It was a daunting experience, but I felt I had been given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Someone had put up $4.5 million to realise this incredibly ambitious story, and everyone soon realised even that wasn’t enough. The timeline leading to the apocalypse in the film – the tangent universe – was 28 days, which was our exact shooting schedule. So we were almost living this apocalyptic narrative while making the film.

What convinced you Jake Gyllenhaal was right for the role?

I met him in Drew Barrymore’s office on Sunset Boulevard and had an instant gut reaction to his presence. He was at the right point, too – you want actors who feel they need the role as much as it needs them. Great actors like Jake act from a very instinctual level and know when the gravity is centred on a role.

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Why do you think the film remains so popular?

I think on an emotional level it’s the idea of feeling alienation, or not belonging to a level of expectation that society demands. A lot of that is fundamental to being a teenager, coming of age and realising the world is very disappointing. That feeling is much more mainstream than most popular culture presents.

A 4K restoration of Donnie Darko will be released on Blu-ray this month, accompanied by showings in selected cinemas

© YouTube // BFI 

How has its enduring appeal inspired you in your career?

I feel very honoured that people continue to discuss the film. It makes me want to continue to tell my own original stories and not surrender to the demands of the marketplace; complex stories that challenge audiences and stand the test of time. 

fan favourites
Three more movies that beat a shaky start and found a devoted following

Blade Runner (1982)

Hard to believe, but Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece met a muted reception on release, not really being celebrated until 1992 when healthy VHS sales and big TV viewing figures led to a director’s cut. This cemented its legend, inspiring a ‘Final Cut’ and a forthcoming sequel. 

Brazil (1985)

Initially delayed by an editing battle between director and studio, Terry Gilliam’s dystopian fantasy proved too left-field for mainstream audiences. Sci-fi aficionados, however, consider the film a classic. 

5 (+5) cult classics: Give me the cult over the blockbuster

Not another sequel, prequel or remake. What has become of cult movies like "Donnie Darko" or "Life of Brian"? Here are genre-breaking films you need to see.

Fight Club (1999)

© YouTube // 20th Century Fox

Brad Pitt’s punchy antics were stifled by moral panic in the US, which led to the twist ending being revealed on a talk show, ruining its opening weekend. Nevertheless, the film is now remembered as a counterculture landmark.

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01 2017 The Red Bulletin

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