Ten years ago a film came out that did more than simply tell another teen high school drama, it posed questions that dealt with philosophical, theological and scientific elements. But what this film did was not bother to pander to the audience and simply give them the answers in a neat little row. Instead it left us to ponder on our own what the answers might be, not only for the characters in the film but for ourselves as well.
This film was Donnie Darko. It was directed and written by Richard Kelly and starred a young Jake Gyllenhaal, his sister Maggie, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore. The movie takes place in Maryland during the year 1989. Jake Gyllenhaal is doomed hero Donnie Darko who is an extremely bright but very disturbed teenager. Donnie has issues with sleepwalking, so severe that he will awake to find himself miles from home. His family has their own eccentricities as well. His older sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) enjoys rebelling against her parents' wishes. In one of the opening scenes she relishes informing her parents that she will voting for Michael Dukakis in the upcoming election.
Donnie, who is on prescribed medication to keep him mellow, finds his family dynamic frustrating and comical all at once. That evening Donnie has his first vision of Frank, a demonic humanoid looking bunny rabbit who informs him that the world will end in 28 days. Donnie is confused by this information and at first has no idea how to process it. That day at school a new girl joins Donnie's English class, Gretchen (Jena Malone) finds Donnie odd and after his initial request decides to "go" with him. This comes after the school has been flooded at the hands of Donnie during one of nightly sleepwalking episodes, which was instigated by Frank (James Duval).
At one of Donnie's therapy sessions she persuades him to undergo hypnotherapy and she discovers the darker side to Donnie's personality. After another dream sequence with Frank in which he mentions the concept of time travel, Donnie discusses with his professor at school (Noah Wyle) if such a thing is possible. His teacher suggests a book to him titled "The Philosophy of Time Travel" which was written by a former teacher at the school. As Donnie reads the book certain ideas presented within it start to bleed into his reality, in one instance taking the form of beams of light which shoot out from us as we make our way through the world.
As the end of the month approaches Donnie begins to act out more due to Frank's involvement. A popular motivational speaker by the name of Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) has been trying to educate the kids on better ways to handle their lives. After an altercation with him at school, Donnie sneaks out one night and sets fire to Jim's house. While at first this seems like a random act of vandalism, it in turn leads to the discovery of child pornography in the basement of Jim's home. Now as the month begins to draw to its finish Donnie is running out of time to try and figure out what Frank's prediction means. The only hope he seems to have is the feelings he is developing for Gretchen and the strange book he has been reading.
What Donnie Darko did, other than tell a gripping psychological drama, was pose larger questions about the nature of the universe and how we exist within it. The film does what many of the great science fiction movies of the past have done pose ideas and concepts and present them in a truly unique setting. Even now, ten years later, the movie stills resonates with the viewer, forcing us to wonder at the larger scope of the surrounding reality that we exist in.
Naturally a film of this caliber deserves a grand Blu-ray anniversary treatment and that is exactly what we have here. The Donnie Darko 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray boasts a total of 4 discs exploding with fantastic extras. On disc 1 there is the Original and Director's cut of the film presented in High Definition, audio commentary with writer/director Richard Kelly and Director Kevin Smith on the Director's Cut, audio commentary with the cast & crew on the theatrical version and another audio commentary from writer/director Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal on the theatrical version.
Disc 2 contains a production diary with optional commentary by Director of Photography Steven Poster. A documentary titled "The Made Me Do It Too – The Cult of Donnie Darko" featuring some of the more "hard-core" fans of the film and their take on what it means for them. Another documentary titled "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary" this time focusing on the most devoted Donnie Darko fan, a story board to screen featurette and lastly the theatrical trailer of the Director's Cut from when it was released in 2004.
Disc 3 once again has the original cut of the film this time in standard definition along with director and actor commentaries. There is a segment of deleted and extended scene with an optional director commentary. A faux "Cunning Visions" section which promotes the positive affirmation world created by the character of Jim Cunningham in the film. There is a full spread on the actual Philosophy of Time Travel book by Roberta Sparrow, a website gallery, the music video for Mad World, an art gallery with production stills and lastly some cast & crew info followed by the theatrical trailer & TV spots.
Disc 4 contains what a lot of Blu-rays are carrying now and that is a digital copy of the director's cut for portable media players.
Given such a large and obviously in depth DVD package for fans to own it is clear that this film was not only a passion for the people who saw it but for the creator as well. To say Donnie Darko is a flawless film would be false, but to say it is an exceptional film is an understatement.