Richard Kelly – Donnie Darko: “It’s a very linear fable, the story of the formation of two parallel worlds”

Happy Birthday Donnie! Richard Kelly’s film was released just 20 years ago in France.

Just a year ago, Jake Gyllenhaal celebrated the 20th anniversary of Donnie Darko, with these words: “Happy 20th birthday, Donnie! Keep confusing the public.” If the movie Richard Kelly caused a sensation during its first screening at the Sundance festival (it notably caught the eye of Christopher Nolan, who then helped to distribute it), it was not until October that it was released in the United States. .and flop. On screens shortly after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, this story of a depressed teenager who predicts the end of the world based on a jet engine crashing into his house was shunned upon its release, collecting only 1.5 million dollars in the United States, but it largely recovered thereafter. In France, it arrived in theaters on January 30, 2002, where it attracted only 73,000 onlookers. It was then on DVD that it found its audience, gradually gaining the status of a cult film.

How Christopher Nolan helped Donnie Darko get to the movies

Here is the review of Donnie Darko, followed by an interview with its creator, originally published in First in January 2002.

Donnie Darko is a first film whose unusual strength comes from the atmosphere that it permanently installs around its main character, a teenager on the steep slope of a programmed psychosis. The story borrows more from psychological study than from fantasy. A bit likeOpen your eyes, he confronts fantasies and reality, and his way of playing with various speeds of time invites us to review the film, at the risk of sometimes getting lost in hazardous digressions. The climax, which takes place on Halloween night, vindicates the costumed demon that haunts the main character and inspires him to regrettable acts.

The backdrop (the 1988 presidential campaign) is as important as it is: Reagan’s influence only has an anecdotal impact on certain characters. Among these, Patrick Swayze is incredible in a role strongly inspired by that of Tom Cruise in Magnolia. Incidentally, the era allows for a very elegant playlist of 80s new wave classics, which adds to the film’s eerie charm.

Donnie Darko
StudioCanal

Early Kelly

26-year-old Richard Kelly directed Donnie Darko, his first feature, for $4.5 million. In 28 days.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, in a suburb similar to that of Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly grew up watching the films of Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and James Cameron. Touched very early by the vocation, he left for Los Angeles to study cinema at the USC (University of Southern California).

PREMIERE / The image of an airplane engine crashing into a house, isn’t that risky after 9/11?

No. The film was perceived differently after 9/11, in a more profane way. But I believe this is the case with any film that deals with deep emotions, religion, destiny or fatality. The film was born from this idea of ​​a reactor that falls out of nowhere. Hence the coming of age tale.

Between the temporal paradox and the psychological portrait, how should the film be interpreted?

It’s a very linear fable, the story of the formation of two parallel worlds, one of which will collapse in twenty-eight days. With these parameters, the only way for the character to return to the original world where he felt safe and sound, is to break the paradox and let the space-time continuum take its course. The stalemate ending is the key to this mystery.

How important is the atmosphere to you?

It was essential to establish an atmosphere that made the link between the different genres: SF, comedy, horror, drama. Visually, we confronted the comic book aesthetic of an idealized suburb in its phase of decline with the more surreal aesthetic created by the special effects.

Why did you set the story at the end of the 80s?

The film is not nostalgic, it looks back at the end of a decade defined by greed, extravagance, bazaar psychology, the medicalization of children. It is a favorable environment to precipitate the instability of the main character.

How did you experience this time?

I was 13, so I was younger than Donnie Darko. I remember a very quiet period. But there was a feeling of witnessing the twilight of the Reagan years in the air. We were entering the 90s. The calm before the storm, which we feel at the end of the decade.

Is it because he is marked by this era that you called on Patrick Swayze?

Patrick is an icon of the 80s. When he was offered the role [celui d’un prédicateur bidon], he did not hesitate for a second to break his image. That says a lot about his sense of humor and his willingness to take risks.

Magnolia’s influence? I wrote the script for Donnie Darko before seeing Magnolia, but I can’t deny the major influence he had on me. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important films of the 90s. The dexterity with which Paul Thomas Anderson tells such an epic story with such intimate moments is monumental.

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