Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Maybe Richard Kelly’s fate is to be the cult circuit’s Michael Cimino — forever admired for one great film amid subsequent missteps, including a director’s cut of the same movie.
Kelly has yet to match the mysterious mood or magnitude of his filmmaking debut, 2001’s Donnie Darko — a collision of time-travel sci-fi, commentary on ’80s Reaganomics malaise and teen angst that’s simultaneously witty and poignant.
Non-Darkolytes should start with the enigmatic theatrical cut and proceed further if curious. Kelly’s cut nicely richens the titular teen’s family bond but literalizes the ending to excess. (Both preserve a solid soundtrack with scenes set to “Head Over Heels,” “The Killing Moon,” “Under the Milky Way” and “Notorious.”)
Jake Gyllenhaal is Donnie, a sleepwalking teen told the world will end in 28 days — news given him on a night he escapes death after a plane engine falls into his room. As visions of a demonic rabbit named Frank persist, Donnie must decide if this apocalypse is a delusion or destiny.
Kelly’s labor of love included his sharpest cast — Noah Wyle, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone and Gyllenhaal himself, strikingly sensitive to the persecution of others for a lack of adherence to “normalcy.”
And what works as nervy comedy also foreshadows Donnie’s burden and reinforces Kelly’s thematic idea that teens can be capable of amazing, world-changing things. Concluding with compassionate nobility and an unforgettable epilogue, Donnie Darko represented the one moment when Kelly’s eccentricities weren’t extraneous and ambition matched his grasp.