This Friday, fans of the 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko return to theaters to watch the Director's Cut. Will the new, less mysterious, more explanatory version collide violently with the original, tear a hole in the sky, and cause both movies to collapse on themselves? The Keoki and I watched the new movie last night, and we agree that, though some of the endearing weirdness is gone, and the important questions are fed to us, the new version is at least as compelling and eerie as the original, and we prefer its treatment of Donnie to the original.
Pages from Roberta Sparrow's "The Philosophy of Time Travel" are superimposed over transitional scenes to explain the effects of our universe and the tangent universe colliding. These pages also describe Donnie's role as the collision begins and Frank starts speaking to him. Two things become immediately clear: After reading the book, he knows that there is a purpose in a life he feared was meaningless and alone, and Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) and Dr. Monnitoff, assuming they're both intimately familiar with the book, both know that Donnie is the "chosen one" who will make a choice to decide the fate of the Universe. If you've already seen the original, you know the bittersweet ending, and may have been left with doubts as to Donnie's sanity. He was either a schizophrenic twice removed from reality, or he was a misunderstood hero who understood his unappreciated purpose. The new cut eliminates one of these choices.
The new cut also eliminates a song in the memorable opening scene where Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" used to play. "Never Tear Us Apart" replaces the original song, with a far less creepy effect. It's like taking "People are Strange" out of the opening sequence in "The Lost Boys." The lyrics are more appropriate to the Darko environment, though: I/I was standing/You were there/Two worlds collided/And they could never tear us apart). Richard Kelly makes up for the Echo & the Bunnymen deletion by inserting 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" into an added scene in which his mother comes in to Donnie's room, talks to him for a few moments, leaves after he yells at her, and after closing the door, hears him call her "Bitch."
Added to the film are a slew of deleted scenes that were included in the DVD, with revealing commentary. Better effects also help the movie preserve its creepiness--fast- and slow-speed clips give us a sense of shifting time, and an important symbol in the movie, the eye, is given chilling special effects treatments.
Even with all the Sparrow book pages and the revelatory effects (Kelly almost shows us the God machine), the movie is still cryptic. Does Donnie have a free will and the ability to make choices and change his destiny, even after seeing his future? Maybe. But he still follows the "water" that emanates from his thorax and leads to the places he's meant to go. Perhaps the only time he changes anything is at the end, where he fatefully stays in his room instead of following Frank. Perhaps it's because he has the freedom to make this choice (as predicted by Roberta Sparrow's book) that he laughs in his final scene.
Since I first saw the original movie, Donnie has been a hero of sorts, representing honesty in an age of deception and disinfection. He deserves this Director's cut, to be seen as the misunderstood martyr, defeating, as his father states in another added scene, the "conspiracy of bullshit."
From the Michael Andrews Donnie Darko Score: The Artifact & Living