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Inside "Donnie Darko" with Writer/Director Richard Kelly

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Richard Kelly Photo

Writer/Director Richard Kelly in San Diego for a Special Q&A Session.

Photo By Rebecca Murray
Madstone Theaters and the San Diego Film Critics Society hosted a special Q&A session with “Donnie Darko” writer/director, Richard Kelly. Just how popular is “Donnie Darko” two years after its very limited theatrical release? Popular enough that special screenings across the United States draw near-capacity crowds, and that a Q&A with the director is considered a hot ticket.

“Donnie Darko” continues to be one of the most searched for movies on the Internet (currently #48 on IMBD’s list of 290,000+ titles). Why does Richard Kelly’s debut effort still spark so much interest? Maybe because it’s a rarity for a film to emerge filled with intelligent dialogue, realistic characters, and a storyline that’s so fascinating you are compelled to see the movie time and again. And not only see it over and over, but talk about it with others.

Talking to the man behind the movie (a young guy with looks that rival most Hollywood heartthrobs) is quite an experience. His commitment to meeting with “Donnie Darko” fans now, even a couple years removed from the film’s theatrical release, is admirable, and his humility is refreshing. Fans have been waiting for Kelly to make his next film, and it sounds like that may be happening in 2004.

Another treat for “Donnie Darko” fans: Richard Kelly may be putting together a Director’s Cut of “Donnie Darko,” which would be released in theaters during the first half of 2004. Kelly says the Director’s Cut will contain at least seven minutes of new material (some from deleted scenes available on the DVD, some scenes that have so far gone unseen). There are also plans in the works for a Todd McFarlane Movie Maniacs Frank doll.

Disclaimer: Spoilers abound in this Q&A so do not read it if you haven’t seen the movie or if you’re still trying to figure out the message on your own.

When Donnie shoots Frank in the eye and tells Frank’s friend to go home and that everything will be okay, does Donnie know everything that’s going to happen? Did he have a choice at that point?
I think that Donnie had an indication; I don’t think he knew that there was going to be a car accident. He was rushing to the house because he knew that something was going to happen. He was trying to stop it and ultimately ended up causing it to happen by trying to stop it, I think. And I think that after the realization of the accident and him firing the gun, I think he realized that it was all going to wrap itself up somehow. I think it was all starting to come together in his mind at that point.

How about Frank? What did he know and when?
I think that when you see Jimmy Duval at the end coming out of the car, I think you are seeing just a teenaged kid. I think that the image of Frank that you see prior to that is a different entity altogether, right? In other words, it’s open to interpretation as to what you think that might be. That’s part of the design of the film, to allow people to come to their own conclusions about what the rabbit means.

Was it all a dream of Donnie’s or did it happen in a different reality?
I think that ultimately both of those things could be true. At the same time, I think the film could be looked as if it was another dimension, another reality, another world that temporarily existed. Or was it a dream? Or are both of those things one in the same?

Did Donnie make the choice to go back into his room and die when the airplane engine hit?
Well, the film is about what happens when he decides to get out of bed. You saw what happened when he got out of bed. I think that’s part of the experience of the film. There’s an old “Twilight Zone” episode called “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” which I might be mistaken but I think it’s about a guy in the Civil War. He’s got a noose around his neck and all of a sudden the noose breaks. He escapes and he’s chased through the woods. He goes and meets a woman or something and then he realizes that that whole experience was like this instantaneous moment/memory that he has as he’s being hung. I think that this film is sort of, I guess, similar to that idea – or I’m just ripping that off (laughing).

Where in America is the movie set?
The movie is intended to be Virginia but we shot it all around Southern California. If you’ve been to Virginia, you can tell that’s not Virginia. But we had to put something on the license plates. I get annoyed sometimes when I see a movie and you see the license plate and it’s fake looking or they just don’t put anything on there. It’s meant to be a stylized, satirical, comic book, fantasyland version of what I remember Midlothian, Virginia to be, I guess.

How long did it take you to shoot “Donnie Darko?”
We shot the film in 28 days - coincidence (laughing), 28 days.

What was Donnie’s journey supposed to convey?
I think in the end it’s all about meeting the girl, getting laid, saving the girl, sacrificing yourself to save the girl (laughing). Studio executives can understand that.

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