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Both films are now hailed as masterpieces — they’re referenced in this week’s big opener, Ghost in the Shell — and sci-fi fans eagerly await Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, a sequel due in October.
Considered a dud upon its initial release in late ’84 — Toronto didn’t see it until early 1985 — the film gets a continentwide screening April 4, to commemorate the start date of the story’s anti-Big Brother protest by rebel worker Winston Smith, played by John Hurt, who died last month.
Toronto’s The Royal on College St. will be among 180 North American art houses participating in this act of artistic uprising, celebrating freedom of speech and protesting Trump’s anti-art administration.
The Royal is also the place to be for another revival: a new print of and renewed appreciation for Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, one of the most overlooked of films in the dystopian and apocalyptic cinema canon.
Expect to see it there in mid-May — the film is also getting a new VOD and Blu-ray rollout on April 18 — wherein you can stare at Kelly’s still-disturbing view of 1988 America. The movie, which premiered at Sundance in January 2001, anticipated the horrors of 9/11 just a few months later.
The family home of Jake Gyllenhaal’s title character is struck by a fallen jet engine, part of the impending global devastation predicted by a giant rabbit named Frank, who is either Donnie’s delusion or the weirdest of doomsayers. A book titled The Philosophy of Time Travel becomes significant to a movie that operates on more than one level of existence.
Here is a film that truly deserves a revival, especially since it never really got a first chance to make its mark. Donnie Darko barely made it off the launch pad in 2001 because its parallels to 9/11 — entirely accidental — seemed all too real. The movie was released that year in only a handful of theatres, no Toronto ones among them.
Writer/director Kelly, 41, recalls the situation all too well when I contact him for an interview. Donnie Darko was his first feature.
“And no one knew what category to put the movie in. They would gravitate toward horror, I guess, because they just didn’t know what else to do with it, and they knew that they had the rabbit image, which was startling and disturbing … I think people just needed to figure out over time what it was.”
“I try to let people have their own interpretations, and I encourage people to think freely and to have their theories. I don’t want to dismiss anyone’s theory, because I don’t want to suppress anyone’s opinion or idea. It’s part of why I want to create these really intricate stories — they can be revisited and interpreted in lots of different ways.”
Viewing the film again recently, I was struck by the television images in it of George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, candidates in the 1988 U.S. presidential election. Bush and Dukakis both look so presidential, unlike the current White House occupant.
He hasn’t directed a feature since the sci-fi thriller The Box in 2009 but he’s “so ready to get back behind the camera” with a project he says he can’t yet discuss — although he has been musing lately about eventually making a proper Donnie Darko sequel.
“I hope that this film can inspire people to take risks and to be original, and not to feel like you have to box yourself in to a genre or classification … You can just be who you want to be, and tell a story without restriction and without suppression. We need to take risks now. We have a reality television monster in the White House.”
One that is scarier than an apocalypse-predicting giant rabbit.
Peter Howell is the Star’s movie critic. His column usually runs Fridays.