Richard Kelly has some advice for first time directors: "Do a studio movie … or, if you’re stubborn like me, do your own thing." Kelly, the 1997 USC grad who wrote and directed 2001’s sleeper classic Donnie Darko, certainly took a journey off the beaten path and did his own thing.
In Darko, Kelly tells the story of a teenage boy faced with the knowledge that the end of the world is less than a month away, and delves into aspects of time travel and divine planning. Kelly has resurfaced this year from relative obscurity to release the new Director’s Cut, his first feature, which is currently playing at the Arclight theater in Hollywood.
The first thing that many Darko fans will notice about The Director’s Cut is the difference in the music score. "It’s more like they’re moved around," Kelly says of the film’s songs, which, from the first moments of the film, are not where fans expect them to be. The new placement of the songs reflects Kelly’s initial intent for the musical backdrop of the film.
"The opening was always choreographed to INXS, ‘Never Tear Us Apart,’" he adds. When funding began to dry up after his premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival, Kelly was forced to reorganize the songs because his music budget simply did not allow him to obtain the rights for all the songs he initially wanted. The Director’s Cut, though, has plenty of the ’80s favorites that Darko fans expect, plus a few more thrown into scenes where, in the original, there was nothing but background white noise.
The film also boasts an array of new visual effects that take the audience far into Darko’s mindset, through a series of cutaways to eyes and textual reproductions. These effects were sketched out when Kelly was first conceiving the film but were never included in the original version. "I had all of these as ideas, as sketches, but we didn’t have the money to even dream of including them at that time," he explains.
The new Director’s Cut version better fleshes out the characters as well, adding new scenes that detail Darko’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) relationships with his parents and his sister. Kelly insists, though, that nothing was re-shot, and everything in The Director’s Cut is footage that originally was intended to be included. "All of the material, save the new visual effects, has existed [before]," he says, beaming like a proud father explaining his child’s latest accomplishment.
Although there are changes to Darko, Kelly concludes that they’re for the better. Additions change the context of scenes in the original, but the writer-director ascribes to the theory that art stands on its own. "It’s a different version of the film, but the first version is still there for people to see," he says. Kelly expounds further by drawing a parallel between his work and a film that has perceptibly influenced him. "There’re two versions of Blade Runner out there too, one with voiceover, one without. Some people like the one with voiceover better. It’s all just what you like."
Ultimately, the director realizes how lucky he is to have the chance to reinterpret his vision for Darko after only three years. "To get to do it so soon is ridiculous," Kelly admits. "I thought I’d get to do it in 10 years."