6 'donnie darko' mysteries solved

From how that eerie bunny suit was made to Francis Ford Coppola’s secret involvement.

by Jo Rosenthal
07 April 2017, 6:05pm

On January 19, 2001, a blue-eyed high schooler played by a 21-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal woke up on the side of the road and biked his way home and into our hearts. This was the dawn of Donnie Darko, a seminal sci-fi flick that originally flopped, went on to become a cult classic, and now celebrates its re-release in theaters across the US.

The date in the film, however, was October 2, 1988, or 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds before the end of the world — as Donnie Darko is told by a looming figure in a terrifying rabbit costume. Awake in his sleepy Virginia neighborhood, Darko was the teen angst in all of us.

The film's anniversary is coinciding with a cinematic re-release and, in new interviews, director Richard Kelly has revealed riveting information about Donnie Darko's genesis. We searched the internet far and wide and grilled longtime fans to compile a list of the film's most intriguing easter eggs.

Francis Ford Coppola played a secret role in shaping the film.
Before production, Jason Schwartzman, who was originally going to play Donnie Darko's title character, set up a meeting between Donnie director Richard Kelly (then 26) and renowned director Francis Ford Coppola, who happens to be Schwartzman's uncle. He wanted Coppola to consult on the script. Kelly told The Hollywood Reporter in March that "[Coppola] had mapped out the dialogue and was trying to get me to extract all the thematics and use the meaning of the piece, and it was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime meetings." During their meeting, Kelly noted that Coppola circled one of Drew Barrymore's lines in the script that read, "the kids have to figure it all out these days, because the parents, they don't have a clue." Coppola slid the binder toward him and said, "That line of dialogue, that's what your whole movie's about, right there."

The setting isn't what it seems.
Richard Kelly grew up in Midlothian, Virginia, which was the town used in the original script. But the setting was later changed to Middlesex. The movie is intended to be set in Virginia, but was actually shot in Southern California. If you'’ve ever been to Virginia, you can tell Donnie Darko isn't really taking unfolding there (the suburban landscape is off) — but ithe backdrop is meant to be a stylized, satirical version of what Kelly remembers of Midlothian, Virginia.

The infamous bunny masks have found interesting homes.
As Kelly has said multiple times over the years, questions about the meaning of the suit aren't easy to answer. The design for the costume may have come to him in a dream, or maybe subconsciously from his longtime love for Watership Down. Costume designer April Ferry brought Frank to life by building the fur suit herself and recruiting a sculptor to create the twisted grin. The mask has extremely limited visibility, because it doesn't doesn't move much (adding to the creepiness). Wondering where the costume is now? Jack Morrissey, a film buff and producer who collects movie memorabilia, currently owns the main mask and suit. A second backup mask belongs to Metallica's Kirk Hammett.

The film was shot remarkably quickly.
Fans of the movie have often wondered how long it took to film Donnie. Richard Kelly is unafraid to say that the film was shot in just 28 days — an eerie but unrelated coincidence with the fact that the film begins 28 days before the supposed end of the world.

The Gyllenhaals weren't the movie's only future stars.
Donnie Darko didn't just put the Gyllenhaal siblings on the map (Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Donnie's sister, Elizabeth Darko). It was also the film debut of Seth Rogen — as high school bully Ricky — and of future High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale. Other casting trivia of note: Vince Vaughn was originally up for the role of Donnie, but turned it down because he felt he was too old to play an angsty high schooler. Mark Wahlberg was interested, but only willing to play the part with a lisp, for some reason, and Jason Schwartzman was strongly considered but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.

The film score was a D.I.Y. labor of love.
The composer for the film, Michael Andrews, played all of the instruments himself. Because of the low budget, he didn't have the money to hire other musicians. He did enlist friends though and thus prompted the seminal Gary Jules cover of the Tears for Fears classic "Mad World." After the movie became popular, Jules released his cover as a single, and it became the U.K.'s Christmas No.1 in 2003.

For information about Donnie Darko screenings near you, click here.  


Text Jo Rosenthal
Image via Youtube

Jake Gyllenhaal
Donnie Darko