Twenty years of doubting your commitment to Sparkle Motion
January 22, 2021 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Twenty years of doubting your commitment to Sparkle Motion - an oral history of the making of Donnie Darko.

A few interesting bits:
- It was going to be Jason Schwartzman before it was Jake Gyllenhaal

- It was Jake's idea to have his own sister play his sister, "Imagine being in a movie with your obnoxious little brother as the lead."

- The Sparkle Motion dance was choreographed to "West End Girls," but they couldn't afford the licensing
posted by dnash (50 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I watch Donnie Darko every October. These hungry, hungry hippos.
posted by wellred at 9:20 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?
posted by loquacious at 9:26 AM on January 22 [11 favorites]


Tell ‘em, George.
posted by hototogisu at 9:33 AM on January 22


thanks for this. its one of my absolute favorite movies. my commitment to Sparkle Motion is 100%.
posted by supermedusa at 9:38 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


cellar. door.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:42 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I've been resisting rewatching this, but I think 2021 might finally be the right year.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:42 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Like a lot of people my age, I discovered this movie in a college dorm room. It's one of those movies I made my parents rent from Blockbuster over the summer and they were like "That's nice dear."

I'm still reading the oral history so maybe they discuss this, but it was one of the first movies I watched where we had this T1 internet connection so not only could we pirate the movie, we could go online and find fan essays dissecting the movie. The other movie I remember being kind of similar from that era was David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.
posted by muddgirl at 9:49 AM on January 22 [14 favorites]


BRB, going to crawl underneath the porch.
posted by notoriety public at 9:52 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I meant to go see it when it came out but somehow haven't gotten around to seeing yet.
posted by octothorpe at 10:00 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I’ve had both reactions to this movie. The first time I watched it I was so into it, I was the annoying guy telling everyone. Later, after the soundtrack rework, I saw it again and thought it was ok.
posted by rodlymight at 10:01 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I haven't watched this in a while but I remember Kelly talking a lot in the commentary track about the music for this film, how he wrote certain scenes with certain music in mind and had to compromise due to budgeting. There may even be a director's cut which puts alternate music in or something? My memory is hazy on this second point.

I'm confused by Kelly's closing quote about wanting to do certain things the way Christopher Nolan might, and maybe someday he'll get to... is Kelly still involved in filmmaking at all? He hasn't done anything since S. Darko AFAIK.
posted by axiom at 10:22 AM on January 22


The theatrical cut is much better than the director's cut. From all the reading I've done about Richard Kelly, it seems clear that he very carefully works out the crazy logic underlying everything in the movie, but one of the charms of the theatrical cut is that it omits A LOT of the crazy logic, making what's on screen more mysterious and suggestive. It loses that magic the more the logic's laid bare.

I still haven't dared watch Southland Tales, but I did see The Box, which I enjoyed. Had a similar vibe to DD, probably explained a little too much, but still good. Frank Langella is a super creep.
posted by factory123 at 10:23 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]


I'm confused by Kelly's closing quote about wanting to do certain things the way Christopher Nolan might

What I took from that in context is simply that they didn't have the money for the amount of special effects required for the plane scene as Kelly envisioned it - the kind of money that Nolan gets to work with now.
posted by dnash at 10:34 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


It amused me hugely to learn recently that somebody else's commitment to Sparkle Motion was perhaps not all that it could have been.
posted by flabdablet at 10:49 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


He hasn't done anything since S. Darko

He actually had nothing to do with S Darko. His last released film was The Box from '09.

I suspect he's in the director's version of "development hell" where he's getting paid (at least sometimes) to write scripts/develop ideas/take meetings but nothing ever progresses to the point of getting shot and released.


Great article, thanks for posting, dnash.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:01 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


The part about the creation of the "Mad World" cover is really interesting - that it was a rush job, a way to get around licensing a more expensive song (U2's "MLK"? Really? That would've sucked...). And how it's gone on to become one of the most enduring parts of the film, with both members of Tears For Fears saying they think it captured the lyrics better than the original!
posted by dnash at 11:12 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]


I'm wary of rewatching. I saw this right about the same time as Garden State (yes, on a tiny CRT with built-in DVD player) in my dorm room, and I know that one doesn't hold up.

Guess there's only one way to find out. The article convinced me-- thanks!
posted by supercres at 11:13 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Every time a piece about Donnie Darko comes out, I do a ^F and search for all of the influences I have always seen in this movie. I mean, it's a film where the main character sees a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit, and is shown an alternate world in which he lives.

It's a mirror-universe James Stewart film, and that's always what I've loved most about it.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:18 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


I'm wary of rewatching.

I really, really liked it the first time I saw it (home, not theater), but when I tried to watch it some years later it felt like the least rewatchable movie I had ever seen. Maybe it just didn't have the same frisson (a word that must always be italicized), but I felt something like disdain about the plot, which was odd and disappointing. I should try again.
posted by rhizome at 11:46 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


w͖̯̰͖̪̟̖̒̅̈́̋ͫͪͫa͚̬̙̱̳k̑e̠̳͗ͫ ͓̈́ūͭͩp̣̘̬̣͍̀͊̅͛͌
posted by 20 year lurk at 11:46 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]


So, out of curiosity, does anyone else pretty much think that Donnie saved his girlfriend and his mother but that his sister is still going to die in that plane crash?
posted by es_de_bah at 11:56 AM on January 22


Mary McDonnell's performance in this is a master class in acting.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:00 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Metafilter had user named sparklemotion, and I think she got tired of the several times I made a joke asking if she was still committed to herself. Looks like her last comment was in 2017. Too bad, I hope she would have loved this FPP.
posted by seasparrow at 12:13 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Like a lot of people, I saw this film at the behest of a friend who was really into it.
You know, when they watch your reaction to see if you "get it".

I think that really colored my perception because I mostly remember a tedious film that didn't make a whole lot of sense.
The only part that really sticks in my head is this post's title and that's mostly because it became a meme/cultural touchstone^

I should give it another try without all the expectations and see if it catches me this time.

^The Big Lebowski is the same way. I've seen it, couldn't tell you what the plot was, but can quote several iconic scenes.
posted by madajb at 12:19 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


couldn't tell you what the plot was
That rug really tied the room together man
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 12:25 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I think that really colored my perception because I mostly remember a tedious film that didn't make a whole lot of sense.

One of the comments in one of the many interesting essays that have appeared over the years stated that Donnie Darko cannot really be understood unless you have also suffered from severe clinical depression.

I'm not sure I totally agree with that, but I found it fascinating. Because I found the whole mood of the film to be entirely recognizable and engrossing, because of my own experience with generalize anxiety disorder, depression and PTSD.

So if you didn't get it, that probably isn't such a bad thing, is what I'm saying. People that "get" DD are responding to the darkness and despair in the film. Happy for you if you aren't!
posted by seasparrow at 12:37 PM on January 22 [19 favorites]


I thought it was alienation. That feeling that you're separate from the world going on around you even as it uses you as an instrument to perpetuate its own existence.

So, normal kid stuff? Anyway, it resonates hard with a lot of people, not just a particular diagnosis.
posted by Horkus at 1:09 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]


Of course, Horkus. I wasn't claiming that. You can find essays stating that Donnie is obsessed with his sister, or it's a commentary on Reaganomics, or that it's all puberty-style displacement and sublimation or several other theories. It's a movie that invites such speculation. I was only giving my own experience of it.
posted by seasparrow at 1:14 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


My intention was to agree with you, in regard to your skepticism. I think alienation is a symptom caused by a wide range of circumstances. In the same way that executive function dysregulation can be caused by all kinds of things from ADD to anxiety to chronic pain. That's why it's so familiar to a lot of us.

It's interesting how DD taps into that alienation by making the protagonist into a literal deus ex machina, an instrument of fate, while the characters around him care about him but are unable bridge the gap between them because they're they don't have access to what he's going through.
posted by Horkus at 1:35 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I'd agree with others' comments who have pointed out that timing is a big part of how much you'd enjoy DD. I am glad I watched it when I did, and I doubt I will watch it again.

I did make the mistake of approaching some film students to discuss the movie, within a week or two of seeing DD. Just saw them in the hallway, waiting for access to a room booking, didn't know any of them. The disparity between my enthusiasm to hear their views on the film, and the looks on their faces, was a revelatory moment.

I will add one more thing.. I really loved the film at the time, and I'm always grateful for catching movies before it's too late (but not too soon).. but the woman who watched it with me (there were three of us) thought it was a load of wank. Not to say her perspective was any better or worse, but if you care to view the film in a less-than-generous light it does tick a lot of boxes in a type of wank column.
posted by elkevelvet at 2:15 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


Metafilter: it does tick a lot of boxes in a type of wank column.
posted by seasparrow at 2:30 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


There are three movies that are insta-nightmare for me and this is one of them. Every single time.
Like I get it if you take out the soundtrack you see that nothing scary actually happens but faaaaak
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:22 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


So I was very into film as a adolescent/young adult and my brother is 10 years younger than me. I tried so many times to show him movies that I thought would just blow his mind and they mostly all tanked. Some that I loved just did not age well and some I showed him at the wrong time and he really didn't get them. But I finally hit the nail on the head when I showed him Donnie Darko- he loved it and at least briefly though I was cool.
posted by genmonster at 3:25 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


There may even be a director's cut which puts alternate music in or something?

The theatrical cut is one of those movies where a lot of perfect choices were apparently made by accident? The theatrical cut does change some of the song selections, for the worse.

From all the reading I've done about Richard Kelly, it seems clear that he very carefully works out the crazy logic underlying everything in the movie, but one of the charms of the theatrical cut is that it omits A LOT of the crazy logic, making what's on screen more mysterious and suggestive. It loses that magic the more the logic's laid bare.

Yeah, it feels like he wanted it to be an actual science fiction story. It was better as an open-ended allegorical magic realism thing.
posted by atoxyl at 4:35 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I love stories and movies that are beautiful one-hit wonders, where someone pours all the genius ideas they may ever have into one work of art, which remains incandescent over time.
posted by benzenedream at 5:00 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I've never watched it, occasionally read something that made me think I should. This post is one of those, and maybe I'll actually do it this time.
posted by Foosnark at 7:06 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I'm another one who watched it after a fair amount of pressure from a friend who was quoting it constantly. I'll admit to finding it a bit of a wanky letdown, but I still regard it with a certain fondness because of its connection with my friend, who was really obsessed with Frank there for a while.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:22 PM on January 22


The theatrical cut is one of those movies where a lot of perfect choices were apparently made by accident?
[ . . . ]
it feels like he wanted it to be an actual science fiction story. It was better as an open-ended allegorical magic realism thing.


Yeah. I saw it long after it was first released, loved it as surreal allegory. Then I heard the actual intent and since then have had no interest in seeing it again.
posted by mark k at 7:47 PM on January 22


A few weeks ago I decided to sit down and watch 'Dark' (netflix) all the way through. I think I was mid-way into the second season when the thought: 'Donnie Darko, but with more steps' flashed into my head. Weirdly enough, that association made it much easier to finish the remaining season and a half off.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 8:50 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Huh. This is a movie I’ve thought about rewatching as I churn thru films during pandemic. But now seeing all the regret from folks who rewatched after 15-20 years, I’m wondering if it would just make me upset about it not holding up.

I never took it as anything more than a really weird story where you shouldn’t try to make sense of it. Has the theatrical cut held up for others who rewatched as a formerly-young person who loves weird film?
posted by rsanheim at 9:14 PM on January 22


From all the reading I've done about Richard Kelly, it seems clear that he very carefully works out the crazy logic underlying everything in the movie, but one of the charms of the theatrical cut is that it omits A LOT of the crazy logic, making what's on screen more mysterious and suggestive. It loses that magic the more the logic's laid bare.

Yeah I remember watching this when it came out & thinking it was brilliant, then hearing Richard Kelly in the director's commentary talk about representing the four elements & Donnie being a superhero & I left deeply confused that someone whose thought processes were so alien to mine had managed to create something I so deeply resonated with

also, feces are baby mice
posted by taquito sunrise at 1:48 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


I wasn't exactly young when I first saw it - like, I was about 30. But I really liked it, and still do. (Haven't seen the director's cut - have also read that it tries to explain too much.)

To me, regardless of whether or not all the pieces of the time loop fit or not, it just nails a certain feeling of alienation. Like, I absolutely love the scene with the smarmy 80s-informercial video of Swayze's inane self-help stuff, followed by the teacher trying to make Donnie go along with the "Fear ---- Love" false dichotomy. Here's this teacher trying to push a bogus and overly simplistic view of life onto these kids, and Donnie's having none of it. And then, of course, it turns out the guru is a secret child molester the whole time. That's always going to be one of my favorite moments in movies, ever.
posted by dnash at 8:57 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I saw the original version in the theater, and really liked it. I thought the director's cut was missing some of what I loved about the original version, though.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:34 AM on January 23


I still haven't dared watch Southland Tales

I will openly declare my love for this utterly insane, ridiculous over-stuffed brilliant mess of a movie and defend it to my dying day. It has the weirdest cast, including some fairly big names whom Kelly convinced, somehow, to deliver totally surreal performances, a nonsensical sci-fi plot with a billion different threads, all narrated by Justin Timberlake, a frickin' musical number, and dialogue like, "Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted" ... "Darkness fell upon the city. Neo-Marxist cells began to converge upon downtown" ... "Teen horniness is not a crime" -- and my personal favorite, "The fourth dimension will collapse upon itself, you stupid b****!"
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:53 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]


I watch lots of movies, I might even have seen the directors cut of this when it came out. I put this on last night because of this article, and I found this holds up just fine. I misremembered the amount of Sparkle Motion content, it really wasn't that much- maybe the director's cut has more? I wasn't a teenager when it came out, so YMMV, but I liked it quite a bit.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:57 PM on January 23


The theatrical cut does change some of the song selections, for the worse.

Ugh I meant the director’s cut. Original cut is much better.
posted by atoxyl at 2:04 PM on January 23


Has the theatrical cut held up for others who rewatched as a formerly-young person who loves weird film?

I don’t know if it means something that this is a movie that my father wanted to (re)watch in his last 28 days on Earth, but he did, so I downloaded it for him. It feels of a specific era of alt/cult movies to me, but I still liked it.
posted by atoxyl at 2:11 PM on January 23


Was this the last real home video movie?
posted by kevinbelt at 2:52 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


At the very least Old School came out in 2004, and Yelp indicates the Blockbuster near me closed only in 2011, but it's a great question!
posted by rhizome at 4:14 PM on January 23


Donnie Darko and Clerks are the two movies that just resonated with me when they came out, and really captured the malaise and depression of growing up a weird Gen X kid in the Adelaide suburbs.
posted by Marticus at 4:42 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


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