American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Pay close attention," warns the Web site for "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut," because "You could miss something." Damn, I missed it. I'm no closer to being able to explain the film's events than I was after seeing the 2001 version, which was about 20 minutes shorter. The difference is, that doesn't bother me so much. The movie remains impenetrable to logical analysis, but now I ask myself: What logical analysis would explain the presence of 6-foot-tall rabbit with what looks like the head of a science-fiction insect?
The director's cut adds footage that enriches and extends the material but doesn't alter its tone. It adds footnotes that count down to a deadline, but without explaining the nature of the deadline or the usefulness of the countdown (I think it comes from an omniscient narrator who, despite his omniscience, sure does keep a lot to himself). What we have, in both versions, is a film of paradox that seems to involve either time travel or parallel universes. Having seen in "The Butterfly Effect" (2004) how a film might try to explain literally the effects of temporal travel, I am more content to accept this version of the Darko backward and abysm of time.
Let it be said that writer-director Richard Kelly's first film engages us so intriguingly that we desire an explanation. It opens with Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) sprawled at dawn in the middle of a remote road next to his bicycle. Just sleeping, he explains. He's out of his house a lot at night, apparently on the advice of the rabbit, which is named Frank. It's good advice, since Donnie returns home to find that the engine of a jet airliner has fallen from the skies into his bedroom. The strange thing is, the government has no record of a plane losing its engine.
Given the eerie national mood after 9/11, this detail did not much recommend the film to audiences when it opened on Oct. 26, 2001. The film, a success at Sundance 2001, opened and closed in a wink, grossing only about $500,000 and inspiring some negative reviews ("Insufferable, lumpy and dolorous ... infatuated with an aura of hand-me-down gloom." -- Elvis Mitchell, New York Times). But it gathered a band of admirers, became a hit on DVD and at midnight shows, and is now returning to theaters.