donnie darko stupid man suit.jpg
A still from Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, Pandora, 2001)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 01 Dec 2020

Edit Line: Donnie Darko – Stupid man suit

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Maria Lewis
Maria Lewis

Assistant Film Curator

A critical and commercial flop upon release, Donnie Darko has since become a cult favourite thanks to its mind-bending narrative, outsider spirit and impressive performances.

Sitting with his sleeping girlfriend in an empty movie theatre showing The Evil Dead, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) questions the interdimensional figment of his own imagination, Frank, asking, “Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?” to which Frank answers, "Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”

Delivered as if a conversation between two warped high school friends rather than one between Darko and the deep corners of his mind, this piece of dialogue exemplifies the philosophical questions that fill the overly complicated time-travel plot crammed into just 90 minutes.

A dark, satirical examination of suburban teen life in 90s America – hitting box offices a month after 9/11 – the film revolves around a fateful plane crash and Darko’s efforts, led by demon bunny Frank, to change the course of time.

A critical and theatrical flop, Donnie Darko made back only $1.2 million of the $4.5 million budget at the box office yet managed to build a dedicated cult following. The number of viewers who actually saw this film in theaters may have been small, but the fandom was strong. It left viewers swapping theories for weeks afterwards, because let’s be real, nobody really understands the plot which makes it not only intriguing but also very relatable to members of the cultural fringe of society. "Why are you wearing that stupid man suit” became an inside joke shared between cinephiles across the world.

In this DAZED article, actor James Duval reveals his iconic character was an easy one to create, saying it was probably the easiest acting job he’s ever had. The hardest part was capturing the dialogue, which had to be recorded in the studio as the iconic bunny suit trapped sound inside the mask. The article explains the method saying, “he would first record a line in a whisper, then re-record the same line in a gentle voice. Both recordings were then split into five different voice tracks that were layered to achieve this raspy vocal sandwich.”

On set Duval had to yell his lines while inside the suit which made it exceedingly difficult for actor Jake Gyllenhaal to hear – making the chemistry between man and bunny suit even more impressive.

Frank’s bunny suit lives on through memes, fan art and Halloween costumes still to this day two decades later.

Let’s not forget to mention the iconic soundtrack featuring Australian alternative rock band The Church with their infectious tune ‘Under the Mily Way’.