Donnie Darko is a 2001 American fantasy drama film written and directed by Richard Kelly and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone, and Mary McDonnell. The film depicts the adventures of the title character as he seeks the meaning and significance behind his troubling Doomsday-related visions.
Budgeted with $4.5 million and filmed over the course of 28 days, it grossed just under $7.7 million worldwide. Since then, the film has received favorable reviews from critics and has developed a large cult following, resulting in the release of a director's cuton a two-disc special edition in 2004.
On October 2, 1988, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a troubled teenager living in Middlesex, Virginia, is awakened and led outside by a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume, who introduces himself as "Frank" and tells him the world will end at a specific time in 28 days. At dawn, Donnie returns home to find a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. His older sister, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), informs him the FAA investigators do not know where it came from.
Donnie tells his psychotherapist, Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross), about his continuing visits from Frank. Acting under Frank's influence, he floods his school by damaging a water main. He also begins dating new student Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), who has moved to town with her mother under a new identity to escape her violent stepfather. Gym teacher Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) blames the flooding on the influence of the short story "The Destructors", assigned by dedicated English teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore), and begins teaching attitude lessons taken from motivational speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). Donnie rebels against these motivational lessons, leading to friction between Kitty and Donnie's mother Rose (Mary McDonnell).
Donnie asks his science teacher, Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle), about time travel after Frank brings up the topic, and is given the book The Philosophy of Time Travel, written by Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), a former science teacher at the school who is now a seemingly senile old woman.
Dr. Thurman tells Donnie's parents that he is detached from reality, and that his visions of Frank are "daylight hallucinations", symptomatic of paranoid schizophrenia. Donnie disrupts a speech being given by Jim Cunningham by insulting him in front of the student body, then burns down Cunningham's house on instructions from Frank. When police find evidence of a child pornography operation in the house's remains, Cunningham is arrested. During a hypnotherapy session, Donnie confesses his crimes to Dr. Thurman and says that Frank will soon kill someone.
Rose agrees to replace Kitty as chaperone for her daughter Samantha's (Daveigh Chase) dance troupe in Los Angeles, so Kitty can testify in Cunningham's defense; with her husband Eddie (Holmes Osborne) in New York on business, her older children are home alone.
Donnie and Elizabeth take the opportunity to throw a Halloween party to celebrate her acceptance to Harvard. Gretchen arrives, distraught that her mother has disappeared. Realizing that only hours remain before Frank's prophesied end of the world, Donnie takes Gretchen and two friends to seek Roberta Sparrow at her house. They are attacked by two school bullies who are attempting to rob Sparrow's house, and the fight spills into the street. An oncoming car swerves to avoid Sparrow but runs over Gretchen, killing her. The driver is Elizabeth's boyfriend Frank (James Duval), wearing the same rabbit costume as the Frank of Donnie's visions. Donnie shoots him with his father's gun.
As a vortex forms in dark clouds above his house, Donnie drives into the hills and watches as an airplane descends above. The plane, carrying Rose and the dance troupe, is wrenched violently as one of its engines detaches and falls into the vortex. Events of the previous 28 days recapitulate in reverse order and action, until Donnie finds himself in bed in the early hours of October 2. As he sits laughing uncontrollably, the jet engine crashes through his room, killing him. Others with whom Donnie had interacted in the 28 days awaken, some looking disturbed. Gretchen rides by Donnie's house and learns of his death from a neighborhood boy, but says she did not know him. Gretchen and Rose exchange a glance and wave as if they know one another, but cannot remember where from.
- Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko
- Jena Malone as Gretchen Ross
- Mary McDonnell as Rose Darko
- Holmes Osborne as Eddie Darko
- Katharine Ross as Dr. Lilian Thurman
- Maggie Gyllenhaal as Elizabeth Darko
- Daveigh Chase as Sam Darko
- James Duval as Frank Anderson
- Drew Barrymore as Karen Pomeroy
- Patrick Swayze as Jim Cunningham
- Noah Wyle as Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff
- Beth Grant as Kitty Farmer
- Stuart Stone as Ronald Fisher
- Gary Lundy as Sean Smith
- Alex Greenwald as Seth Devlin
- Seth Rogen as Ricky Danforth
- Patience Cleveland as Roberta Sparrow / "Grandma Death"
- Jolene Purdy as Cherita Chen
- Ashley Tisdale as Kim
- Jerry Trainor as Lanky kid
- David St. James as Bob Garland
- Scotty Leavenworth as David
- Fran Kranz as Passenger
- Jack Salvatore Jr. as Larry Riesman
Themes and Analysis Edit
Death and Sacrifice
In the film, Donnie is afriad of death when Roberta Sparrow tells him that every living creatue on earth dies alone. In a way, Gretchen, Frank and Donnie all do die alone. Donnie thinks about his doom in questioning the existence of God. At the end of the film, Donnie accepts his death and dies alone. When Donnie and Gretchen go to see The Evil Dead in the theater, The Last Temptation of Christ is also playing which was about the last days of Jesus Christ and his eventual death, which mirrors Donnie as a Christ-like figure.
Free Will vs The Path of God
In the film, Donnie is able to see liquid tentacles coming out of people's chest which shows where they will go. When Donnie sees this for the first time which leads him to his father's gun which he takes. When he starts talking with his science teacher, he tells him that if we could see our destinies manifest themselves visually, then we would be given a choice to betray our given destinies to which Donnie replies not if you travel within God's Channel.
Box office performance
Donnie Darko had its first screening at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2001, and debuted in United States theaters in October 2001 to a tepid response. Shown on only 58 screens nationwide, the film grossed $110,494 in its opening weekend. This may have been the result of the movie being released shortly after the September 11 attacks. By the time the film closed in United States theaters on April 11, 2002, it had earned just $517,375. It ultimately grossed $7.6 million worldwide, just enough to recoup its budget.
Despite its poor box office showing, the film began to attract a devoted fan base. It was originally released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. During this time, the Pioneer Theatre in New York City's East Village began midnight screenings of Donnie Darko that continued for 28 consecutive months.
The film received critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes gives the theatrical version of the film an 85% rating and the Director's Cut a 91% rating. Metacritic gives the theatrical version of the film a score of 71 out of 100, based on 21 reviews which indicates "Generally favorable reviews" whereas the Director's Cut received a much higher score of 88 out of 100, based on 15 reviews which indicates "Universal acclaim".
Andrew Johnson cited it in Us Weekly as one of the outstanding films at Sundance in 2001, describing it as "a heady blend of science fiction, spirituality, and teen angst."Jean Oppenheimer of New Times (LA) praised the film, saying, "Like gathering storm clouds, Donnie Darko creates an atmosphere of eerie calm and mounting menace—[and] stands as one of the most exceptional movies of 2001."Writing for ABC Australia, Megan Spencer called the movie, "menacing, dreamy, [and] exciting" and noted that "it could take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul."Roger Ebert gave the theatrical version of the film a less than positive review, but later gave a positive review of the director's cut.