Donnie Darko (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled teenager in suburban Virginia in October 1988. He appears to be suffering the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. At the start of the film, he has recently stopped taking his medication. His parents, Rose and Eddie (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne) and his sisters, Elizabeth and Samantha (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Daveigh Chase), are concerned about him. One night at dinner, Donnie and his sister get into a profane argument during which Elizabeth reveals she knows Donnie is no longer taking his medication. Rose confronts Donnie in his bedroom and he calls her a “bitch”. Guiltily, Donnie resumes taking his medication. On October 2, however, he sleepwalks and meets Frank (James Duval), a man in a menacing bunny costume. Frank tells him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, the world will end. That night, a jet engine mysteriously crashes through the roof of the Darkos’ house, destroying Donnie’s bedroom.
As Eddie drives Donnie to the office of Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross), Donnie’s therapist, Eddie nearly runs over Roberta Sparrow, also known as “Grandma Death” (Patience Cleveland). A senile old woman who spends her days walking back and forth from her house to the mailbox across the street, Grandma Death whispers in Donnie’s ear that all living things die alone. This greatly troubles Donnie, who worries that life has no meaning.
A few days later, Frank appears to Donnie in a hallucination and urges him to flood the private school he attends by breaking open the water main with an axe. Donnie also embeds the axe in the head of the school’s solid bronze statue of its mascot and spray-paints “They made me do it” on the sidewalk. School is canceled that day and Donnie walks Gretchen (Jena Malone), the new girl in school, home. She reveals that her stepfather nearly killed her mother and is still on the loose. Donnie reveals his own troubled past as well as his intelligence. Gretchen calls Donnie weird (which was a compliment in her case), which then prompts Donnie to ask Gretchen to be his girlfriend. She quickly agrees.
Donnie has a troubled relationship with the faculty at his high school. Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) appreciates his intellect and ability to engage with and understand the difficult material she assigns them to read in English class. The science teacher, Dr. Monnitoff (Noah Wyle), finds his questions hard to take on due to staff limitations on religion, and Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), the highly strung and socially conservative health instructor, is offended that he questions her use of self-help tapes in class. After he profanely rejects her use of the simplistic methods espoused by local celebrity Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), Donnie finds himself suspended from after-school activities. When Donnie verbally assaults Cunningham during an appearance at the high school, he gets in even deeper trouble.
Frank continues to appear to Donnie and tells Donnie that they can do anything and won’t get caught. Frank also tells Donnie about time travel, further confusing him. Soon, Donnie sees tubes of fluid light extending out of his family’s chests, indicating where they will go. His own tube beckons him to follow as it enters his parents’ room and reveals the gun his father keeps in a box in the closet. Donnie speaks about time travel with Dr. Monnitoff who gives him a book, “The Philosophy of Time Travel,” written by Roberta Sparrow. She used to be a nun and a teacher at the high school. However, the climate at the school is becoming increasingly conservative as Kitty Farmer leads a protest against Ms. Pomeroy’s choice of reading material; one of the stories she had assigned, Graham Green’s “The Destructors,” features teenagers who flood a man’s house by breaking a water pipe. Ms. Pomeroy is fired and Dr. Monnittoff, who is also her boyfriend, refuses to discuss time travel with Donnie once his questions take a theological direction.
Gretchen and Donnie grow closer. She is one of the few people he opens up to about his time travel visions, and they discuss how they wish they could travel back in time and prevent the bad things in their lives from happening. Dr. Thurman increases Donnie’s medication and begins hypnotherapy with him. But Frank continues to appear to Donnie. One night, Donnie and Gretchen go to see the cult horror film The Evil Dead. Gretchen falls asleep and Frank appears. When Donnie asks Frank why he wears a “stupid bunny suit,” Frank asks Donnie why he wears a “stupid man suit,” then acquiesces and takes the head off, revealing a young adult (who looks like Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Frank) with a gruesome wound in his right eye. When Donnie asks about the cause of the eye wound, Frank whispers “I am so sorry” and then directs Donnie’s attention to the movie screen. A portal opens, revealing Jim Cunningham’s house. Frank tells Donnie to burn it to the ground. Donnie leaves the sleeping Gretchen in the theatre and does as Frank tells him to. He is not caught, and firefighters discover a dungeon of child pornography in a hidden room in the mansion. Cunningham is arrested the next morning. Kitty Farmer, a friend and devoted follower of Cunningham’s, decides she must lead his public defense and asks Rose to accompany the school’s dance team, Sparkle Motion, to Los Angeles to appear on Star Search. Samantha is Sparkle Motion’s lead dancer and, against her better judgment, Rose agrees. Eddie is away on business, so this means Elizabeth and Donnie are on their own.
Elizabeth is accepted into Harvard, and she and Donnie decide to throw a Halloween party to celebrate. The night of the party (October 30), Gretchen comes to Donnie’s house for safety because her mother has suddenly disappeared. Donnie comforts her and they presumably have sex, ignoring phone calls from Donnie’s desperate therapist (who knows that Donnie is responsible for the vandalism to the high school and Jim Cunningham’s house) and Rose, who calls to announce that Sparkle Motion won their initial Star Search competition and that they will return on a red eye flight that night.
At midnight, Donnie has another hallucination about the fluid light tunnels. He realizes that the 28 days have passed, and that only 6 hours remain until the end of the world. Convinced that Grandma Death is in some way connected to Frank, Donnie persuades Gretchen and two other friends to go with him to her house. When they get there, they are assaulted by the high school’s resident bullies (Alex Greenwald and Seth Rogen). Gretchen is thrown dazed into the road, where she is struck and killed by a car driven by Frank (James Duval), Elizabeth’s boyfriend who is on his way to their Halloween party. Frank is wearing the creepy bunny costume that Donnie’s hallucination wears. Donnie uses his father’s gun to shoot Frank in the right eye, killing him, he then carries Gretchen’s body to his home. He steals the car keys from a sleeping Elizabeth and, taking Gretchen’s body with him, drives into the hills above town.
From that vantage point, Donnie can see a time tunnel forming over the town. The red eye flight carrying Rose, Eddie, Samantha and Sparkle Motion enters the turbulence created by the time tunnel, and one of the engines on the jet breaks free and falls into the tunnel. Donnie looks at Gretchen with love and the primary universe is reset to October 2nd.
It is back to October 2. Donnie is in bed, creating predestination paradox. On this occasion, he chooses to stay in bed (presumably to save the girlfriend he will never meet). Shortly after he goes to sleep, the jet engine from the red eye flight on October 30 crashes through the roof, killing him (In a deleted scene director’s cut DVD it is revealed that he was actually impaled by a piece of wood from the broken roof while in an act of self-gratification ). All the people affected by Donnie’s actions awake as if from a nightmare, having some fragments of memories remaining. Frank, Elizabeth’s boyfriend, unconsciously touches his right eye. Jim Cunningham, in guilt and remorse for being a pedophile, and perhaps above all a hypocrite and phony, awakens crying. As Donnie’s body is taken away, Gretchen, having never met Donnie, rides by on her bicycle. She learns from a neighbor what has happened and waves to Rose, who is smoking a cigarette. There is an air of mutual recognition between them.
I purposefully avoided this film for the longest time. The poster and DVD cover creeped me out and really turned me away from the film as it gave me the impression that this was a horror film.
I belive this is one of the few times Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal have been on screen togther. Make no mistake this is Jake’s movie, though. Maggie is just there in a supporting role as his sister (big stretch, huh?) Before this, though, I believe Jake’s only starring role was in Bubble Boy.Quite a change in direction, I’d say, not to mention the proof that he can really act.
Jena Malone really gives a great performance and is an underrated actress. Patrick Swayze, Noah Wylie, and Drew Barrymore’s appearances are nothing short of surprising and their roles are crucial to the film.
I’ll be the first to admit that this film confused me the first time I saw it, but each time I see it, things get clearer. Some films just do that I guess. Especially these psychological types, but I will admit that it is a pretty solid film. A person can really start to feel for Donnie as he’s going through his journey, especially at the end. not to mention care for him and his new girlfriend. If you’re into psychological thrillers, then you’ll enjoy this.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars