Donnie Darko is a 2001 psychological thriller film written and directed by Richard Kelly, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, and Mary McDonnell. The film depicts the reality-bending venture of the eponymous character as he seeks the meaning and significance of his troubling end-of-the-world visions.
The film was initially slated for a direct-to-video release before being picked up by Newmarket Films. Budgeted with US$4.5 million and filmed over the course of 28 days, the film missed breaking even, grossing just over $4.1 million worldwide. The film has since received favorable reviews from critics and developed a large cult following, resulting in the director’s cut receiving a two-disc, special edition release in 2004
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a mentally unstable teenager, appears to suffer from the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. His parents and sisters are concerned about him. One night, Donnie sleepwalks and meets Frank (James Duval), a man in a menacing rabbit costume. Frank tells him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, the world will end. While he is outside, a jet engine mysteriously crashes through the roof of Donnie’s bedroom.
As Eddie, Donnie’s father, drives him 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 “every living creature on this earth dies alone.”
Donnie meets a girl with a troubled past, Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), and reveals his own troubled past as well as his intelligence. Gretchen calls Donnie weird, prompting Donnie to nervously ask her to date him. She agrees. Frank continues to appear to Donnie and tell him that he can do anything and won’t get caught. Frank also tells Donnie about time travel, further confusing him.
Gretchen and Donnie grow closer. She is one of the few people he opens up to about his time-travel visions. Dr. Thurman increases Donnie’s medication and begins hypnotherapy with him. Frank continues to appear to Donnie.
Elizabeth is accepted into Harvard University, 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.
At midnight, Donnie 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 leave the party and 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 killed by a car driven by Frank and Donnie kills Frank with a gun he found in his parents’ bedroom. After returning home with Gretchen’s lifeless body, Donnie sees a time-travel tunnel forming over the town.
It is once again October 2. Donnie is in bed, creating a predestination paradox. On this occasion however Donnie is not beckoned and stays in bed possibly to “receive the answers in his dreams.” Shortly after he goes to sleep, the jet engine from the red eye flight on October 30 crashes through the roof, killing him. All the people affected by Donnie’s actions awake as if from a nightmare, having some fragments of memories remaining: Frank, Elizabeth’s boyfriend, subconsciously touches his right eye. Jim Cunningham, perhaps in guilt and remorse for being a pedophile, a hypocrite and phony, awakens crying. As Donnie’s body is taken away, Gretchen, having never met Donnie, rides by the Darkos’ house on her bicycle. She learns from a neighborhood boy what has happened and waves to Rose.