Donnie Darko Film Poster
Life is one long insane trip. Some people just have better directions.
Directed By
Richard Kelly
Written By
Richard Kelly
Distributed By
Release Date
January 19, 2001 (Sundance Film Festival),
October 28, 2003 (USA)
113 min.,
133 min. (director's cut)
Rating R (USA)
15 (UK / South Korea / Ireland)
U (France)
16 (Germany)
T (Italy)
12 (Netherlands)
M/16 (Portugal)
NC-16 (Singapore)
18 (Spain)
$727,883 (USA) / £1.1 million (UK)

Donnie Darko is a 2001 film, the first by writer and director Richard Kelly. Set in 1988, the movie is a psychological science fiction film about a boy named Donnie Darko who, after narrowly escaping death, has visions of a giant rabbit named Frank who predicts when the world will end. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The film did not perform well in theatres, but since its release on home video, it has become a cult hit. In the United Kingdom, it has sold moderately well on DVD, but was then reissued in a budget edition, with no director's commentary or other extras, which sold for a fraction of the original price and shot to No. 1 in the DVD sales chart.


Role Actor
Donnie Darko Jake Gyllenhaal
Eddie Darko Holmes Osborne
Elizabeth Darko Maggie Gyllenhaal
Samantha Darko Daveigh Chase
Rose Darko Mary McDonnell
Frank James Duval
Jim Cunningham Patrick Swayze
Kitty Farmer Beth Grant
Gretchen Ross Jena Malone
Prof. Mannitoff Noah Wyle
Karen Pomeroy Drew Barrymore
Dr. Thurman Katharine Ross
Roberta Sparrow aka Grandma Death Patience Cleveland

Plot synopsisEdit

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

The plot of Donnie Darko is somewhat confusing, and much of it deals with paradoxes which are never explicitly explained. As such, multiple interpretations exist.

In the middle of the night, on October 2, 1988, Donnie Darko is awakened from his sleep by a strange voice and led out onto a golf course where he converses with a life-size demonic-looking rabbit named Frank who tells him that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. (Some viewers have seen here a reference or homage to the 1950 motion picture Harvey, but director Kelly has denied any such intention and in fact has stated that he had never seen Harvey before directing this film. However, the film is situated within a larger cultural discourse in which rabbits have a paranormal quality, including the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland which leads Alice into a parallel universe through a rabbit hole - perhaps an echo of the wormhole - see below.) After waking up on the golf course the next morning, Donnie returns home to discover that a huge jet engine has fallen from the sky and into his bedroom. So begins a series of events which brings Donnie and a young woman named Gretchen together.

There is an early indication of Donnie's mental illness (specifically psychosis) when his sister accuses him of not taking his medication. Donnie continues to see Frank and, nearing the end, "liquid spears" which emerge from people's chests and indicate the paths they will take in the future. Whether this is indicative of mental illness, science fiction, or both, is left to the viewer.

Richard Kelly, while not denying the viewers' personal interpretations, has made his own clear through the audio commentaries on the two DVDs, the included Philosophy of Time Travel, and in various interviews. His intended plot is as follows: At midnight a Tangent Universe spins off of the Primary Universe, signified by the appearance of an Artifact; here represented by a jet engine. Tangent Universes are inherently unstable and will collapse in less than a month, taking the Primary Universe with it, if not closed off. Closing the Tangent Universe is the duty of the Living Receiver (Donnie), given super powers to perform this task. Those who die within the Tangent Universe are the Manipulated Dead (Frank and, according to the back of the book, Gretchen) who are also given certain powers, understanding of what is going on, and the ability to contact the Living Receiver via the Fourth Dimensional Construct (water). Everyone else in the orbit of the Living Receiver are the Manipulated Living, who are subconsciously drawn to push and prod the Living Receiver towards his destiny, closing the Tangent Universe and, apparently, dying by the Artifact.

If we follow Kelly's interpretation, the chain of events in brief is as follows: the Manipulated Dead, Frank, rouses Donnie, the Living Receiver, from his bed, and compels him to leave his house, starting a causal loop. Frank tells him that the Tangent Universe will collapse in 28 days. The next day Donnie goes to school. His English teacher, strangely, tells new girl Gretchen to sit next to the cutest boy in the room and she chooses Donnie (this begins the romance that ends badly and pushes Donnie to his final action). That night Frank appears to Donnie and makes him flood the school. As a result Donnie walks Gretchen home and asks her out. A bit later, Frank appears to Donnie and tells him to "burn it down", so Donnie burns down the house of a motivational speaker. When the firemen come to investigate the fire, they discover a secret room filled with pedophilic material. As a result, Donnie's conservative physical education teacher decides to defend the pedophile, who she believes has been framed. This causes Donnie's mother to chaperone her daughter's dance troupe on their way to California to perform on Star Search (they board the airplane whose engine becomes the artifact in the Tangent Universe). Because of this, Donnie and his older sister, Elizabeth, are able to throw a party while the parents are away. This leads to a romantic interlude between Donnie and Gretchen. At the same time, living Frank imbibes too much alcohol at the party and then goes joy riding in his Trans Am.


Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko.

After their interlude Donnie decides to take Gretchen to see Grandma Death (aka Roberta Sparrow, the author of Philosophy of Time Travel). They stumble upon two bullies that were searching through Ms. Sparrow's cellar for her rumored treasure. Donnie, Gretchen and the bullies struggle, and Gretchen runs out of the cellar. Roberta Sparrow, a senile old lady, is standing in the middle of the road when Frank comes upon her in his car. He swerves to avoid her, but hits Gretchen, killing her. Donnie becomes enraged, and in front of his two other friends he kills Frank, while becoming willing to do what must be done in order to save Gretchen. As the police has already surrounded his home looking for him, the plane with his mother and sister is passing by the wormhole (or timestorm as referenced in the DVD) and the engine is ripped off and thrust back in time. Donnie reappears back in his room in the Primary Universe, and lies in his bed laughing as the engine falls through the roof and kills him. After experiencing the Tangent Universe, and seeing the paths that every living thing follows throughout time, Donnie dies so that Gretchen, his mother, his sister and Frank may live. According to the Philosophy of Time Travel, every Living Receiver dies by the Artifact.

The film carefully leaves open the possibility that the entire alternate-universe sequence of events may be Donnie's (or even, perhaps, his mother's) hallucination, reverie, fantasy, or dream (and Kelly has hinted in interviews that dreams and alternate universes just might be the same thing). At any rate, the story draped on this science-fiction backbone includes a good deal more than speculative inquiry into time travel; the film is also, for example, a darkly comic satire of public education (although Donnie's school is in fact private), and so-called self help gurus; and Jake Gyllenhaal has received much praise for his performance as the disaffected, alienated, yet charming Donnie.

Much of the backstory is explained on the official Donnie Darko website, which acts as a combination puzzle and teaser for the movie. It shows that Donnie was institutionalized before the events of the movie occur, and offers other details that help in explaining the goings-on of the movie. The director's commentary on the DVD also gives crucial details, such as the point of departure between the real world and the alternate universe — not when the engine crashes through the ceiling, but instead a few minutes before, when Donnie is called out to meet Frank for the first time.

There are many easter eggs present in the film, including a reflection of Ronald Reagan being visible while a right wing teacher rants on.

"I'm voting for Dukakis"Edit

Is the very first line of dialogue. It is spoken in a deadpan voice by Donnie's elder sister Elizabeth (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) to their father, Eddie Darko, a committed Republican.

Fans of the movie have appropriated the line as a catchphrase. Some regard it as humorous nonsense, given Michael Dukakis' historical role as a miserable failure in the U.S. presidential election, 1988. Others interpret it to mean "I'm deliberately trying to annoy you." A few suggest that it means, "I know I'm going to fail, but at least I'm on the right side." In fact, some film critics suggest the phrase can be seen as a cryptic summary of the entire movie, as Donnie rebels against abusive authority figures (Farmer and Cunningham, not his father) and comes to terms with the necessity of his impending doom. It certainly encapsulates the alienated and ironic tone of the film.

The reference to largely forgotten and somewhat tedious political history situates the events in the epoch when the writer-director - and perhaps his target audience - were adolescents. Such a historical rootedness is unusual for a science fiction movie and serves to give the movie an unusual and even "realist" quality. The name Dukakis also carries a muffled echo of the name Darko.

Director's cutEdit


The UK DVD cover for the director's cut.

A director's cut of the movie debuted on June 4, 2004 in Seattle, Washington and was released in New York and Los Angeles on July 23, 2004. Twenty minutes of footage, including interstitial excerpts from the in-movie book The Philosophy of Time Travel, were added, as well as some soundtrack changes. The director's cut DVD, released on February 15 2005, included the new footage and additional soundtrack changes, as well as some additional features exclusive to its two-DVD set, including the Jim Cunningham infomercials shown within the movie, excerpts from the storyboard, and the new director's cut cinematic trailer.


Donnie Darko has occasionally been attacked for encouraging and romanticizing suicidal behaviour and insanity. Fans often respond that this misses the point, and looks at the film from exactly the shallow level of thought it is trying to combat.


Main Wikipedia article: Donnie Darko (soundtrack)

Link title===Production=== Richard Kelly commissioned Michael Andrews, a San Diego musician and television and film composer who had worked as a member of a range of bands, including The Origin with Gary Jules, whose two solo albums he had produced, and The Greyboy Allstars. Kelly said that he was confident that Michael Andrews could do the job: "I met with Michael and I just knew right away that he was really, really talented and that he could come up with a really original score. He would allow me to be in there and be really kind of editorial with how I wanted the score to be." [1]

Michael Andrews relocated to Los Angeles to work on the film between October and December 2000. As Michael Andrews states, the low budget for the project encouraged him to play a diverse range of instruments for the soundtrack: "The film was pretty low budget so my portion of the money was pretty thin. I couldn't hire anyone, it was just me. I played everything; piano, mellotron, mini marimba, xylophone, ukulele, organ. I also brought in two female vocalists Sam Shelton and Tory Haberman. But no guitar because Richard said no guitar or drums; he just wasn't into it. I was down with that - I've played guitar my whole life." [2]

Like many of his role models for soundtrack composing such as John Barry and Ennio Morricone, Michael Andrews wanted to put a song on his otherwise instrumental score. He eventually chose "Mad World" (1982) by Tears for Fears, who were one of his and childhood friend Gary Jules' favourite bands while growing up. Andrews enlisted Jules to sing the song, while Andrews himself played the piano. Other songs from the film include "The Killing Moon" by Echo & The Bunnymen (another of Andrews' and Jules' favourite bands), Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart", The Church's shimmering "Under the Milky Way" in the cathartic party scene, and "Proud To Be Loud" by the '80's incarnation of the metal band Pantera.

In the subsequent director's cut, a number of musical choices are changed. In the film's opening, "The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen is replaced by "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS. "The Killing Moon" later replaces "Under The Milky Way" by The Church during a scene in a party..


The score was not put on a soundtrack album until Andy Factor, a friend of Michael Andrews, released it on his Everloving Records independent label in 2002. As Donnie Darko was not a hit at first, there was little interest in the soundtrack in the US. However, the film enjoyed more popularity in Europe especially in the UK where its total box office was greater than for the whole of the US, and so the Donnie Darko soundtrack album was released.

This sparked interest in the soundtrack and in the song "Mad World," taken from the original soundtrack, was a 2003 Christmas Number One in the UK singles chart. It has also made the charts in a number of other countries including Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia in 2003 and 2004.

Much discontent existed upon release of the soundtrack for its lack of numerous songs featured within the film, including "The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen, "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears, and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations from or about:



The Director's CutEdit

  • - a review from the Seattle Post of the director's cut, dated Wednesday, June 2, 2004.
  • - differences between the original cut and the director's cut.
  • - trailer for the director's cut.


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