Donnie Darko is a 2001 American science fiction and psychological 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 reality-bending 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, the film missed breaking even at the box office, grossing just over $4.1 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 cut on a two-disc, special edition release in 2004.
In 1988, teenager Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been seeing a psychiatrist because of his troubled history. On October 2, Frank (James Duval), a menacing, demonic-looking rabbit with an eerie, hypnotic voice, draws Donnie out of his room to tell him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds, the world will end. While Donnie is outside, an airplane jet engine crashes through his bedroom. The next morning, Dr. Fisher (Arthur Taxier) and Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), a motivational speaker, find Donnie sleeping on a golf course. Donnie returns home to find police and firemen there. No one knows where the engine has come from and no airplanes were reported as flying in the vicinity.
The following day, Donnie meets Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), a new student who becomes Donnie’s love interest. While driving Donnie to his therapy session with Dr. Lillian Thurman (Katharine Ross), his father, Eddie (Holmes Osborne), nearly runs over Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), a seemingly senile old woman known as “Grandma Death.” Dr. Thurman increases Donnie’s medication and begins hypnotherapy. Frank continues to appear, and manipulates Donnie into committing a series of crimes. Frank also tells Donnie about time travel while he is watching a film at the theater with Gretchen. Donnie floods the school, steals his father’s gun, and burns the home of Cunningham, where firemen uncover a “kiddie porn dungeon”.
Donnie and his older sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) throw a Halloween party to celebrate the news of her admission to Harvard while their father is away in New York and their mother, Rose (Mary McDonnell), and younger sister Sam (Daveigh Chase), are away at a dance competition. Gretchen comes to Donnie’s house in tears for safety because her mother has suddenly disappeared, likely because of her threatening stepfather, and it is implied she and Donnie have sex for the first time at the party. At midnight, Donnie realizes 28 days have passed and only 6 hours remain until the end of the world. Donnie visits “Grandma Death” along with Gretchen and two friends. They are assaulted by the high school bullies (Alex Greenwald and Seth Rogen) and Gretchen is knocked unconscious. A car swerves to avoid “Grandma Death”, but runs over Gretchen, killing her. As the bullies run off, a man wearing a rabbit costume emerges from the car, realizing what has happened. It is Frank. Frank yells at Donnie, who shoots Frank in the eye with his father’s stolen pistol. Donnie carries Gretchen’s lifeless body home, places her in the family car, and speeds away. For once, Donnie, now smiling, seems at peace as a vortex engulfs the jet carrying his mother and sister. Just as the storm causes an engine to fall off, Donnie transports it back in time – 28 days earlier – using a wormhole.
In the revised timeline, Donnie chooses to stay in bed. He laughs and turns over as if to sleep just as the jet engine crashes through his bedroom, killing him. As his body is taken away the next morning, Gretchen passes by on her bike and is informed by a neighborhood boy about what has happened. Gretchen tells him that she did not know Donnie, and she gives a sympathetic wave to Rose.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film:
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