Donnie Darko is a fantasy thriller film released in 2001. It stars big names such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Seth Rogen, and many others. The film has one main character (Jake Gyllenhaal) and many other supporting characters who are all very important to the story. Donnie Darko follows the life of a teenage boy who is haunted by visions of a six foot tall rabbit. It was directed by Richard Kelly. He started writing the script for Donnie Darko when he was only twenty three years old and in his final year of film school. The film was released when he was twenty five. Kelly was inspired to create the film after reading a local news story about a hunk of ice that fell into a teenager’s bedroom off of a jet plane. Many of the characters in the film were inspired by real life people Kelly encountered in his adolescence.
Donnie Darko is set in October of 1988 in Middlesex, Virginia. What is interesting about this movie is that almost every location in the movie is revisited multiple times and is very important to the story. This gives off the feeling of repetitive, boring days which is what Donnie is experiencing. Most of the time we are at Middlesex High School where Donnie and his little sister Sam attend. The school has a very old, outdated feel to it and the lighting is very low and dreary looking. A lot of the time Donnie is at his therapist’s office up on top of a mountain where Grandma Death, an important character, lives and where him and his friends hang out after school. The office is dim with little lighting. There is a couch where Donnie lays down on or sits during sessions. Dr. Thurman has a pile of stuffed animals in the room leading me to believe she is a therapist specializing in children. Outside of the office is a large wooden house covered halfway with ivy where Grandma death lives. Just beyond the driveway in a dead tree sitting in the middle of tall, yellow grass next to a beat up sofa. This is where Donnie and his two friends shoot guns at beer bottles and drink. A lot happens in Donnie’s neighborhood. This is where Donnie speaks to Gretchen for the first time while walking her home from her bus stop. The bus stop itself is a very significant place. The neighborhood is filled with beautiful, large homes with perfectly manicured lawns and towering trees on every corner. Donnie’s house is a place where a lot of notable events occur. The house is two stories tall with a nice lawn and a trampoline in the back. In the kitchen there is a fridge with a small whiteboard on it. On the whiteboard messages are written that make the viewer think deeper about the characters and what will come next. Donnie’s room is where the jet engine falls while he is out sleepwalking. Most every setting has a dark and eerie feeling to it. I think the lighting is used to drag down the tone of the movie making the viewer understand how Donnie is feeling.
The main character of this story is Donnie Darko. Donnie is a boy in his mid teens with dark brown hair and blue-grey eyes. He is a middle child with an older sister and a younger sister. Donnie enjoys drawing dark pieces of art and writing. Donnie spends time after school either at his therapist’s or hanging out with his friends on top of the hill outside of Grandma Death’s house. When he grows up Donnie wants to write books and illustrate them himself. Donnie has only two friends who are far inferior to his intelligence and influence him to smoke cigarettes, shoot guns, and drink beer. Donnie is seen as very troubled and is prescribed pills to help him feel better. It is unclear what is wrong with Donnie, but later in the film we learn that he has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic. He enjoys time being alone and has a bit of an anarchist vibe to his personality. He is constantly trying to overthrow the power and expose everyone he despises. Donnie sees the world and human emotions as more complex than everyone else. We are let in on the fact that he is incredibly intelligent as the principal of Middlesex high remarks that his test scores are “intimidating” Donnie might be too smart for his own good as it causes him trouble at school when he tries to argue with teachers. Donnie has a very childlike presence to him as well which coincidentally is the period of time he revisits in therapy quite a bit suggesting that something happened to him during his childhood that made him so troubled.
Gretchen Ross is Donnie’s love interest in the film. She is a highschool student at Middlesex high as well. We are not aware of her real name as the one she presents is an alias. Her and her mother had to attain new identities after Gretchen’s father stabbed her mother. Gretchen does not have an ideal home life as her mother is always gone and is afraid of her stepfather. Gretchen is a very calming and positive presence in Donnie’s life and tries to get him to look at all the wonderful parts of life.
Grandma Death is a very important character in the film as she has a lot of influence over Donnie’s actions. She is portrayed as a crazy old woman who has lost her mind. In the beginning of the movie she whispers to Donnie, “Every living creature on Earth dies alone.” We are intended to perceive that as nonsense, but it has a significant meaning to Donnie the more he learns. She waits constantly outside of her house pacing back and forth from her mailbox opening and closing it, like she is looking for mail. She’s got thing white hair that sticks out in every direction. Her real name is Roberta Sparrow, a former teacher at Middlesex high when Donnie’s father attended. She became a recluse because kids kept coming up to her home, stealing and traumatizing her. While teaching Roberta writes a book called The Philosophy of Time Travel. Her book falls into Donnie’s hands who immediately becomes obsessed with it and tries to write her letters to ask more about her knowledge on the topic.
Frank is Donnie’s supposedly imaginary friend. He is six feet tall and dressed in a dark grey rabbit costume. Frank speaks to Donnie of the future and when the Earth will end. We first meet Frank on October 2nd 1988 at night. He awakens Donnie from his sleep with his deep, animatronic sounding voice. He urges Donnie to go outside and away from his house which turns out to be great luck for Donnie as that is the night the piece of the aircraft falls into his room which would have killed him. Frank instructs Donnie to commit illegal acts against people who have wronged him. Frank’s presence in Donnie’s life puts a lot of strain on his visits to Dr. Thurman’s as he is always the topic of conversation. One night at the movie theatre Frank takes off his mask and reveals that he has a human face with a missing eye, like it has been shot. Donnie talks of Frank as a friend, but he is more of a foe from the eyes of the viewer. He continues to get Donnie in trouble and in the end of the movie is the cause of the greatest pain Donnie has ever experienced.
Other minor characters include Ms. Pomeroy, the English teacher at Middlesex high. She teaches the students complex stories and poems challenging their views on society and what is right and wrong. Dr. Lilian Thurman, Donnie’s therapist. She looks after Donnie and tries to protect him when he is frightened of Frank’s presence. She tries to understand Donnie and treat him as any other person. Ronald and Sean who are Donnie’s only two friends besides Gretchen. They are of much less intelligence than Donnie and spend time arguing over trivial things like Smurfs. Kitty Farmer who is Donnie’s physical education teacher. She despises Donnie and his mother, questioning her ability to parent her children. Kitty constantly tries to remove Ms. Pomeroy from teaching at the school as she is against the students reading such “filth” Jim Cunningham is a life coach that almost every mother in Middlesex is absolutely obsessed with. He comes to present at the high school. Jim is later found to have a secret stash of child pronography after Donnie burns his home down. Donnie’s older sister Elizabeth who is perceived as very normal and incredibly intelligent as well. Donnie’s younger sister Sam, who we only know is interested in dance and unicorns. Donnie’s parents are very unconventional and instead of punishing him for mouthing off to his teacher give him gifts and never punish him.
On October 2nd, 1988 Donnie Darko is led outside in the middle of the night by a six foot tall rabbit named Frank. He tells Donnie that the world will end in “twenty eight days, six hours, forty two minutes, and twelve seconds” When Donnie comes home the next morning he finds that a huge piece of a jet plane has landed in his room and no one knows where it came from. Donnie feels obligated to obey Frank as he saved Donnie from being crushed. Donnie tells his therapist about Frank who she believes to be all made up. Following Frank’s orders Donnie breaks in and floods his school at night. He starts dating a new girl named Gretchen Ross who had to change her name to flee from her father who stabbed her mother. The gym teacher at Middlesex blames the English teacher, Ms. Pomeroy for teaching a short story called “The Destroyers” In order to combat this behaviour she starts showing motivation life videos by Jim Cunningham. Donnie finds these videos to be useless and argues with Ms. Farmer and insults her causing tension between her and Donnie’s mother who were once friends. After Frank speaks to Donnie about time travel he begins to consult with his science teacher on how that might be possible. His teacher, Dr. Monnitoff gives him a book called The Philosophy of Time Travel written by Roberta Sparrow, otherwise more popularly known by the kids as Grandma Death. She is a seemingly insane woman who lives up in the forested hills all alone. Dr. Thurman, Donnie’s therapist, tells his parents that she is getting increasingly worried about him. She believes his visions of Frank are symptoms of schizophrenia. When Jim Cunningham comes to visit Middlesex High School Donnie stands up and insults his methods, challenging him and calling him the antichrist. Afterwards Donnie burns down his house leading firefighters to uncover Jim’s collection of child pornography, thus ruining his image forever. While hypnotized by Dr. Thurman Donnie confesses to all of his crimes and reveals that Frank will soon kill someone. The weekend before Halloween Donnie’s parents and little sister are out of time so him and Elizabeth decide to throw a party. Gretchen arrives at Donnie’s party distressed that her mother is missing and worried that her father has come to harm her. Upon realizing that Donnie only has hours until the end of the world he takes Gretchen, Ronald, and Sean to Roberta’s home in search for answers on how to stop it. Before they can reach her they are ambushed by the two school bullies who pull knives on them. Before they can hurt any of the kids they run off, scared by a car fast approaching assuming it was the cops. The car swerves to avoid running over Grandma Death and runs over Gretchen who is sprawled in the road, killing her. The two boys step out of the car absolutely terrified. The driver is Elizabeth’s boyfriend. Frank Anderson. Who happens to wearing a bunny suit just like the one in Donnie visions. Donnie pulls out his father’s gun from his pocket and shoots him in the eye. He tells the other boy to go home and he frantically runs away. Donnie picks up Gretchen’s body and sets her in the driver’s seat. He drives out to a hilltop where he can see a dark vortex swirling above his house in the early morning light. He views a plane descending which is carrying his mother and sister. The plane is thrown from the sky as one of the engines is pulled into the vortex. The past twenty eight days events flash back in reverse order and Donnie is back in bed smiling and laughing as the jet engines falls again into his room killing him this time. Other people that Donnie had interacted with in the past twenty eight days wake up. It is October 2nd, 1988. Gretchen rides by Donnie’s house while his family stands outside, distraught and broken.
This is one of my favorite movies I have ever seen. It really kept me on my toes the whole time with every scene more unexpected than the last. I relate most to Donnie’s character as we have the same ideas and visions for the future. This movie made me think about how most of us really take every day for granted because at any moment our lives can just be snatched away.