Donnie Darko (2001)

donnie darko poster 2001 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Fun, smart, and different


Movie Info

Movie Name: Donnie Darko

Studio: Flower Films

Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  January 19, 2001 (Sundance Film Festival)/October 26, 2001 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

donnie darko frank the rabbit mirror hd

Hi Donnie…want to play?

Something has happened.  Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) has evaded death from a mysterious jet engine that crashed into his room.  Unfortunately for Donnie, he has learned that the world is ending in less than a month and no one seems to believe him because of his own questionable past actions.  While his psychiatrist (Katharine Ross) tries to talk Donnie through his delusions and his new friend who’s a giant rabbit named Frank (James Duval), Donnie finds himself involved with a new girl in school named Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone).  Frank is telling Donnie to do things that Donnie doesn’t want to do, that Donnie shouldn’t do, but the world is ending, and Donnie could be its only hope.

Written and directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko is a science-fiction mystery thriller.  The film premiered at Sundance but received a small release due to 9-11 and the plane crash portrayed in the film.  The movie was well received and quickly became a cult classic.

I didn’t see Donnie Darko in the theater but saw it soon after it came to video.  I watched it multiple times upon its release and in a way got a bit Donnie Darko-ed out.  Going back to Donnie Darko years later, it still holds strong.

donnie darko jake gyllenhaal jena malone frank the rabbit movie theater

Don’t you hate it when you are alone in a movie theater and someone sits right next to you…and he’s a giant psychotic looking rabbit

The movie isn’t easy and takes work.  It is the type of film that benefits from multiple watching to see extra details and areas to analyze the story.  The movie works like an endless loop, but Donnie’s escaping death has messed up the loop.  He is trapped in a pocket universe that is going to collapse unless it is righted…and the only thing that can right the loop is for Donnie to die.  There are a lot of comparisons to superheroes in this idea, and in the end, Donnie heroically chooses to die primarily to save his girlfriend who is killed in the pocket universe.

Jake Gyllenhaal really is a good Darko (the role was originally intended for Jason Schwartzman).  He’s smarmy and kind of a jerk, but you know it is because of his mental problems and the weight upon him.  Jena Malone plays Donnie’s also troubled girlfriend while Katharine Ross is the psychiatrist trying to treat Donnie.  Donnie’s family is also good with Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne as Donnie’s parents, and Gyllenhaal’s real sister Maggie Gyllenhaal playing his older sister with Daveigh Chase (pre-The Ring) playing his Sparkle Motion sister.  Patrick Swayze is great as the local self-help guru while Beth Grant is the teacher-parent that every school seems to have.  The film also features a small early role by Seth Rogan (his first film) and an ER break for Noah Wyle.  As owner of the production company, Drew Barrymore’s character seems out of place and the only distraction (at least in the teaching scenes…”Choose your seat”).

donnie darko costume jake gyllenhaal jena mallone

Welcome to town, Gretchen…it’s a bit weird

The movie was pretty low budget, but it still works because instead of trying to compensate for the low budget, they worked around it.  The biggest effect is the guiding pathways, but the most effective aspects of the movie are the tone and visuals.  Kelly since released a director’s cut which does alter some of the scenes and the music.

Donnie Darko is a solid movie that is pretty deserving of its fandom.  In a way it feels like a “teen movie” on the surface, but the ideas and concepts in the movie really land it in the independent film category.  The movie in that sense feels like a “gateway” movie because it is accessible for viewers and can demonstrate that sci-fi can be better than something like Transformers:  Revenge of the Fallen while still being entertaining…the film earns the respect and doesn’t talk down to the viewers.  Donnie Darko was followed by a sequel starring Daveigh Chase called S. Darko in 2009…unlike Donnie Darko, S. Darko does feel like pandering which makes it all the more sad.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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