Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko: Caught like a rabbit in the flightpath

In 2001, the world was introduced to ‘Donnie Darko’ for the very first time. 20 years, people still aren’t sure what it’s about. Jake Gyllenhaal and Seth Rogen, who starred in it, still have no clue what actually happened. Despite its perplexing plot, it has received one of the largest cult followings ever and is loved by critics and audiences alike. Here’s what’s going on (From what we can decipher).

Donnie Darko - Wikipedia

It’s October 1988. Donnie Darko is a teenage boy with schizophrenia and a habit of cycling everywhere. He lives in a nice house with his mum, dad and sisters until a jet engine crushes his room. He only survives because a six-foot rabbit, named Frank, lured him outside and shared the date of the apocalypse with him. According to Frank, Donnie’s cottontail pal, the world will come to an end in 28 days. The next month is a paranoid nightmare for him and those around him.

Commentary (spoilers)

We meet Donnie as he’s admiring a sunset. Then he cycles down a hill with an ‘Echo and the Bunnymen’ song playing in the background. Well, that’s all you need to know about him. His dad is playing around with a leaf blower in the garden with Elizabeth looking less than impressed, his mum is reading ‘It’ by Stephen King and Samantha is on the trampoline. Unstable family alert. To further this theory, we are shown a family dinner where Elizabeth breaks the big news to her parents that she’s voting for Dukakis. She’s obviously the rebel of the pack. A sibling spat erupts between her and Donnie regarding her poor life choices (The characters are played by real life siblings

Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. I can only hope the Gyllenhaals had a better relationship growing up than these sorry souls.) They battle it out with swears until Samantha decides to try it out a little profanity for herself and dad nearly chokes on his pizza.

After the disputing dinner, Donnie is found in his bedroom reading a book (I can only assume it’s the Necronomicon.) He argues with his mum, takes his meds, then prepares himself for a peaceful night’s sleep. But wait! What’s this? A giant six-foot rabbit, you say? That goes by the name of Frank? He’s leading Donnie out of the house in the early hours of the morning? And telling him when the exact time the world will end? Not a moment after Frank informs us the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, an engine comes crashing through Donnie’s bedroom. Good thing he wasn’t in it, eh?

He wakes up in a golf course with the exact time the world will end written in pen on his arm (In case it slips his mind). He walks back home and finds out about the incident that Frank the rabbit helped him narrowly escape. His parents are surprisingly chipper considering they haven’t seen Donnie all day and was until two minutes ago missing after a jet engine fell on his room. Until he strolls home, they are smiling and laughing at their destroyed house. I’m guessing genetics plays a part in Donnie’s mental illness.

The Darkos check in to a hotel for the night and Samantha raises some good questions. “If the engine fell from the plane, what happened to the plane?”. Nobody is able to answer them.

The next day at school, the kids are bombarded with questions. Samantha enjoys the spotlight whereas Donnie uses this power to get a pack of cigarettes. And threatens his younger sister to not tell his parents. Works like a charm.

Donnie’s English class is studying ‘The Destructors’ by Graham Greene. He is able to give some insight from experiencing, what his teacher calls, a “recent brush with mass destruction”. Gretchen comes in and subscribes to the age-old custom in cinema where every new student must enter the class in the middle of the lesson.

“Sit next to whatever boy you think is the cutest”.

It’s times like these where it becomes clear why Drew Barrymore’s character’s fate is not all that surprising. Dad drives Donnie about and nearly crashes into, maybe the most important character in this movie, ‘Grandma Death’. Donnie tells his therapist about Frank and the world ending. She looks tired. A monstrous rabbit predicting the date of the apocalypse is nothing she hasn’t heard before.

Glory! The school is closed for a day due to flooding (and been vandalised by a certain delinquent). Donnie walks Gretchen home. She tells him her life’s story and reason for being on the witness protection program all within 35 seconds. Donnie tells her about his emotional problems and the time he spent in jail. Young love.

(Donnie talking about his hopes for his future) “I don’t know, change things.”

Oh, I wouldn’t be too worried about that, Donnie. Gretchen tells him his name makes him sound like he’s a superhero. Well, that’s certainly one way of putting it…

Gretchen (or whatever her real name is) walks backwards across the road without looking. Her and Donnie are now “going”.

Donnie tries hypnotherapy for the first time. It turns out to be a horrible idea. The next day at school, the police get kids to write “they made me do it” on the chalkboard to compare the handwriting to the vandalist’s. Oh please. I’ve saw better policing in ‘Zootropolis’ (the rabbit in that was a lot wiser too, but I digress).

Being a teenage schizophrenic doesn’t really help Donnie fit in with the crowds. A guy holds a knife to his throat in the boy’s bathroom and accuses him of the vandalism and flooding ( Of course he is correct, but that is besides the point. Threats are unnecessary).

Though Donnie is a little…unusual for his age (or any age) he does have some normal aspects to his life. Take this scene, for example. Him and his friends sit in a field shooting bottles and drinking beer, talking about children’s cartoon series and the town’s resident crazy lady.

(While having an argument about The Smurfs) “Damn it, Donnie, why you gotta get so smart on us?”

This entire movie is summed up in this quote. While his parents are at a heated parent teacher meeting, Donnie talks to his cottontail friend about time travel and uses some otherworldly manipulation which quite Frank-ly (Get it? Get it?) beyond my understanding.

The next day at school, Donnie’s class get a lesson on character dilemmas and fear and love. Donnie mocks the teacher, exercise and human emotions (Good. Saves me a bit of time).  As much as I enjoyed his act of rebellion, the headteacher certainly did not. His parents are called in and they explain what exactly Donnie told Mrs Farmer to do. Donnie, and the audience, can’t stop grinning, Mr Darko can’t stop “coughing” and Mrs Farmer can’t stop preaching the path of love. 

In science, Dr Monitoff (Hey! It’s that guy from E.R.!) discusses time travel with Donnie, his mentally disturbed student. They talk about vessels, portals, wormholes…anything you can find in a ‘Doctor Who’ episode. Donnie finds out that Grandma Death has had quite a life. Everything from being a nun to a time travel philosopher. From jam collecting to hermitage. All this is heavy, even for Donnie, and he tells his therapist everything going on. He also reveals that he doesn’t want to die alone. Well this is awkward.

Donnie’s schizophrenia is getting progressively worse. One of his visions lead him to a gun stashed in his parent’s wardrobe. With Donnie’s criminal record and his imaginary playmate looming around every corner, I don’t need to tell you things could get ugly real soon.

Donnie and Gretchen have now been “going together” for two weeks. His parents learn of Frank the giant bunny rabbit. They’re also told that he needs to increase his medication. It’s worth a shot. The world’s ending in 12 days now, how much damage could it do?

Oh. He’s trash-talking his classmates, yelling at teachers and calling the motivational speaker the antichrist. Well, in a way he’s not wrong. Later, he talks to his science teacher and nearly gets him fired. Jeez, he’s really not popular today. Donnie and Gretchen present an idea to their science class. It seems like Donnie isn’t the only one who know about Gretchen’s witness protection program. A couple of boys mock her and she runs outside. Donnie runs after her. The two share a romantic moment, seconds after she runs out the room crying about her stepfather stabbing her mother multiple times. That’s amore. They go see ‘The Evil Dead’ that night (round of applause for taste).

(The three are sitting in the empty cinema. Gretchen is asleep)

Donnie: Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?

Frank: Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?

Woah. Calm down there, Frank. It’s a 15. You’re starting to act like you have a sinister plan to kill Donnie or something. Donnie leaves the cinema to go burn down a house to prove himself to his cony companion while his sister’s dance troupe performs a routine at his school and Gretchen sleeps through ‘The Evil Dead’, one of the few cult classic movies with a bigger following than the one she’s in. But worry not, Donnie returns before Gretchen wakes up and just in time the big finale.

(Gretchen awakens from her slumber)

“How long was I asleep for?”

Oh, you know. Long enough to commit several counts of arson. The public speaker who Donnie deemed the antichrist and burned down the house of, is arrested for child pornography charges.

Donnie’s English teacher is fired. For once, it actually had nothing to do with him! Way to go, Donnie! They say their goodbyes and discuss phonaesthetics. Oh, so very sad. Mrs Darko is asked to chaperone a dance trip to Los Angeles. She reluctantly agrees and leaves Elizabeth and Donnie alone for the weekend.

Donnie sends a long-awaited letter to Grandma Death with ‘extremely important’ in all capitals. He’s left saving the world from total annihilation probably a tad longer than he really should have. His therapist has hypnotised him again (this woman never learns), and he reveals that he burned Jim Cunningham’s house to a crisp and cries about the fast approaching doomsday. Frank also decides to come along to the session and plays mind games with him.

The next morning, Elizabeth gets accepted into Harvard. On October 30th (Judgement day has arrived, folks), to celebrate the great news, the Darko siblings party like there’s no tomorrow. Dramatic irony, much? Donnie is dressed in his iconic skeleton suit and trademark sulk. Gretchen shows up at the door, her mum has disappeared. Donnie’s hallucinations are as bad as ever. They leave the party early to go find Grandma Death on their bicycles. They show up a day (or 27) late and a dollar short. She’s nowhere to be seen so they hang around a random cellar for a while before they are caught and have knives held to their throats by a group of men who tackle them to the ground. The men flee when they notice a car coming. Gretchen continues lying on the road and doesn’t check the oncoming traffic. Tragically, she is ran over and killed. Old habits die hard. Her murderer is a man named Frank wearing a rabbit suit. Wait. I swear that name seems familiar. Anyway, Donnie kills him with his parents gun. Bye-bye, Frank. Donnie carries Gretchen’s corpse into his car and sits atop a hill waiting for the portal to erase the last 28 days.

It’s on October 2nd. Déjà vu. Donnie wakes up in his bedroom laughing and waits patiently for the plane engine to crush him. It does. ‘Mad world’ plays and we see a montage of everyone looking confused, mirroring the audiences’ faces and reactions to this movie. Donnie is taken out of his house in a body bag. Gretchen cycles past and a slight look of recognition crosses her face. Now who will she sit next to in English?


First line: “I’m voting for Dukakis”- Elizabeth

Last line: “Did you know him?”

“No.”- Gretchen

Best line: “I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief because there will be so much to look forward to.”- Donnie

But also

“Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!”- Kitty

The good: All Donnie and Gretchen scenes and the whole soundtrack

The bad: The ‘Mad World’ montage, Gretchen’s death and Donnie’s final hypnotherapy session

The funny: The Smurfs conversation, the first hypnotherapy session and the family dinner scene

Best characters: Frank and Donnie

Worst characters: Donnie’s sisters and dad

Moral of the story: Death is inevitable. Like issues arising from following an apocalyptic foretelling rabbit.

Overall opinion: “I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad”

Rating- 8.3

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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