Donnie Darko

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Donnie Darko

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Donnie Darko

Director Richard Kelly
Screenplay Richard Kelly
Producers Adam Fields, Nancy Juvonen, Sean McKittrick
Published January 19, 2001 (Sundance Film Festival)
MPAA Rating R
Color / BW Color
Aspect Ratio 2.35 : 1
Runtime 113 minutes; 133 minutes (director's cut)
Sound Dolby Digital
Budget $4.5 million

Donnie Darko is a 2001 film, the first by writer and director Richard Kelly. The movie is a psychological science fiction film--which questions fate versus free will--about a boy named Donnie Darko who, after narrowly escaping death, has visions of a giant bunny rabbit named Frank who predicts when the world will end.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, and Patrick Swayze. Jake's real-life sister Maggie Gyllenhaal also appears as Donnie's older sister. This film was released by Newmarket Films.

It is one of the films which represent an era when Hollywood has turned toward new fresh talented filmmakers to introduce new ideas which break away from the old templates of Hollywood genre movies. Since its release on home video, Donnie Darko has become a cult film.

In Britain the film 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 number 1 in the DVD sales chart.

Some taglines for this movie's release were:

  • You can never go too far.
  • What would you do if you knew the future?
  • Be Afraid of the Dark
  • Dark. Darker. Darko.
  • Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?
  • The cult phenomenon returns summer 2004. (director's cut re-release)


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

Plot synopsis

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 is awakened from his sleep by a strange voice and led out onto a golf course where he converses with a giant 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.) 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 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 behind the 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: Manipulated Dead Frank rouses Living Receiver Donnie from 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 (and bury his axe in the head of a bronze bulldog mascot, demonstrating his super-human strength). 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 annoying 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 elder 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.

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 kills Frank, becoming willing to do what must be done in order to save Gretchen. Donnie goes to the mountaintop where he began the movie, reaches out with his telekinesis, and pulls the engine off of the plane that his mother and sister are on, then sends it through a wormhole to drop on his bedroom in the Primary Universe. In the Primary Universe, Donnie is in his bedroom at the time and so dies. After seeing the course of time, the paths by which every living thing must follow, Donnie comes to realize that it is his destiny to die in that room all along, so that Gretchen, his mother, and his sister may live. It just took a tangent universe to show him. Living Frank honks his horn at the end to tell Donnie that he's succeeded in closing off the Tangent Universe and to get out of the house, but Donnie lies in his bed laughing as the engine falls on him. Judging from the Philosophy of Time Travel every Living Receiver dies by the Artifact, though.

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, and strangely Amnesty International being listed in the credits for apparently no reason whatsoever.

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 never-before-seen footage 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.


Making of the soundtrack

Richard Kelly commissioned Michael Andrews, a San Diego musician who had worked as a member of a range of bands including The Origin with Gary Jules and the Greyboy Allstars. He had also produced both of Gary Jules solo albums. Michael Andrews had done some soundtrack work on the Ben Stiller film Zero Effect and worked on the music for the TV show Freaks and Geeks.

Richard Kelly tells that he was confident that Michael Andrews could do the job on the Everloving Records web site. "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."

Michael Andrews relocated to Los Angeles to work on the film between October and December 2000. As Michael Andrews states on the Everlasting Records web site, 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."

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 chose the song "Mad World" by Tears for Fears originally released in 1982 and got his old friend Gary Jules in to sing it while he played piano. Tears for Fears were one of the duo's favourite bands growing up along with Echo & the Bunnymen and The Smiths. The film features several exceptional songs, like the aforementioned Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon", Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart", and The Church's shimmering "Under the Milky Way" in the cathartic party scene.

Album released

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.

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 charts. It has also made the charts in a number of other countries including Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia in 2003 and 2004.

Track listing

  1. Carpathian Ridge 1:35
  2. The Tangent Universe 1:50
  3. the Artifact and Living 2:30
  4. Middlesex Times 1:41
  5. Manipulated Living 2:08
  6. Philosophy of Time Travel 2:02
  7. Liquid Spear Waltz 1:32
  8. Gretchen Ross 0:51
  9. Burn it to the Ground 1:58
  10. Slipping Away 1:17
  11. Rosie Darko 1:25
  12. Cellar Door 1:03
  13. Ensurance Trap 3:11
  14. Waltz in the 4th Dimension 2:46
  15. Time Travel 3:01
  16. Did you know him 1:46
  17. Mad World 3:07
  18. Mad World (Alternate Version) 3:37

Note: All songs except Mad World (written by Roland Orzabal) were by Michael Andrews.

External links


es:Donnie Darko fr:Donnie Darko it:Donnie Darko no:Donnie Darko sv:Donnie Darko


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