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Donnie Darko is a psychological thriller written and directed by Richard Kelly and released in 2001. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, and Mary McDonnell, and depicts the reality-bending adventures of the title character as he seeks the meaning and significance behind his troubling Doomsday-related visions.

The film was initially slated for a direct-to-video release before being picked up by Newmarket Films. Budgeted with US$4.5 million and filmed over the course of 28 days, the film missed breaking even, grossing just over $4.1 million worldwide. The film has since received favorable reviews from critics and developed a large cult following, resulting in the director's cut receiving a two-disc, special edition release in 2004.

Plot

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a mentally disturbed teenager, appears to suffer from a variety of symptoms. His parents and sisters are concerned about him. One night, Donnie sleepwalks and meets Frank (James Duval), a man in a menacing rabbit costume. Frank tells him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, the world will end. While he is outside, a jet engine mysteriously crashes through the roof of Donnie's bedroom.

As Eddie, Donnie's father, drives him to the office of Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross), Donnie's therapist, Eddie nearly runs over Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), also known as "Grandma Death": a senile old woman who spends her days walking back and forth from her house to the mailbox across the street. Grandma Death whispers in Donnie's ear that "every living creature on this earth dies alone."

Donnie meets a girl with a troubled past, Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), and reveals his own troubled past as well as his intelligence. Gretchen calls Donnie weird, prompting Donnie to nervously ask her to date him. She agrees. Frank continues to appear to Donnie and tell him that he can do anything and will not get caught. Frank also tells Donnie about time travel, further confusing him. Donnie commits several acts of violence against property, apparently at Frank's urging, including setting alight the home of an inspirational speaker, Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), whose methods are much admired by one of the teachers at Donnie's school.

Gretchen and Donnie grow closer. She is one of the few people he opens up to about his time-travel visions. Dr. Thurman increases Donnie's medication and begins hypnotherapy with him. Frank continues to appear to Donnie.

Donnie's sister Elizabeth is accepted into Harvard Universitymarker, and she and Donnie decide to throw a Halloween party to celebrate while their mother, Rose, and younger sister are away. The night of the party, October 30, Gretchen comes to Donnie's house for safety because her mother has suddenly disappeared.

At midnight, Donnie realizes that the 28 days have passed, and that only 6 hours remain until the end of the world. Convinced that Grandma Death is in some way connected to Frank, Donnie persuades Gretchen and two other friends to leave the party and go with him to her house. When they get there, they are assaulted by the high school's resident bullies (Alex Greenwald and Seth Rogen). Gretchen is killed by a car driven by Frank and Donnie kills Frank with a gun he found in his parents' bedroom. After returning home with Gretchen's lifeless body, Donnie sees a time-travel tunnel forming over the town.

It is once again October 2. Donnie is once again in bed, having possibly travelled back in time to create an ontological paradox, where his future self takes the place of his past self. On this occasion Donnie chooses to remain in bed. As he laughs manically, a jet engine crashes through the roof, killing him. All the people affected by Donnie's actions are shown in short scenes that briefly reference the events of possible future time. As Donnie's body is taken away, Gretchen, having never met Donnie, rides by the Darkos' house on her bicycle. She learns from a neighborhood boy what has happened and waves to Rose.

Director's interpretation

Writer/director Richard Kelly does not deny the validity of personal interpretations, but has expressed his own theories through the extra commentary on the two DVDs, and in various other interviews.

According to Kelly and his fictional Philosophy of Time Travel, at midnight on October 2 a Tangent Universe branches off the Primary Universe around the time when Donnie is called out of his bedroom by Frank, immediately before the appearance of the Artifact, the faulty jet engine. The inherently unstable Tangent Universe will collapse in just over 28 days and take the Primary Universe with it if not corrected. Closing the Tangent Universe is the duty of the Living Receiver, Donnie, who wields certain supernatural powers to help him in the task.

Those who die within the Tangent Universe (and would not have died otherwise) are the Manipulated Dead (Frank, Gretchen). Frank, at least, is also given certain powers in that he is able to subtly understand what is happening and have the ability to contact and influence the Living Receiver via the Fourth Dimensional Construct (water). All others within the orbit of the Living Receiver are the Manipulated Living (e.g. Ms. Pomeroy, Dr. Monnitoff), subconsciously drawn to push him towards his destiny to close the Tangent Universe and, according to the Philosophy of Time Travel, die by the Artifact.

Frank appears in the story in two guises (three guises if we assume that he 'never' dies on account of the restoration of the Primary Universe through the negation of the Tangent Universe). First, there is the Manipulated Dead Frank who appears to Donnie as a premonition from the future of the Tangent Universe in the disturbing rabbit suit. Dead Frank is aware of Donnie's fate and destiny, and impels him to realize it so that the Primary Universe can be restored at the point where/when the Tangent Universe branched off from it. Secondly, Frank appears alive as Donnie's sister's boyfriend, whose fate unfolds within the Tangent Universe by means of Donnie's successes in realizing his mission. This living boyfriend is fatally shot by Donnie towards the end of the film, a killing which was foreseen by Donnie.

Cast



Production

Filming

Donnie Darko was filmed in 28 days on a budget of US$4.5 million.It almost went straight to home video release but was publicly released by the production company Flower Films.

The film was shot in Californiamarker. The "Carpathian ridge" scenes were shot on the Angeles Crest Highway. Loyola High Schoolmarker, a prominent Catholic school in Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, was used as Donnie's high school. The house where the Darko family lives is located in Long Beachmarker, Californiamarker. Donnie awakens in a golf course in Long Beachmarker, Californiamarker; the hotel where his family lodges is the Burbank, California, Holiday Inn; and the Aero theater where Donnie and Gretchen watch the double feature is a cinema in Santa Monicamarker, Californiamarker.

The home of Patrick Swayze's character, Jim Cunningham, is at 4252 Country Club Drive Long Beach, California.

Music

In 2003, composer Michael Andrews and singer Gary Jules found their piano-driven cover of the Tears for Fears' hit "Mad World", featured in the film as part of the end sequence, and the song was the UK Christmas Number One single in 2003.

One continuous sequence involving an introduction of Donnie's high school prominently features the song "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears, Samantha's dance group, "Sparkle Motion," performs with the song "Notorious" by Duran Duran, and "Under the Milky Way" by The Church is played after Donnie and Gretchen emerge from his room during the party. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division also appears in the film diegetically during the party and shots of Donnie and Gretchen upstairs. However, the version included was released in 1995, although the film is set in 1988. The opening sequence is set to "The Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen. In the theatrical cut, the song playing during the Halloween party is "Proud to be Loud" by Pantera, a track released on their 1988 album, which would concide with the time setting of the film. However, the band is credited as "The Dead Green Mummies".

In the re-released Director's Cut version of the film, the music in the opening sequence is replaced by "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS; "Under the Milky Way" is moved to the scene of Donnie and his father driving home from Donnie's meeting with his therapist; and "The Killing Moon" is played as Gretchen and Donnie return to the party from Donnie's parents' room.

Release

The limited release of this film happened the month after the September 11 attacks. It was then held back for almost a year on the international releases, where it fared much better and was viewed by many more cinema goers. From here the cult following of this movie began, and the DVD release of the film brought it again to American audiences.

Marketing

  • The Donnie Darko Book, written by Richard Kelly, is a 2003 book about the film. It includes an introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal, the screenplay of the Donnie Darko Director's Cut, an in-depth interview with Kelly, facsimile pages from the Philosophy of Time Travel, photos and drawings from the film, and artwork it inspired.


  • NECA released first a six-inch (15 cm) figure of Frank the Bunny and later a foot-tall (30 cm) 'talking' version of the same figure.


Home video

The film was originally released on DVD and VHS in March 2002. Strong DVD sales led Newmarket Films to release a "Director's Cut" on DVD in 2004. Bob Berney, President of Newmarket Films, described the film as "a runaway hit on DVD," citing US sales of more than $10 million.

The director's cut of the film was released on May 29, 2004, in Seattle, Washingtonmarker, at the Seattle International Film Festival and later in New York Citymarker and Los Angelesmarker on July 23, 2004. This cut includes twenty minutes of extra footage, an altered soundtrack, the director's commentary assisted by Kevin Smith, the director's interpretation, and visual excerpts from the book The Philosophy of Time Travel. The director's cut DVD, released on February 15, 2005, included the new footage and more soundtrack changes, as well as some additional features exclusive to the two-DVD set: excerpts from the storyboard, a 52-minute production diary, "#1 fan video," a "cult following" video interviewing British fans, and the new director's cut cinematic trailer. The director's cut DVD was released as a giveaway with copies of the British Sunday Times newspaper on February 19, 2006.

The film was released on Blu-ray on February 10, 2009.

Reception

Box office performance

Donnie Darko had its first screening at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2001, and debuted in U.S. theaters in October 2001 to a tepid response. Shown on only 58 screens nationwide, the film grossed US$110,494 in its opening weekend. By the time the film closed in U.S. theaters on April 11, 2002, it had grossed US$517,375. It ultimately grossed US$4.1 million worldwide.

Despite the poor showing at the box office, the film had attracted a devoted fan base. It was originally released on DVD and VHS in March 2002. During this time, the Pioneer Theatre in New York City's East Village began midnight screenings of Donnie Darko that continued for 28 consecutive months.

Critical reception

The film received widespread critical acclaim—Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an 84% rating (the Director's Cut received 91%), while Metacritic gave it a 71 out of 100 (the Director's Cut received 88 out of 100). Critic Andy Bailey billed Donnie Darko as a "Sundance surprise" that "isn't spoiled by the Hollywood forces that helped birth it." Jean Oppenheimer of New Times (LA) praised the film, saying, "Like gathering storm clouds, Donnie Darko creates an atmosphere of eerie calm and mounting menace -- stands as one of the most exceptional movies of 2001." Writing for ABC Australia, Megan Spencer called the movie, "menacing, dreamy, [and] exciting" and noted that "it could take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul." At first when the movie was released, Roger Ebert gave the film a less than positive review but later became more enamored by the film after seeing the release of the director's cut.

Awards

2001 — Richard Kelly won with Donnie Darko for "Best Screenplay" at the Catalonianmarker International Film Festival and at the San Diegomarker Film Critics Society. Donnie Darko also won the "Audience Award" for Best Feature at the Swedenmarker Fantastic Film Festival. The film was nominated for "Best Film" at the Catalonian International Film Festival and for the "Grand Jury Prize" at the Sundance Film Festival.

2002 — Donnie Darko won the "Special Award" at the Young Filmmakers Showcase at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. The movie also won the "Silver Scream Award" at the Amsterdammarker Fantastic Film Festival. Kelly was nominated for "Best First Feature" and "Best First Screenplay" with Donnie Darko, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal being nominated for "Best Male Lead," at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film was also nominated for the "Best Breakthrough Film" at the Online Film Critics Society Awards.

2003 — Jake Gyllenhaal won "Best Actor" and Richard Kelly "Best Original Screenplay" for Donnie Darko at the Chlotrudis Awards, where Kelly was also nominated for "Best Director" and "Best Movie."

2005 — Donnie Darko ranked in the top five on My Favourite Film, an Australian poll conducted by the ABCmarker.

2006 — Donnie Darko ranks ninth in FilmFour's 50 Films to See Before You Die.

It also came in at number 14 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies and landed at number 2 in their "Greatest Independent Films of All Time" list.

Sequel

A 2009 sequel, S. Darko, centers on Samantha Darko, Donnie's younger sister. Again played by Daveigh Chase, Samantha begins to have strange dreams that hint at a major catastrophe. Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly has stated that he has no involvement in this sequel, as he does not own the rights to the original. Daveigh and producer Adam Fields are the only creative links between it and the original film. The sequel received mostly negative reviews.

Adaptations

Marcus Stern, Associate Director of the American Repertory Theatermarker, directed a staged adaptation of Donnie Darko at the Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridgemarker, Massachusettsmarker, in the fall of 2007. It ran from October 27 to November 18, 2007, with opening night fittingly scheduled on Halloween.An article written by the production dramaturg stated that the director and production team planned to "embrace the challenge to make the fantastical elements come alive on stage." In 2004, Stern adapted and directed Kelly's screenplay for a graduate student production at the American Repertory Theatre's Institute for Advanced Theatre Training (I.A.T.T./M.X.A.T.).

References

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