Donnie Darko – USA, 2001

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Donnie Darko is a 2001 American dark fantasy film written and directed by Richard Kelly. The film depicts the adventures of the title character as he seeks the meaning and significance behind his troubling Doomsday-related visions.

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Main cast:

Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore (Scream), Patrick Swayze, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone, and Mary McDonnell.

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Budgeted with $4.5 million and filmed over the course of 28 days, it initially grossed just under $7.7 million world-wide. The limited U.S. release of the film occurred during the month after the September 11 attacks. It was subsequently held back for almost a year for international release. Since then, the film has developed a large cult following, resulting in the release of a 20 minutes longer director’s cut.

A 2009 sequel, S. Darko, centers on Sam (Daveigh Chase), Donnie’s younger sister. Sam begins to have strange dreams that hint at a major catastrophe.

Plot:

On October 2, 1988, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a troubled teenager is awakened and led outside by a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume, who introduces himself as “Frank” and tells him the world will end at a specific time in 28 days. At dawn, Donnie returns home to find a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. His older sister, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), informs him the FAA investigators do not know where it came from.

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Donnie tells his psychotherapist, Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross), about his continuing visits from Frank. Acting under Frank’s influence, he floods his school by damaging a water main. He also begins dating new student Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), who has moved to town with her mother under a new identity to escape her violent stepfather.

Gym teacher Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) blames the flooding on the influence of the short story “The Destructors”, assigned by dedicated English teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore), and begins teaching attitude lessons taken from motivational speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). Donnie asks his science teacher, Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle), about time travel after Frank brings up the topic, and is given the book The Philosophy of Time Travel, written by Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), a former science teacher at the school who is now a seemingly senile old woman.

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Dr. Thurman tells Donnie’s parents that he is detached from reality, and that his visions of Frank are “daylight hallucinations”, symptomatic of paranoid schizophrenia. Donnie disrupts a speech being given by Jim Cunningham by insulting him in front of the student body, then burns down Cunningham’s house on instructions from Frank.

When police find evidence of a child abuse operation in the house’s remains, Cunningham is arrested. During a hypnotherapy session, Donnie confesses his crimes and says that Frank will soon kill someone…

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Reviews:

“… the drowsy surrealism and elaborate inconclusiveness of Donnie Darko will simultaneously guarantee it a rabid cult and put it way off limits to the don’t-get-its. It shares with David Lynch’s Eraserhead a stubbornly-what-it-is unhipness that ensures inadvertent, and possibly perennial, hipness … But the flaws, if you find them to be so, are merely grit in the texture.” Rob Gonsalves, eFilmCritic.com

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“I guess what bothered me the most is the utter “importance” that was placed on every insight revealed along the way. As if the filmmaker were bashing you over the head to say, “You better pay attention because parts of this film are really, really deep and meaningful.” Well, for some, maybe, but not for me.” Chris Gore, Film Threat

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“Donnie does not want to be terrified of his demons any more, delusional or otherwise, and doesn’t want them to poison the lives of everyone around him either. Donnie Darko isn’t perfect, either as horror film or psychological study. But what a refreshingly different, distinctive piece of work it is.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

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