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DONNIE DARKO (2001)

DONNIE DARKO is a unique cult film that sheds light on society's ignorant and self-preserving ways. From the zombie-esque private school, to the largely ignorant old-school parents, to the demonic bunny rabbit, to the possible taboo conception of time travel, DONNIE DARKO follows one boy's journey into self discovery that can only occur with the manipulation of time and a few good doses of prescription pills.

The cast includes: Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, James Duval, and Patrick Swayze.

Written and Directed by: Richard Kelly.

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Genre: Sci-Fi, Mystery, Thriller.

Tagline: From time travel to a demonic bunny rabbit, Donnie Darko is anything but ordinary.

Rated: R for language, some drug use, and violence.

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Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is depressed. Stifled by the overtly conservative and pretentious surroundings of his seemingly perfect All-American suburban hometown, Donnie Darko struggles with ‘feeling normal’ as society attempts to over analyze and medically suppress his very natural pubescent hormonal tendencies. Ascribing depression, anger, tension, etc. to a ‘severe mental problem’, Donnie’s parents give the go ahead for his psychiatrist to prescribe him precarious pills. Meanwhile Donnie’s rebellious sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) antagonizes Donnie while subtly scheming her own left of the middle tendencies, shouting “Go Dukakis”!

Donnie’s mother, Rose Darko (Mary McDonnell) is worried for her son, and inquires as to his nightly escapades. But Donnie seems less than interested in talking to his mother and sinks into sleep after a hearty dose of his medication. Once under its affects however, Donnie begins to see a demonic bunny rabbit that calls to him in the night and beckons him to do malicious acts which the rabbit claims is for the better good. He also tells Donnie that the end of the world is coming upon the termination of Halloween night, and that all of these acts serve a purpose to fit into some ‘greater plan’ for the approaching apocalypse.

Half-conscious, half-intoxicated, Donnie obediently acquiesces to the bunny’s orders, slashing water mains in his private school, etc. Meanwhile, a mysterious airplane loses one of its engines which drops into the Darko house, ironically enough, directly into Donnie’s room. But Donnie, luckily, was out on one of his nightly trips with the bunny and escapes certain death. His escape, it seems, only brings about a somehow causal chain events, which also introduces the ‘new girl in town’, Gretchen Ross (Jen Malone) who quickly becomes Donnie’s new girlfriend.

Seemingly the only person he can confide in, Donnie begins to let Gretchen in on his less than normal nightly adventures. Meanwhile the overtly cheesy Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) moves into town and uses his good looks, debonair, and rhetoric to convince people to buy into his pathetic “are you a product of fear” campaign; which Donnie does his best to call him out on, calling Cunningham’s theory a “bunch of crap” and telling him that he is nothing short of the “antichrist”.

Of course his super conservative, wholly ignorant school shuns Donnie and does their best to support Cunningham’s efforts. Meanwhile the appropriately ironic dance group Sparkle Motion, coached by the zealous do-it-all, know-it-all, conservative, ignorant mother/teacher Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) delivers their, ironically saucy, dance number at the school’s talent show. Simultaneously Donnie goes to torch Cunningham’s home, after his bunny rabbit friend Frank (James Duval) directs him to complete his mission.

Meanwhile, between Donnie’s destructive acts, his private school is struggling to come to terms with the highly controversial teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) who has begun teaching the children a Graham Greene novel, which the local PTA finds to be highly controversial and poisonous to their youth. Of course Miss Pomeroy is simply a normal teacher attempting to educate her children with a less conservatively subjective literary cannon which only outrages her stiff-necked employees and neighborhood parents. Her boyfriend Professor Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle), all the while, has begun conversing with Donnie about the concept of time travel. Having given him a book written by none other than a former teacher of the school, Robin Sparrow, Donnie Darko begins to pique his interest in the “Philosophy of Time Travel”, which includes concepts of mysterious agents, like the bunny rabbit, which Donnie has been frequently experiencing. Deciding that his episodes with Frank the bunny rabbit are somehow related to time travel, and that the end of the world is possibly not really the end of the world but somehow a personal apocalypse determined by time travel, Donnie begins to avidly study the precepts of time travel and question Frank’s commands.

After Donnie’s parents leave town for the weekend, Jim Cunningham's burnt down house is searched, and, gasp, a kiddy porn room is found, desecrating his pretentious "Christian" reputation! Of course Kitty Farmer believes it to be a conspiracy and launches a Jim Cunningham support campaign. Meanwhile Donnie and Elizabeth host a Halloween party on the final night before the 'end of the world'. But a quick trip to Grandma Dead’s house proves fatal for Gretchen, and as a masked man exits his car Donnie begins to finally understand what it is all about… Heading home to his bed, Donnie falls asleep awaiting the plane engine to fall into his room on a night 28 days before the present.

DONNIE DARKO is an interesting and haunting cult film that will leave you in an extreme of paradoxical opinions. Between being spell bound and disinterested, compelled and disgusted, critical and examining, “Donnie Darko” will extract levels of critical commentary from the observer while simultaneously offering its own social critique. By parodying and thus critiquing the small All-American iconoclastic suburb Kelly extorts the true harms behind ignorant and overtly influential parenting, the negative effects of negligent parenting, the truth behind possible causalities of over prescribing medication (the critique by the way is not that all drug induced children will see demonic bunny rabbits…), etc.

DONNIE DARKO is an interesting and haunting cult film that will leave you in an extreme of paradoxical opinions. Between being spell bound and disinterested, compelled and disgusted, critical and examining, “Donnie Darko” will extract levels of critical commentary from the observer while simultaneously offering its own social critique. By parodying and thus critiquing the small All-American iconoclastic suburb Kelly extorts the true harms behind ignorant and overtly influential parenting, the negative effects of negligent parenting, the truth behind possible causalities of over prescribing medication (the critique by the way is not that all drug induced children will see demonic bunny rabbits…), etc.

Between a magnificent performance by Jake Gyllenhaal (this is a long way from Bubble Boy), which contrasts brilliantly with Beth Grant and Patrick Swayze’s satirized roles, an acute soundtrack, and brilliant cinematography that works with temporal and visual elements, “Donnie Darko” is sure to be both a cult classic, and an artistic masterpiece that a truly perceptive critic will be only too happy to appreciate. “Donnie Darko” is a breath of fresh air, a unique ‘ghost story’, social criticism, comedy, and drama all rolled into one that takes dark humor and controversial material to the next level. Both gracefully handled and innovatively depicted, “Donnie Darko” is sure to be a unique viewing experience among the countless repeats of modern day Hollywood. This film smacks of the controversial “Stepford Wives” precepts and Kelly is likely to be associated with notoriously controversial film director Stanley Kubrick for his left-of-the-middle interpretations.

Main Characters:

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, the compelling antihero who is struggling to find his way in life and his way out of his catatonic static suburban prison.

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Elizabeth Darko, Donnie’s antagonistic sister whose apparently rebellious tendencies are subtlety thwarted by Donnie’s nightly escapades.

Mary McDonnell plays Mrs. Rose Darko, Donnie’s despairing mother who is torn between wanting to give up and wanting to fight like hell for her oddball child.

James Duval plays Frank, Donnie’s demonic bunny rabbit friend who only appears when he is under the influence of his prescribed medication.

Patrick Swayze plays Jim Cunningham, the overtly positive iconic role model with a dark secret.

Jena Malone plays Gretchen Ross, the new girl in town whose haunting past attracts Donnie and who quickly becomes Donnie’s girlfriend.

Beth Grant plays Kitty Farmer, the penultimate ignorant and overtly conservative mother, school employee, and head of the local dance team who personifies the social criticism at its best.