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Donnie Darko a.k.a. “Donnie Darko—Fürchte die Dunkelheit,” “Donnie Darko—Karanlik yolculuk,” “Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut,” Донни Дарко

MPAA Rating: R-Rating (MPAA) for language, some drug use and violence.

Note: This review is of the theatrical release version, not the Director’s Cut DVD that is rated R “for language, some underage drug and alcohol use, and violence.”

Reviewed by: Thaisha Geiger

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Sci-Fi, Mystery, Thriller, Drama
1 hr. 53 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 28, 2001
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Featuring: Jake Gyllenhaal (as Donnie Darko), Holmes Osborne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase, Mary McDonnell, James Duval, Arthur Taxier, Patrick Swayze, Mark Hoffman, David St. James, Tom Tangen, Jazzie Mahannah, Jolene Purdy, Stuart Stone, Gary Lundy, Alex Greenwald, Beth Grant, Jena Malone, Seth Rogen, David Moreland, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, See all »
Director: Richard Kelly
Producer: Pandora Cinema, Flower Films, See all »
Distributor: Newmarket Films

“Life is one long insane trip. Some people just have better directions.”

“Donnie Darko” is a low-budget film that was released in 2001. Initially, it wasn’t successful, but later gained notoriety through critical acclaim and by word-of-mouth. Several years after its release, it is now considered a cult classic. In the aftermath of its success, a Director’s Cut was released in 2004, increasing the film’s enigma. However, this review is based entirely on the theatrical cut. While “Donnie Darko” is fresh in its uniqueness, its invocation of confusion is the direct result of its many paradoxes.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled teenager who sees hallucinations of a freakish rabbit. This tall rabbit is named Frank, who often causes Donnie to sleepwalk. One of these episodes saves him from being killed when a plane’s engine crashes into his room. The rabbit then tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. During this countdown, Donnie questions the supernatural, time travel, and the purpose of his visions. While the plot is much more complicated than this, this is the essence of the dark thriller.

The directing and the cast are top notch. “Donnie Darko” marks debut of its director/writer Richard Kelly. No question or doubt arises from the film of his strong talent. Director Kelly, indeed, creates an intriguing film which immediately hooks the viewer with its twists and turns. In the forefront, Jake Gyllenhaal is able to expertly show Donnie’s troubles through his facial motions and body language. While Donnie is an outcast, his character is very well-rounded, and the audience could empathize with some of his actions. Albeit, his behavior isn’t always appropriate, but he remains relatable.

Some of the secondary characters are incredibly two-dimensional and even cheesy. Perhaps these portrayals were included to help Donnie emerge as one of the only sensible human beings in the film. Not only is Donnie insightful with his science and English teacher, he seems to be the only one to see through the façade of local author Jim Cunningham (more on him later).

While “Donnie Darko” begins promisingly, the ending never solves its paradoxes, instead leaving an impenetrable trail of unanswered questions. In its wake, it leaves an unpleasant feeling of being dumbfounded. The film explores many issues of the supernatural, predestination, and time travel. Within these topics are even more themes and subtleties that eventually make this film too rich and too thick with substance for any logical analysis or mental digestion.

After rewatching some scenes, I still felt unanswered and have come to personally theorize that the paradoxes are purposeful, with any absolute answers permanently out of the equation. With this in mind, I would have to say this film is a very clever debut for having people want to discuss and debate the film.

The film’s appropriately rated “R” for its heavy cursing. While there’s no nudity, sexual discussions do occur, including a graphic, profane discussion about blue smurfs having sex. There is also some passionate kissing between Donnie and his girlfriend, Gretchen. Someone gets run over by a car and gets shot in the face.

Some mentions of God are made, though nothing is blatantly for or against God. Within its themes, one could make connections to the Bible. Donnie tearfully says that he does not want to be alone. There are so many people like Donnie in the world. Shunned by loved ones or deep in their sins, they feel utterly alone in their despair. Some might find themselves in an endless hole of depression and in search of something to fill the void, something to give them a purpose or rest. Jesus compassionately offers an invitation to all. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus warmly said:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In the film, a local author is Jim Cunningham (an amazing Patrick Swayze). He creates a new wave of letting fear go and having more love. Women swoon over his charm and good looks, and followers are devoted to his enlightening message. While he has an idol status, Jim is actually a perverse man behind closed doors. Throughout the entire time, Donnie seems to be the only one to see through the author’s lies and façade, even calling, at one time, an antichrist. Cunningham’s teachings are indeed false and against Christ. He teaches that fear is the reason behind drug addictions, premarital sex and even obesity. In his nonsense, people are essentially not guilty for their actions since all their sin is derived from fear and nothing else.

While the fear/love theory is absurd, there are similar ones currently out. While human advice can be good, we must remember what Paul warned in Colossians 2:8,

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world, rather than on Christ.”

After my first viewing, I have to admit that I nearly hated “Donnie Darko” for its confusing message. During my second viewing of some scenes, I appreciated its artistry more from picking up a lot of the different subtle hints. However, great film or not, I do not personally recommend it. If you do decide to view it, be forewarned that the movie contains heavy profanity and several instances of sexual dialog.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—“Donnie Darko,” a tribute to the unknown. It portrays the dilemmas adolescent kids face on a daily basis. Yes, while there is provocative content throughout, we need to ask, how realistic would this film be without it. Don’t get me wrong, the film is far fetched, with its tall, ominous rabbit, Frank. But there are many realistic elements. A struggling family, a dysfunctional family. We see Donnie as a underdog, someone who is no one. But as soon as Frank intervenes the path changes.

I feel like there are many spiritual elements to the film, with Frank acting as a guardian angel over Donnie through the story. In the end, we see Donnie sacrifice his life for others, so they don’t come to harm. It was interesting to see how Richard Kelly portrayed his sacrificial behavior in a unique way. We see how one life can affect many and impact those around us. Overall, a great film, and does not deserve the flack that it gets.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Jon, age 21 (USA)
Negative—I recently watched “Donnie Darko,” and it has to be the most disturbing film I have ever seen. While it is intriguing with its exploration of time travel, philosophical conundrums, and moral dilemmas, the film uses frightening images, extremely offensive language (swearing and sexual), and confusion to navigate through each concept. What bothers me most about the film is how it takes evil and tries to make it appear good. All of Donnie’s actions (prompted by Frank) would be considered delinquencies; however, because they all result in some kind of good (exposing a child porn addict, for example), his actions are justified.

I thought the movie itself put it succinctly when Donnie’s English teacher (Drew Barrymore) discusses a book where some children ransack an old man’s house. Their destructive behavior is seen as good because the book is using “irony.” I believe the director was going for this exact effect with “Donnie Darko.” The movie also takes things which are good and makes them appear evil. Hence, the taking of a bunny (something normally benign, or even good and childlike) and turning it into a demonic-looking rabbit, which to me represented fear incarnate. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Ariel, age 22 (USA)
Comments from young people
Neutral—This film is the kind of film that leaves you without sleep for days afterward. The film, no matter how astounding the story is, found its fame in the fact that it never tells you how all these paranormal events add up. Donnie goes on a long journey and never knows what’s going to happen next. He only knows what he gets from hallucinations of a giant, freaky, quotable bunny rabbit.

This film is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and its paradox way of making you think is one of the ways you come to appreciate it.
See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Zack, age 15 (USA)