Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac)
Jena Malone (Saved)
Mary McDonnell (Scream 4)
Holmes Osborne (Bring It On)
Katharine Ross (Hellfighters)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight)
Daveigh Chase (S.Darko)
James Duval (May)
Drew Barrymore (Poison Ivy)
Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing)
Noah Wyle (ER)
Beth Grant (Wonderfalls)
Fran Kranz (The Cabin In The Woods)
Seth Rogen (Paul)
Ashley Tisdale (Scary Movie 5)
On October 2, 1988, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a troubled teenager living in Middlesex, Virginia, 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 in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. 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.
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. Conservative gym teacher Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) blames the flooding on the influence of the short story “The Destructors”, assigned by dedicated liberal English teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore), and begins teaching attitude lessons taken from motivational speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). Donnie rebels against these motivational lessons, leading to friction between Kitty and Donnie’s mother Rose (Mary McDonnell).
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. The book explains that time travel is possible when there is a disruption of the time continuum of the Primary Universe. The disruption creates a fragile Tangent Universe, which can only exist for a few weeks before collapsing into a black hole which will utterly destroy the Primary Universe. When a Tangent Universe is created, a metal Artifact will mysteriously appear there. It must be returned to the Primary Universe to re-establish the original time construct and dispel the danger of complete destruction. The book describes the roles of the Living Receiver, who receives Fourth Dimension powers to ensure the Artifact is returned so that the Primary Universe continues, as well as the Manipulated Living and Dead. Those who die in the Tangent Universe (the Manipulated Dead) can time travel to appear in that universe before their deaths. They must guide the Living Receiver and create an Ensurance Trap, which forces the Living Receiver to use Fourth Dimension powers and return the Artifact to the Primary Universe. Once time is restored, people will probably have no memory of what happened in the Tangent Universe, though they may have disturbing dreams. Donnie reads the book but doesn’t understand how it applies to him. (The book is available on the DVD of the film and is essential to understanding what happens and why.)
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 pornography operation in the house’s remains, Cunningham is arrested. During a hypnotherapy session, Donnie confesses his crimes to Dr. Thurman and says that Frank will soon kill someone. Rose agrees to replace Kitty as chaperone for her daughter Samantha’s (Daveigh Chase) dance troupe in Los Angeles, so Kitty can testify in Cunningham’s defense; with her husband Eddie (Holmes Osborne) in New York on business, her older children are home alone.
Donnie and Elizabeth take the opportunity to throw a Halloween party to celebrate her acceptance to Harvard. Gretchen arrives, distraught that her mother has disappeared. Realizing that only hours remain before Frank’s prophesied end of the world, Donnie takes Gretchen and two friends to seek Roberta Sparrow at her house. They are attacked by two school bullies (Alex Greenwald and Seth Rogen) who are attempting to rob Sparrow’s house, and the fight spills into the street. An oncoming Pontiac Trans Am car swerves to avoid Sparrow who went for her daily walk to check her mailbox, but runs over Gretchen, killing her. The driver is Elizabeth’s boyfriend Frank (James Duval), wearing the same rabbit costume as the Frank of Donnie’s visions. Donnie shoots him in his eye with his father’s gun, killing him.
As a vortex forms in dark clouds above his house, Donnie drives into the hills and watches as an airplane descends from above. The plane, carrying Rose and the dance troupe, is wrenched violently as one of its engines detaches and falls into the vortex. Events of the previous 28 days recapitulate in reverse order and action, propelled by Donnie’s powers, until Donnie finds himself in bed in the early hours of October 2. The Ensurance Trap has worked. He sits laughing uncontrollably, knowing that his fate is to die – so that his mother, sister, Gretchen and Frank may live and the black hole will be averted. Suddenly, the jet engine (Artifact) crashes through his room, killing him – as it should have done and now does in the Primary Universe. Others with whom Donnie had interacted in the 28 Tangent World days awaken, some looking disturbed. Gretchen rides by Donnie’s house and learns of his death from a neighborhood boy (Scotty Leavenworth), but says she did not know him. Gretchen and Rose exchange a glance and wave as if they know one another, but cannot remember from where.
This is one of the best cult classics of all time which is very bizarre and complex with a great lead by Jake Gyllenhall and is Richard Kelly’s one hit wonder which has a very sad ending.