Classic movie reviews – Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko (2001) Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal; Patrick Swayze; Maggie Gyllenhaal

Dir.: Richard Kelly

In suburban America any attempt to attack social order is thwarted with venomous contempt. The case of Donald Darko is no different. Donald, or Donnie as he is referred to, is played by Jake Gyllenhaal and he faces a constant battle with mental illness. With the perfect family behind him living the consumerist dream they send him to see Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross) in an attempt to restore some degree of mental faculty.

Donnie suffers from sleep psychosis and walks under a hypnosis from a satanic voice. This voice, dressed as a Rabbit and later to be called Frank, leads him to the local golf course where he is told the world is going to come to an apocalyptic end. The Rabbit is then a recurring motif throughout the film bringing danger and destruction to Donnie’s chaotic life. The film follows an episodic narrative which counts down the days until anarchy as Donnie’s emotional struggles put strain on his family and his school work. Only finding minute liberation in Gretchen Ross (Jena Mal0ne) as his infatuation grows into a strangely satisfying relationship with the new girl at his school.

They made me do it
They made me do it – Donnie Darko

As the story develops an unidentifiable object crashes into Donnie’s room causing the house to be evacuated, the film then spirals into a battle between space, time and reality. Donnie discovers a book called ‘The Philosophy of Time Travel’ written by the town’s headcase, Roberto Sparrow and he begins to explore the realms and boundaries of time uncovering a strange power to be able to see peoples pre-formed paths. It can be said that if you don’t give this film your full attention you could lose the fabric of the story and find the theological message overwhelming. It controversially amalgamates science and religion in a mixture of confusion as Donnie faces the depths of mental illness and a distortion of all mental reasoning.


Donnie Darko explores the depths of Donnie’s mind, he is misogynistic at times but opposingly finds salvation in Gretchen Ross. This is bred from his fear of loneliness as confessed to Dr. Thurman. He detaches himself from reality when faced with life’s questions he does not understand or cannot answer and this is what produces his incoherent thoughts and images. I find it hard to explore the film’s true ideological messages in one review after seeing the film as there are so many questions to be answered. However, if you want a film that will engage you until the end and leave you with thought provoking questions long after the films end then I would recommend Richard Kelly’s masterpiece.

4 out of 5.

About Jack Miller

Film fanatic from Bedfordshire. I'm a big fan of social realism and anything by Shane Meadows! Enjoy dramas, thrillers & comedy and my favourite actor is DiCaprio. Keeps up to date with most sports and I'm an avid Leeds United fan forever being disappointed.

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