Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Donnie Darko (2001)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Donnie Darko (2001)

In writer/director Richard Kelly's mystifying debut cult film about a highly unstable, tangential or parallel universe - a psychological thriller re-released in 2004 - with 20 minutes of added footage for a director's cut:

  • the early scene of the obscenity-laden, crude pizza dinner conversation during the Dukakis-Bush 1988 presidential campaigns (Elizabeth: "I'm voting for Dukakis") in a suburban Middlesex, Virginia home among the members of the dysfunctional Darko family, including conservative mother Rose and father Eddie (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne), and their three children: recent high-school grad Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) (who was working at the Yarn Barn), annoying younger daughter Samantha (Daveigh Chase) and the title character, the eccentric 16 year-old middle child Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhall) - a disturbed teenager with paranoid schizophrenia who was in therapy and taking medication
  • on October 2, 1988: the scene of Donnie saved from death when a detached jet engine crashed into his second-story bedroom while he was out sleep-walking - he had been summoned away by Frank at midnight ("Wake up. I've been watching you. Come closer. Closer. 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is when the world will end"); Frank (James Duval) was a weird and demonic 6-foot-tall rabbit, a doomsday-messenger of the apocalypse who was on a countdown - he predicted the end of the world (actually the end of Donnie's life); during another encounter with Frank in his bathroom, an invisible barrier separated them, and Donnie was asked: "Do you believe in time travel?"
Sightings of Frank - 6 Foot Tall Rabbit
On Golf Course
In Bathroom
In Movie Theatre
Frank Revealing Himself as a Teenager
With Bloody Right Eye Wound
  • Donnie's worried thoughts about dying alone - thoughts that were first whispered in his ear by his elderly/senile neighbor Grandma Death (or Roberta Sparrow) (Patience Cleveland) who authored the book "The Philosophy of Time Travel," given to him by his science teacher Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle)
  • a succession of strange images sprinkled throughout the film, hinting that there was a tangential universe: (1) an unhappy fat girl wandering through Donnie’s high school, (2) a bronze statue of the high school's mascot - a squatting mastiff, (3) Donnie's Phys. Ed. class watching a videotape about "Fear Management", (4) students in Donnie's HS class taught by Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) - a beatnik English teacher, who assigned the reading of Graham Greene's nihilistic The Destructors; because of Donnie's detachment from reality and personality issues, and his belief that the world was about to end, he exhibited strange behaviors: he flooded his school, and committed arson - presumably following directions from "Frank"
  • Donnie's growing romantic relationship with 'new girl in town' girlfriend Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone) - going together as a 'couple'; she voiced the fantasy sci-fi film's premise: "What if you could go back in time, and take all those hours of pain and darkness and replace them with something better?"
  • Donnie's confrontation in front of his class with his strict, censorship-promoting health teacher Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) teaching about the Life Line continuum between FEAR and LOVE; her curriculum was derived from self-help videos developed by guru and motivational speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze); Donnie refused to place an X on the line drawn on the blackboard ("There are other things that need to be taken into account here. Like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can't just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else"); she threatened to give him a zero for the day; Donnie was reprimanded and brought to the principal's office, for telling off the teacher ("He asked me to forcibly insert the Life Line exercise card into my anus!")
  • the scene of science teacher Dr. Monnitoff discussing time-travel and time-space wormhole theories with him
  • Donnie's therapy sessions with psychologist Dr. Lilian Thurman (Katharine Ross), who began a regimen of hypnosis and increased Donnie's meds (although they were placebos); Donnie revealed his fear about what Grandma Death had said to him: "Every living creature on earth dies alone"
  • the scene of watching football on TV with his father, when Donnie hallucinated visions of liquid ectoplasm spears or tubes of fluid light emanating from his father's chest - indicating where he was going to walk
  • the character of self-help speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) who during a school assembly, lectured the young audience about 'instruments of fear" -- "Entirely too many young men and women today are completely paralyzed by their fears. They surrender their bodies to the temptation and destruction of drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex. Now, I'm going to tell you a little story today. It's a heartbreakingly sad story about a young man whose life was completely destroyed by these instruments of fear. A young man searching for love in all the wrong places. His name was Frank"); Donnie and Gretchen were in the audience; skeptical of the message, Donnie approached the microphone with an impertinent question for Cunningham: "How much are they paying you to be here?" and finished by insulting the quack: "I think you're the f--king Anti-Christ"
  • midway through the film while on a date with Gretchen at a Halloween Frightfest movie-theatre showing of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, Donnie's envisioning of the rabbit "Frank" removing his mask - revealing a teenager with a bloody, mutilated right-eye wound (a foreshadowing)
  • the performance of Samantha's dance group Sparkle Motion (Mrs. Darko chaperoned) in a Los Angeles talent show - Star Search '88
  • after Donnie's arson of Jim Cunningham's house, the revelation of a hidden, kiddie-porn dungeon in the ruins - Cunningham was actually a demonic, perverted child pornographer who would be arrested
  • the scene of Donnie vigorously and intelligently discussing the sexual habits of Smurfs to his friends
  • at Grandma Death's house, the sequence of a tragic car accident that killed Gretchen; witnessing the accident, Frank asked: "Is she dead?" (Donnie shot Frank through the eye)
  • the scene of the plane (carrying Donnie's mother and sister who were returning from Los Angeles) - observed by Donnie from an overlook, who saw a dark vortex and a mid-air explosion that ripped off one of the jet engines - this caused a time-loop sequence that reversed time and returned Donnie 28 days to an earlier date - October 2, 1988 - to change the course of history (Donnie's death!); Gretchen's voice repeated her earlier question: "What if you could go back in time, and take all those hours of pain and darkness and replace them with something better?"
The Time Tunnel Portal
The Crashing Jet Engine
Ending: Gretchen Waving at Donnie's Mother after His Death
  • Donnie had willed the Earth to reverse itself from October 30 back to October 2nd - 28 days (as forecast by "Frank") - the day that Donnie had earlier been spared; the plane's jet engine crashed into the Darko house - a second time - but this time, Donnie was in his bedroom sleeping and perished in the disaster
  • in the final scene the next day, Gretchen (who hadn't died in a tragic car accident) rode her bike by Donnie's house and waved to his distraught mother Rose; Gretchen never died or had even met Donnie

Darko Family Pizza Dinner Conversation

Detached Jet Engine

Grandma Death Whispering in Donnie's Ear

Ms. Farmer's Lifeline Continuum Between Fear and Love

Discussion of Wormhole Theories

A Liquid Spear

Perverted Motivational Speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze)

Sparkle Motion

The Sex Life of Smurfs

Gretchen's Death

Frank Shot in Eye After Gretchen's Death

Envisioning the Vortex


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