Cult Film: Donnie Darko

Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone
Year: 2001


By Hayley Skinner

If ever someone asked me to explain Donnie Darko to them, I would tell them to go and watch it again. It’s a film that grossed a mere $7 million on its original release yet has become a cult classic in more recent years.

The film stars a young Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular character. It opens with Donnie laughing on a hill, a scene now iconic in the cinematic world. The events which transpire in the film follow Donnie, a potentially schizophrenic boy as he hallucinates about a giant rabbit named Frank. On Frank’s first appearance he leads Donnie to a golf course, thus saving his life as a plane engine smashes through the roof.

The ‘cult’ following of this film came not because of the acting or cinematography but because of the script. Having said that, Gyllenhaal is fantastic in his role, and despite it being early in his career he delivers a stellar performance. His ability to go from awkward teen to terrifying and twisted is what makes the film so dark and captivating. It is a film unlike any other that had come before it. As Frank reveals to Donnie that he only has 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds to live we watch Donnie live out his life in a way that we perhaps wouldn’t have, had Frank not appeared.

Donnie Darko explores a serious issue in Donnie’s schizophrenia yet intertwines this with the prospect of time-travel, and it’s only after you’ve watched this film for a second of third time that you notice all the subtleties leading to the shocking end. And yet even after you’ve seen all this film has to offer you’re still left wondering; what actually happened?

Donnie begins to create trouble within his town, first flooding his school and then setting a local author’s house on fire, all at the will of Frank. He doesn’t care about any of the repercussions as he laughs about his offences in his therapist’s office. As the day cited as the end of the world draws near Donnie and girlfriend (Jena Malone) travel to an old woman’s house looking for answers as to describe Donnie’s unique set of abilities. It is here the end of what is known as the tangent universe comes to a close. It’s hard to describe this film without spoilers, but I definitely won’t ruin the end.

What I will say is that Donnie Darko ends with the song ‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules. It’s a song that accurately describes this cult classic to a tee. The film is available on Netflix now and for anyone interested in a dark teenage drama it is a must-see.if (document.currentScript) {