A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
You can argue that Donnie's sacrifice is to save others and redeem his past behavior, but it's unclear if it was ever a choice.
Positive Role Models
We never get clinical details info on Donnie's emotional instability -- he may be delusionally schizophrenic, a defiant kid mistreated by The System, or both -- but the film is clearly on his side, as a smart and unappreciated boy. More than it is on the side of the people he scorns and hurts, like an upbeat gym teacher or a gung-ho motivational speaker. Donnie (possibly in a trance state) commits vandalism and sabotage and even murder, though he sacrifices himself in the end. Donnie's parents, despite all the family and social dysfunction, have a solid and loving relationship.
Violence & Scariness
A character fatally shot in the eye (appearing in bloody, ghostly form). Another character fatally run over by an automobile. Fistfights between teens, knife pulled on the hero. Gore is more extreme on the DVD "extras" and the Director's Cut.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Donnie and his new girlfriend have sex, though nothing is shown. Discussion of sex and (non-clinical) child pornography. A nude woman in a painting briefly glimpsed.
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Frequent swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "d--k," "goddamn," and hell. A young girl says "f--k-ass."
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Products & Purchases
There is an obscene teen discussion of the sex life of Smurfs (Donnie turns out to be a huge fan). A plug for the Stephen Hawking book A Brief History of Time and a certain national video-store chain.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens and adults smoke cigarettes. Donnie is supposed to take prescription pills for his emotional problems.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Donnie Darko is a dark thriller with a cultlike following. The movie has frequent swearing from teens, adults, and even a young child, and includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and more. There is also frequent sex talk that is supposed to represent the generally anti-establishment viewpoint of the hero here: an angry, possibly mentally ill teen. Classroom vandalism (apparently committed by the hero under some sort of spell) and profane disrespect of teachers and authority-figure adults is part of the plot, and not exactly frowned upon. There is teen sex (non-explicit), references to pornography, and violence, although there is very little blood. There is also a violent death at the end. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This movie was embraced as a genuinely oddball "cult" item almost instantly upon its unsuccessful theatrical release. Like most cult movies, Donnie Darko works well on numerous levels -- as a brainy piece of science-fiction, an ominous psychological thriller, a satire on suburban values, or a tragic drama of a doomed young rebel. If anything it goes a little overboard in making adults (especially teachers/faculty) look cowed or cravenly stupid compared with the unstable but intellectually brilliant Donnie, well played by Gyllenhaal as a guy who can be likeable, sympathetic, and scary all at once.
Though Donnie -- sometimes in a trance-state, sometimes consciously -- commits vandalism and lashes out, he's smart enough to sense the eerie time-warp pattern behind all the odd goings-on. And he's heroic enough to make a Christ-like sacrifice at the end, for the good of everyone else, when the "end of the world" comes. Though it's possible he never had a choice -- just the insight. But by making their hero a classic underdog teen trying to come to grips with society, rather than an adult, the filmmakers created a far more poignant tragi-comic-coming-of-age-giant-skull-faced-rabbit-horror drama. Can you name a better one?
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.