Donnie Darko

Winningly edgy teen-angst sci-fi tragicomedy.
  • Review Date: May 16, 2008
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 2001
  • Running Time: 113 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

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 you can argue that he sacrifices himself in the end to undo all that and save others. Donnie's parents, despite all the family and social dysfunction, have a solid and loving relationship.


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.


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.


"F--k," "s--t," and "bitch" (son says this to his mother).


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.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that much swearing (from all ages) and sex talk represents 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 violent death at the end.

What's the story?

In a cozy affluent suburb in October, 1988, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a rebellious teen, smart but diagnosed with mental illness and sort of a misfit at school, is lured from his bedroom by a phantom wearing a grotesque, metal-masked rabbit costume. The rabbit, \"Frank,\" tells him exactly when the world will end -- in 28 days. Meanwhile a shattering series of events disrupt Donnie's already-unsteady world, including young love with a new girl at school. A plane engine falls out of nowhere onto his house, a sympathetic English teacher (Drew Barrymore) is punished for her choice of literature in the class, a youth-mentoring positive-thinking guru (Patrick Swayze) brainwashes the community, visions of wormlike appendages emerge from people's chests, and a neighborhood crazy lady turns out to be an ex-nun scientist who researched time-travel and metaphysical cause-effect paradoxes. Got all that? More menacing visits from \"Frank\" the rabbit lead to a Halloween night revelation, and Donnie realizing his pivotal role in this weird, interconnected web of destiny.

Is it any good?


DONNIE DARKO was embraced as a genuinely oddball "cult" item almost instantly upon its unsuccessful theatrical release. Like most cult movies, it 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?

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what in the twisty plot is "real" or not, and whether the "philosophy of time travel" holds up. Could this whole story all be the result of delusional Donnie not taking his medication, as his family complains at the start? Did Donnie ever have control over the events that unfold?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 10, 2001
DVD release date:February 4, 2003
Cast:Drew Barrymore, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone
Director:Richard Kelly
Studio:Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:113 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language, some drug use and violence

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Teen, 15 years old Written byEvan182 February 23, 2010
age 13+

Donnie Darko

First I need to say.... This is my favorite movie. It is amazing..... Anyway parents need to know that this movie is not the most explicit r movie. But there is violence, a bunch of f bombs and teenage smoking and drinking. Parents check this out before your kids do.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 15 year old Written byKishor42 May 3, 2010
age 14+

Worth watching

Its a good movie that helps parents to understand their teenager boys and girls,but I think we are in situation that demands kids to try to understand their parents.think we have gone so far trying to make them feel grown-up,courageous and self-reliant,at the same time,we did make them careless and selfish.need some media that will tell them that its not always your parents who has to tolerate everything just because you are a growing teenager,but its you who has to love and respect your parents,let alone"bich" them.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Written byAnonymous July 12, 2010
age 16+


Call me crazy, but this movie is waaaay too over the top. The overuse of strange moments in this movie shows that it's trying too hard. It tries to put teens in an unrealistic adult situation, while still trying to make it believable. Unfortunately, they try go off the deep end and make an overcomplicated mess of unconvincing characters, boring plot sequences, and an unskillful way of meshing fiction to real life. The sexual content and raunch factor is strangely high, and very much unneeded. The language is a stupid, constant stream of unintelligent vulgar ramblings that can be somewhat amusing, but not enough to push the viewer into Donnie's world. Also, the political and religious undertones of the films can be found detestable. The story meanders and piles more unbelievable happenings to this semi-realistic world. No one is a role model. The only saving grace of this film is Jake Gyllenhaal's acting and the somehwat intriguing ideas conveyed through the film. Extremely disappointing. 2 STARS.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing


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