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Does Donnie Darko make the cult club?

Updated on March 12, 2014

Movie Title: Donnie Darko
Director: Richard Kelly
Writer: Richard Kelly
Date of Release: January 19, 2011
Nationality: American
Genre: Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi


Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhal) is a schizophrenic teenager who decides to stop taking his medication which leads him to Frank (James Duval), a giant monstrous rabbit that encourages Donnie into vandalism and murder. On October 2, Donnie sleepwalks and encounters Frank, who tells him that the world will come to an end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. Shortly thereafter, a jet engine unknowingly crashes into the roof of Darko’s room, salvaging his life because he was sleepwalking that particular night. Troubled by this, Donnie attempts to hack time travel with the help of Grandma Death’s published work on time travel. His search leads to an impending doom that may or not be the growth of his insanity.


Donnie Darko has marginal grandeur through its heroic, depressed, and schizophrenic main character. Darko has a history of violence and is on and off with his medications. As a result, he begins having larger illusions of grandeur which lead him to believe committing several acts of vandalism, and eventually murder, will transform him into a hero. Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) is a teacher at the high school, Middlesex High School, with interesting teaching methods. Upon the arrival of new student, Gretchen Moss (Jenna Malone), she invites her to sit next to the boy she thinks is the cutest. Her unordinary teaching methods are highlighted by another teacher in the school, Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), when she proposes that Graham Greene’s “The Destructors” is inappropriate reading material for school.

Richard Kelly’s film, even though it presented marginal topics of mental health and long standing theories of time travel, did not receive mass criticism or was withheld anywhere. The most criticism associated with the film is the criticism within story context of books and love-fear opposites.

Did Donnie Darko actually live in tangent universes?

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Economically, Donnie Darko ranks as one of the highest rated movie theatre flops. It was produced with a $6 million dollar budget and made back a mere $1.2 million back during its theatre stint. The release date being close to the events of 9/11 and the jet engine crash being central to the story did not aid in sales. DVD sales earned more than $10 million thanks to New York City’s Pioneer Theatre, however, which in wake of its box office flop, began showing the film at midnight showings.

Donnie Darko transgresses the notion of a boy battling serious mental health problems in a world stifled by its own problems which are made to look either black or white. What Donnie does; vandalizing his high school mascot, causing a flood in his school, and burning down the home of media darling who was actually an undercover child pornographer- it was all done in an attempt to save the world from impending doom. Someone with mental health issues with the nature of illusions of grandeur was capable of switching what were good and bad, and transforming it into a coup of salvation. The use of satire in the love-hate opposites proposed by motivational speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) is a commendable act of transgression. The films over the top mockery of the black and white divide of emotions, especially Darko’s mockery of it to his teacher, Kitty Farmer, transgressed the cultural norm of the happy go-lucky motivational speaker who is only posing as a get-rich scheme.


The Donnie Darko cult following is well known. After its box office flop, the film went to DVD and acquired a large following of teenagers whom believed in the reverence of the film. Darko is a niche film that enabled the creation of a lot of websites attempting to analyze and explain what the movie meant. There are multiple analyses of time travel and its relation to mental health, as well as multiple websites explaining the different universes’ Donnie Darko lives in throughout the story. The Frank bunny costume has been replicated over and over again as Halloween costumes and for fun by the avid fans of the movie. Here are some sites that attempt to explain the film through its time travel theme:

In fact, the Darko community began its growth during the midnight showings of the film in New York, when it received most of its genre credentials. There isn’t a known ongoing community of individuals who still get together for a ritualistic viewing of Donnie Darko, so the film ranges low on the criterion for community.

From its 80’s driven Gary Jules’ “Mad World” inclusive soundtrack, to “28 days… 6 hours… 42 minutes… 12 seconds. That… is when the world… will end”, Richard Kelly glorified Darko in its genre’s quotation heaven. Donnie and Frank’s interaction in the movie theatre in which Donnie questions why he is wearing “that stupid bunny suit” and Frank replies by asking him why he is wearing “that stupid human suit” is one of the most revered movie lines of our time. Even Karen Pomeroy’s (Drew Barrymore) request to Gretchen Moss (Jenna Malone) to “sit next to the boy [she] thinks is the cutest” has stood the test of time.

Needless to say, Donnie Darko established that depressed, schizophrenic teenagers too, could save the world. Thus, reviving the icon of the anti-hero waiting on the world to end.



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