Donnie Darko

Director: Richard Kelly
Screenwriters: Richard Kelly

Institute History

  • 2001 Sundance Film Festival


Director/screenwriter Richard Kelly concocts an imaginative and elaborate narrative puzzle in his spellbinding feature debut. Simultaneously a penetrating examination of American life, a fascinating character study, and a mysterious voyage with a resounding resolution, Donnie Darko is edgy, yet accomplished; independent filmmaking at its most intriguing. It's not an easy film to describe because it is not generic in any fashion. Yet it's easily accessible, and a film that literally pulsates with vitality.

Donnie Darko is set in a typical upper-class suburb, certainly a familiar landscape for recent American films. The film's protagonist is a maladjusted teenager; actually, he's borderline delusional, beset by visions of a monstrous rabbit which is trying to keep Donnie under its sinister influence. Prompted by this apparition, Donnie commits antisocial acts while he is undergoing psychotherapy, surviving the vagaries of high-school life and romance, and fortuitously escaping a bizarre death from a falling jet engine. As the film develops, Donnie battles his demons, literally and figuratively, in a series of intertwining story lines that play with time travel, fundamentalist gurus, fate and predestination, and the machinations of the universe.

Complicated, at times ethereal, and consistently bold and unpredictable, Donnie Darko is potent and provocative. The film poses intense moral questions but steadfastly avoids easy or familiar answers, sending audiences out with their thoughts swirling and sensibilities awakened. A thoroughly professional cast, especially the brooding Jake Gyllenhaal, terrific special effects, and superior production values add to the film's impact. Kelly is one of the most distinctive voices in this year's festival.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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