Released in 2001 and directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko is a science fiction film regarding time travel and mental illness. Donnie, played by Jake Gyllenhall, is a troubled teenager living in suburban Maryland who struggles with schizophrenia and a history of violence. Donnie begins to experience bouts of sleepwalking as a result of not taking his medication.
His parents (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne) and sisters, Elizabeth and Samantha (Maggie Gyllenhall and Daveigh Chase), worry about him. At the dinner table one evening, Donnie and Elizabeth get into an argument during which his sister demonstrates that she knows Donnie is no longer taking his medication. As a product of guilt, Donnie resumes taking his medication.
On October 2nd, which so happens to be the presidential election of 1988, Donnie sleepwalks out of his house and meets a giant, demonic-looking rabbit named Frank. This man in the menacing bunny costume reveals to him that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. The next morning, Donnie wakes up on the green of a local golf course and returns home. Upon arrival, Donnie discovers that a jet engine has mysteriously crashed through the roof of the Darko’s house and has destroyed his bedroom. Had he not been sleepwalking, the crash would have killed him.
Frank continues to show up in Donnie’s mind as he tries to figure out why he survives and how to deal with people in his town. Since Frank saved Donnie’s life that night, Donnie feels that he must obey Frank and figure out why the world will end.
To make matters worse, Donnie has a troubled relationship with the faculty at his high school. Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore), the high-school English teacher, appreciates his intellect and his ability to understand the difficult reading material she assigns them. The science teacher, Mr. Monnitoff (Noah Wyle), finds Donnie a bit troubling, and Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), the high-strung and socially conservative health instructor is offended that he questions her use of self-help tapes in class.
After he profanely rejects her use of the simplistic methods espoused by local celebrity Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), Donnie finds himself suspended from afterschool activities. Frank continues to appear to Donnie and tells Donnie that they can do anything and won’t get caught. Frank also tells Donnie about time travel, further confusing him. Donnie speaks about time travel with Mr. Monnitoff, who gives him a book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, written by Roberta Sparrow. Frank continues to reveal himself in Donnie’s mind, causing him to commit acts of vandalism and worse.
As the final date draws closer and closer, Donnie is drawn into an alarming series of events that may or may not be a product of growing insanity.