Donnie Darko is the protagonist and central character, who was a troubled teen living in Middlesex, Virginia durability the events of the movie.
Starting in October 2 of 1988, Donnie is visited by Frank, a mysterious being warning of impending doom. As the movie progresses through the 28 days in which it takes place, Donnie's life becomes more and more bizzare. He sees Frank more and more, whom instructs him to undertake various actions, constantly speaking of an impending "end of the world".
By the end of the film, Donnie has burned a house down, Flooded his school, commited murder, and is on the run from the authorities.
It eventually becomes clear that Donnie is a living receiver, one tasked with saving the universe from complete destruction, and that all of the things he did during the 28 days served to achieve this.
Donnie is a well meaning, yet misunderstood and troubled teenager. He is shown to somewhat lack social cues, but only to a very small extent. Donnie appears to be highly intelligent, but impulsive and sometimes reckless. During the events of the film, he seems to be superstitious and spiritual in nature, and often stands up rigorously for his beliefs. Donnie likely feels alienated from his surroundings and the institutions which surround him, sometimes outspokenly challenging authority and advocating for his beliefs.
Events of the Film
On October 2, 1988, Donnie sleepwalks out of his house, led by a mysterious voice. Once outside, he meets a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume who introduces himself as Frank and tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie wakes up the next morning on the green of a local golf course and returns home to discover a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. Donnie's family stands outside while the police, firefighters, and federal aviation administration agents investigate the scene. Donnie's sister tells him that the FAA cannot determine where the jet engine came from. Donnie and his family stay in a hotel briefly until the house is repaired.
Over the next several days, Donnie continues to have visions of Frank, and his parents, Eddie and Rose, send him to psychiatrist Dr. Thurman. She believes he is detached from reality and that his visions of Frank are "daylight hallucinations", symptomatic of paranoid schizophrenia. Frank asks Donnie, who in turn asks his science teacher, Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff, if he believes in time travel. Monnitoff gives Donnie The Philosophy of Time Travel, a book written by Roberta Sparrow, a former science teacher at the school who is now a seemingly senile old woman living outside of town. Donnie also starts seeing Gretchen Ross, who has recently moved into town with her mother under a new identity to escape her violent stepfather.
Frank begins to influence Donnie's actions through his sleepwalking episodes, including causing him to flood his high school by breaking a water main. Gym teacher Kitty Farmer attributes the act of vandalism to the influence of the short story The Destructors, assigned by dedicated English teacher Karen Pomeroy. Kitty begins teaching "attitude lessons" taken from local motivational speaker Jim Cunningham, but Donnie rebels against these, leading to friction between Kitty and Rose. Kitty arranges for Cunningham to speak at a school assembly, where Donnie insults him. He later finds Cunningham's wallet and address, and Frank suggests setting his house on fire. Donnie does so and flees the scene. The responding Firefighters discover a hoard of child pornography at the ruins of the house. Cunningham is arrested, and Kitty, who wishes to testify in his defense, asks Rose to take her place as chaperone for their daughters' dance troupe on its trip to Los Angeles.
With Rose and little sister Samantha in Los Angeles, and Eddie away for business, Donnie and Elizabeth hold a Halloween costume party to celebrate Elizabeth's acceptance to Harvard. At the party, Gretchen arrives distraught as her mother has gone missing, and she and Donnie have sex for the first time. When Donnie realizes that Frank's prophesied end of the world is only hours away, he takes Gretchen and two other friends to find Sparrow. Instead, they find two high school bullies, Seth and Ricky, trying to rob Sparrow's home. Donnie, Seth, and Ricky fight in the road in front of her house, just as she returns home. Ricky and Seth flee when an oncoming car swerves to avoid her and runs over Gretchen, killing her. The driver is Elizabeth's boyfriend, Frank Anderson, wearing the same rabbit costume from Donnie's visions.A second Frank can also be seen standing in the bushes in the same scene. Donnie shoots him in the eye with his father's gun, and walks home carrying Gretchen's body.
Donnie returns home as a vortex forms over his house. He takes one of his parents' cars, loads Gretchen's body into it, and drives to a nearby ridge that overlooks town just before the police arrive at his house. There, he watches as the plane carrying Rose and the dance troupe home from Los Angeles gets caught in the vortex's wake, which rips off and catches one of its engines. Events of the previous 28 days rewind. Donnie wakes up in his bedroom, recognizes the date is October 2, and laughs as the jet engine falls into his bedroom, crushing him. Around town, those whose lives Donnie would have touched wake up from troubled dreams. Gretchen, who in this timeline had never met Donnie, rides by the Darko home the next morning, and learns of his death. She and Rose exchange glances and wave, as if they know each other, but cannot remember from where, in a moment of déjà vu.
"Whoa, Elizabeth! A little hostile there. Maybe you should be the one in therapy. Then Mom and Dad can pay someone $200 an hour to listen to your thoughts so we don’t have to."
"I was in jail once... But I’m over all of that. I… I... I’m painting and stuff. Writing. I want to be a writer, or maybe a painter, I don’t know, or maybe both. I’ll write a book and draw the pictures. Then maybe people will understand me. I don’t know, maybe I can change things."
"I don’t know. I mean I’d like to believe I’m not, but I just… I’ve just never seen any proof so I… just don’t debate it any more. It’s like I could spend my whole life debating it over and over again, weighing the pros and cons, and in the end I still wouldn’t have any proof. So I just, I just don’t debate it any more. It’s absurd. The search for God is absurd."
"It’s amazing. The man thinks he’s telling the truth and everything he says is just a fucking lie! Everything he says! Everyone think he’s so rad. He’s such a fucking chud. Everything he does…"
"Well, if God controls time, then all time is pre-decided."
"How's it feel to have a wacko for a son?"
"Dear Roberta Sparrow, I’ve reached the end in your book, and there’s so many things I need to ask you. Sometimes I’m afraid of what you might tell me. Sometimes I’m afraid that you’ll tell me that this is not a work of fiction. I can only hope that the answers will come to me in my sleep. I hope that when the world comes to an end I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to."