On October 2, 1988, in the small town of Middlesex, Virginia, intellectual but troubled teenager Donald J. “Donnie” Darko has been experiencing bouts of sleepwalking and wakes up on a road before cycling home. Later that night, led by a mysterious voice, he sleepwalks out of his home. Once outside, he meets a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume who Donnie comes to refer to as Frank who tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie wakes up the next morning on a local golf course and returns home to discover a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. His older sister Elizabeth tells him the FAA investigators do not know its origin. Over the next several days, Donnie continues to have visions of Frank. His parents, Eddie and Rose, consult with his psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman. She believes he is detached from reality and that his visions of Frank are “daylight hallucinations” due to paranoid schizophrenia. Frank begins to influence Donnie’s actions through his sleepwalking episodes, including causing him to flood his high school by breaking a water main. Donnie also starts seeing Gretchen Ross, who has recently moved into town with her mother under a new identity to escape her violent stepfather. Dr. Thurman hypnotizes Donnie at his next therapy session, but it ends with him discussing his sexual fantasies involving Christina Applegate while he unzips his pants, causing Thurman to end the session prematurely. Later, Donnie goes to a clearing and shoots bottles while his friends discuss the sexual components of Smurfs. While there, Donnie has an encounter with a seemingly senile old woman, nicknamed Grandma Death by the locals, who whispers in his ear “every creature on Earth dies alone”. Donnie later brings this up in one of his therapy sessions, admitting he doesn’t want to be alone.
Gym teacher and Christian fundamentalist 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 who both have young daughters in the same dance troupe. Frank asks Donnie, who in turn asks his science teacher, Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff, if he believes in time travel. Monnitoff gives Donnie some information on the topic, but later cuts their sessions short out of fear of losing his job, but not before giving Donnie The Philosophy of Time Travel, a book written by a former nun called Roberta Sparrow who has since become Grandma Death. Later, while watching football, Donnie notices bubbly columns emerging from the chests of people around him that show Donnie where the person will move, matching illustrations from Sparrow’s book. A bubble appears on his chest and he follows it to his parents’ closet where he finds and takes a gun.
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