Jake Gyllenhaal Related A Lot To Donnie Darko, Except For All That Rabbit Stuff

Donnie Darko is your typical moody teenage boy. He also happens to frequently converse with a giant bunny rabbit named Frank (James Duval) and thinks the world is going to end in approximately 28 days — just read his forearm! He is also pretty sure that time travel is real, and that the crazy old lady who the neighborhood kids have nicknamed "Grandma Death" (Patience Cleveland) somehow holds the key to understanding all of this. 

As the main character of Richard Kelly's 2001 film "Donnie Darko," Donnie's psyche is on full display as viewers watch him struggle to understand his true purpose in life after a gigantic jet engine falls off a plane and smashes into his room one night while he's out sleepwalking. When it was first released, the movie bombed at the box office — it only made a little over $500,000 against a $4 million budget (ouch) — but it has gone on to become a cult classic that is beloved by anyone who gets a thrill out of moderately undecipherable plots and vaguely Lynchian cinematics. If you manage to follow the film's complex storyline about time travel, portals, and the end of the world, you'll come away from the movie having watched an interesting albeit elaborate take on self-sacrifice, love, and the importance of realizing your own destiny.

"Donnie Darko" appeals to teens looking to watch more indie flicks that require more than their fair share of heavy lifting to understand the plot. It resonates with a younger population simply because it captures the angst and low-level anxiety of adolescence, making it a perfect coming-of-age story. In fact, even Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Donnie Darko in the film, related to his character from the beginning.

Everything but the rabbits

When Jake Gyllenhaal signed on to "Donnie Darko," he was only 19 years old. He had recently completed work on Joe Johnston's "October Sky," and he was excited to take on the role of Donnie in part because the character resonated with him. "I was frantically running around Los Angeles, doing loads of auditions. I remember pulling over to the side of the road to finish reading Richard [Kelly's] script and being mesmerized," he told The Guardian in 2016. The movie's plot appealed to Gyllenhaal because it had roots in traditional filmmaking but also veered into stranger territory. "It was clearly influenced by classic directors — Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg — but with this strange psychosis," he explained.

A teenager himself at the time, it seems that the complex struggles of Donnie really spoke to Gyllenhaal. "It beautifully captured the experience of moving into adulthood: The world that felt so solid becoming moveable and liquid," he explained. The movie does haves an uncanny ability to pick up on the frailty of the boundary between childhood and adulthood, and for Gyllenhaal, Donnie's coming-of-age story struck close to home with one significant difference. "This is what my adolescence felt like," he told The Guardian. "Although I don't speak, and have never spoken to, rabbits." 

Considering how things end for Donnie in the film, that's probably for the best.