"What's the point of living if you don't have a dick?"

Feature film debut by writer-director Richard Kelly, released fall 2001. To pigeonhole this movie by genre is to undermine one of its greatest strengths, its surprising versatility. Kelly learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; he shifts between comedy, melodrama, science fiction, and horror, sometimes holding them all within the same scene. Please refrain from reading the rest of this writeup until you have seen the film.

It follows the life of the titular Donnie, a high school student in the suburbs of Virginia, for one month, October 1988. Every detail of the period re-creation is startling and the total is immersive. From haircuts to earrings to cars to music--most notably Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears and Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division--the details are perfect, but they don't call attention to themselves and don't mean to provoke cheap laughs, the way most 80's films do.

Parts of this story are your typical 80's teen flick. Donnie is picked on by a mulleted bully. Donnie fights with his big and little sisters at the dinner table. Donnie finds first love with and loses his virginity to the new girl in his English class.

But Donnie also just narrowly missed being killed when a jet engine fell from the sky and crushed his bedroom. What happened to the plane? The FAA has no idea, they can't find it and aren't missing one. Where was Donnie at the time? He was sleepwalking, talking to a giant rabbit named Frank who told him the world would end in 28 days. Donnie had not been taking his medication.

So is it a feature-length episode of My So-Called Life or The X-Files? Both, and there's more: An oppressive supertext of right-wing mentality even as Reagan's rule comes to an end. Patrick Swayze stars as a self-help guru whose house is burned down by Donnie.

The rest of the cast is phenomenal as well. You know these people but you haven't seen them like this. Drew Barrymore as a mysterious English teacher who tends to scream expletives when she thinks no one's looking. Noah Wyle as a physics teacher and mentor who cannot reveal the secrets of The Philosophy of Time Travel lest he lose his job. Katharine Ross (Elaine from The Graduate) as Donnie's harried but kind therapist. Jena Malone (the young Jodie Foster in Contact) who displays stunning range for her age without ever quite breaking that icy exterior. And at the center of it all, Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie, who's hilarious, frightening, clever, and always completely real, even when he's hallucinating. You may have seen him as the lead in Bubble Boy. But probably not.

There are twists in the end of this movie. Not Keyser Soze or Sixth Sense twists, not the kind that buckle under applied logic. They enrich your understanding of the characters, and most importantly, you should have seen them coming all along.

I can't recommend this movie highly enough. It might just increase your understanding of yourself and the universe, and move you too. There's simply nothing else like it.



I have written this in order to attempt to explain the movie Donnie Darko to those who have already seen it. It is an incredible movie and also a very, very, very confusing one. It took some time and research for me to figure this out perfectly. (I may just be stupid, but I can't be the only one.) If you want to figure all this out for yourself, go to www.donniedarko.com, or better yet, just watch the movie and do it unaided, if you can. If that is not enough, go to ruinedeye.com/cd. If you want me to just tell you... read on.

The unusual-sounding terms used in the following explanation are taken from the movie's website at donniedarko.com, more specifically from the text of "The Philosophy of Time Travel" by Roberta Sparrow, which is not seen during the course of the movie. Read Kawika's node for the complete text.

The bulk of the film is Donnie going through a tangent universe created for him by a higher power where he is allowed to become aware of events that would occur were he to continue living in the primary universe. Basically, his girlfriend, his mother and his sister would die. Patrick Swayze's character would get discredited. Drew Barrymore's character would get fired, etc., etc..

He is given the chance to allow his death to occur by those who die in the tangent universe, namely Frank and Gretchen, both of whom are the instruments of a higher power. Both of these characters are able to manipulate Donnie to help him reach the decision he must make. Frank appears to him as the demonic rabbit and prods Donnie in the right direction. Gretchen's manipulation is much more subtle, and is incorporated into what Donnie thinks are the normal actions of her in the tangent universe. If she, in fact, does interfere, this most likely occurs when Gretchen returns to the party after she and Donnie make love upstairs. This is the "Manipulated Dead" version of her, and not the tangent universe version. He is also manipulated in the form of the "vectors" as Noah Wyle's character describes them or "Fourth Dimensional Constructs" as the movie's website would have it.

Donnie is basically presented with a choice: go on living and the universe will be like this. Die and life will be better for everyone else. This is why Donnie repeats the line, "I promise one day everything will be better for you", to a number of people towards the end of the movie. When events have run their course in the tangent universe, he elects to resume life in the primary universe from his bed, instead of on the golf course where he is towards the beginning of the movie (the inception of the tangent universe). He is then crushed by the jet engine and life goes on... without him. The only two elements that are changed in the primary universe as a result of Donnie's decision are his location at the time of the jet engine's fall through the wormhole and said fall, the former of which comes about through Donnie's choice and the latter of which occurred through the influence of a higher power.

The director, Richard Kelly, who I now realize is a much smarter man than I, says the following in an interview from RevolutionSF.com:

I think, ultimately, it's about accepting the inevitability of fate. Accepting that there is a great master plan behind it all. And, whatever choices you make, you were meant to make those choices. And I think, ultimately, in the end, he's enlightened.

You can interpret the ending in two ways. That when he's in bed, he's laughing because he thinks it's all a dream, and he's just going to roll over and go to sleep because he thinks it's all a dream. Or he's laughing because he's enlightened because he's seen the potential, and he's had a vision, and he's accepted…. He's had a religious experience. And that's greater and better than anything that we could comprehend. So, ultimately, I hope that it would be about enlightenment, more than anything else.

The other important line that is repeated regularly throughout the movie and is spoken originally by Roberta Sparrow is: "Every creature on this earth dies alone." The one item of speculation that I will include in this explanation is in regards to this line. It may be that in Kelly's universe, every living being dies of their own free will because they are shown in a tangent universe that life will be better for everyone else because of their death. This, I feel, is supported by Kelly's statements.

The only problem I can perceive in my overall interpretation of this movie is that, were Donnie to go on living in the primary universe without the interference of Frank and Gretchen, most of the horrible events that the tangent universe presents would not have transpired. Perhaps it was simply not Donnie's place to know what the future held for him in the primary universe and he was simply shown a tangent universe that would have assured his willing cooperation in his own death. If you can think of any event that takes place independently of the actions of the "Manipulated Dead" which would make Donnie's death meaningful, please let me know. For that matter, let me know all your thoughts on this fabulous movie.


Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion

Three notes: these thoughts are only my own speculations. Donnie Darko leaves many things open to the viewer's interpretation, and it's one of the few movies where I do not care to know the creator's intentions in producing the story we are watching. Secondly, as with any discussion of this movie, there are spoilers aplenty. Lastly, I've only seen this movie once, and it definitely bears repeat viewings. I'll update these thoughts upon subsequent viewings if necessary.

One of the most fascinating sub-plots in Donnie Darko, to me, is its damning condemnation of the educational system in the United States. At every turn, Donnie tries to gain knowledge that will help explain or justify his own personal situation, and at every turn, he is thwarted. The message is clear: conform, or else. He is punished by his teachers for asking dangerous questions. His own personal quest for order in his life is turned aside, sometimes gently, as when Professor Monnitoff during a discussion about metaphysics which turns religious in nature, softly tells Darko, "I am unable to continue this conversation." Monnitoff's regret is plain, yet his fear of losing his job is greater. At other times, Darko's need for knowledge is rebuffed much more strongly, such as when he confronts Jim Cunningham during a school assembly. Darko has the audacity to question Cunningham's motivational speaking methods in a school environment, and he is forcibly removed from the assembly by the school's administration.

Everywhere in the movie, true knowledge and open-mindedness in the school is denied, only to be replaced by false self-esteem. Donnie begins to react violently to this teaching method. He vandalizes the school. He burns Cunningham's house to the ground, thus exposing a 'kiddie porn dungeon'. Donnie, in anger, exposes the hypocrisy of a system that places narcissism (for that is where self-esteem without self-critical thinking skills leads, does it not?) above almost all else. This is beautfully portrayed when Sparkle Motion, a dance troupe of which Donnie's little sister is a member, wins a place on Star Search and it's apparent that many teachers at the school consider this grab for celebrity to be a pinnacle of educational achievement. Donnie, through his actions, exposes all the poisons that lurk in the mud, and hatches them out.

As the film progresses, his journey leads him to a point where he has (and more importantly, recognizes) the ability to choose to reverse his actions, and, in order to save the people that he loves the most deeply, sacrifice himself. But by doing so, by taking advantage of an effect-precedes-cause loophole that is either divine in nature or somehow takes advantage of the way the universe works, Darko chooses to die rather than expose these hypocrisies. By doing so, he saves at least three lives, at the expense of his own: his mother's, his little sister's, and his girlfriend, Gretchen.

And yet, the thought that occurred to me at the end of the film: I wondered if any sort of greater good was served. Many events did not occur due to Darko's ultimate choice. Cunningham's abomination goes undiscovered. Teacher Karen Pomeroy is not fired for her actions--actions which, in Darko's first trip through the month of October of 1988, were blamed for being the catalyst for the vandalism Darko perpetrates upon the school.

If, ultimately, the movie is about the choices we make, we as the viewers get to ponder the consequences of Darko's actions. If he chooses to live, some good is being served because he pries open the flaws and faults in our society, even though a lot of people die as a result. If he chooses to die, many people are saved ... but at what price? Are Darko's actions and decisions at the end of the film truly selfless, or the most selfish actions one can make, wasting a remarkable opportunity to truly effect change upon the universe? Did Donnie choose order over chaos, or vice versa?

It is up to the viewer to decide.

*extract from "The Philosophy of Time Travel"*

< p align="center">The Tangent Universe < p align="center">The Primary Universe is fraught with great peril. War, plague, famine and natural disaster are common. Death comes to us all. The Fourth Dimension of Time is a stable construct, though it is not impenetrable. Incidents when the fabric of the fourth dimension becomes corrupted are incredibly rare. If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable, sustaining itself for no longer than several weeks. Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence. < p align="center">The Artifact and the Living < p align="center">When a Tangent Universe occurs, those living nearest to the Vortex will find themselves at the epicenter of a dangerous new world. Artifacts provide the first sign that a Tangent Universe has occured. If an Artifact occurs, the Living will retrieve it with great interest and curiosity. Artifacts are formed from metal, such as an Arrowhead from an Ancient Mayan civilization, or a Metal Sword from Medieval Europe. Artifacts returned to the Primary Universe are often linked to religious iconography, as their appearance on Earth seems to defy logical explanation. Divine intervention is deemed the only logical conclusion for the appearance of the Artifact. < p align="center">The Living Receiver < p align="center">The Living Receiver is chosen to guide the Artifact into position for its journey back to the Primary Universe. No one knows how or why a Receiver will be chosen. The Living Receiver is often blessed with Fourth Dimensional Powers. These include increased strength, telekinesis, mind control, and the ability to conjure fire and water. The Living Receiver is often tormented by terrifying dreams, visions and auditory hallucinations during his time within the Tangent Universe. Those surrounding the Living Receiver, known as the Manipulated, will fear him and try to destroy him.

*end of extract*

To comply with the book "The Philosophy of Time Travel," when a jet engine is misdirected to a tangent universe, the protagonist, Donnie is chosen to realign the "artifact". If Donnie were to fail this task, the tangent universe, (which has recently collided with the 'real' universe) and the real universe itself will both fall apart. This is consistent with the idea that once the tangent universe and the real universe meet, existence is only possible for approximately 4 weeks. However, to ensure Donnie does not fail this task, he is aided by the manipulative dead, and the manipulative living. The manipulative living are often people associated with the "living receiver". The manipulative dead on the other hand are people who have died during the cycle of the tangent universe's existence. That is to say, that everyone Donnie comes into contact with helps him find out what he has to do.

The Fourth Dimensional Construct is made of Water. Therefore, Donnie's ability to conjure water allows him to contact Frank from the real universe. When Donnie is awake, we are shown the real universe that has been affected by the tangent universe. When Donnie is asleep, however, we are shown the tangent universe, where Donnie has superhuman strength (axe embedded in the solid statue).

When Donnie is awake, all the events that took place while he was sleep walking (in the tangent universe) seem very distant and vague memories. However when Donnie is hypnotized, he enters his subconscious memories and is able to tell his therapist what he did (flood the school, and "set fire to that perverts house").

Towards the end of the movie, Donnie understands how to use his powers and understands what he must use them for. He realizes that he has to send the jet engine back through a wormhole that appears. So, he uses his powers to tear the jet engine off the airplane that his family is in. Donnie accomplishes this at the top of the mountain where he woke up at the start of the film. There is some speculation as to why he returns here, however, if you watch the DVD with audio commentary, you find out he just wants a good view of what he is about to do.

At the end of the movie, Donnie is laughing. Again some people have compared this with the laughter at the beginning of the film where Donnie wakes up on top of the mountain. At the beginning of the film, Donnie laughs because he just woken up on top of a mountain… wouldn’t you? At the end however, he laughs for one of two reasons. One, he thinks that all the events that took place was only a dream, and an absurd one at that; or two, he realizes what is about to happen and is somewhat enlightened.

NOTE: "The Philosophy of Time Travel" by Roberta Sparrow is a fictional book created solely for the purpose of further explaining the ideas behind the movie. It can be found on the donnie darko website: www.donniedarko.com. The web site requires Flash and it can take a long time to load display.

Updated on 09/18/06 by GrouchyOldMan for copyright compliance. CST Approved

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut.

Donnie Darko - a film that could not be understood in its full glory neither on its first nor on its fifth viewing - deserves a user manual. In his own version of this motion picture, that is exactly what director Richard Kelly is offering.

Contains mild spoilers.
Do not read unless you have seen the original Donnie Darko film

Donnie Darko is, of course, the story of Donnie, a young man going against the grain of society, of life, and subsequently of Everything. A deeply tormented boy who, through his special gift (or is it his insanity) is penultimately offered a choice of his life for that of somebody he loves, ultimately choosing his own demise for the Greater Good.

With undying characters such as the secretly-in-love fat chinese girl, the psychoanalyst whose highest purpose in life is to make sure Donnie does not succumb to atheism, the paedophile-ring-leading self-help-video star, the devilishly handsome but conclusively cowardly science teacher and, of course, the extraordinarily well-tuned brother-and-sister duo Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal, the scene is set for a truly remarkable and memorable movie.

This extended, director's cut edition is topped up with footage that was obviously gathered up from the cutting-room floor - some of it is of particularly bad quality, with scratches, dust, and other problems. Some frames even have crosses and other editor's marks through them. But in considering this film, it becomes thoroughly clear that Kelly has taken a good, close look at why the film seemed to confuse so many people, and push them in the right direction.

It is difficult to tell whether viewers who did not see the original cut of Donnie Darko will get much out of the director's cut; Darko purists will point out that the director's cut is different from the original in much the same way that erotic art will be different from porn: Whereas erotic art goes through great trouble to allude to something that is definitely there, but avoids showing it at all cost, porn will fold those labia out across the screen, and add a few fluorescent blinking arrows pointing - just in case the viewer had not yet realised what s/he was supposed to be looking at.

Part of the sin is committed by letting the book, "Philosophy of time-travel" by Roberta Sparrow ("Grandma Death") play a far more active role in the film. The narrative is now driven forward, chapter by chapter from the book corresponding with segments of the film. It works, but it also rather patronising to the viewers who actually cherished being challenged, for once, when going to the cinema.

While Kelly has made the error of shaving off a great deal of the mystery about his debut masterpiece, he has also made the film a lot more accessible - both to those of us who somehow miraculously understood the film the way it was "supposed" to be understood, and to those who failed to grasp the concept the first time around (or even missed the picture altogether). This wheelchair-ramp director's cut of accessibility may be opening up the Darko experience to a larger audience - or milk the market for some cold hard cash - but its motives are largely irrelevant: The result is that Donnie Darko has become a far less active viewing experience - without adding much brain-power to the mix, it has become a far more enjoyable movie.

The sad thing is, Donnie Darko was never meant to be a movie to enjoy. It is a movie that was made to shake you awake, much in the same way that the Matrix films tried - but in a far less obvious, and significantly more existentialist kind of way.

Do not, under any circumstances, believe anyone who tries to tell you that this is a comfortable popcorn flick, however. Its punch-lines and twists offering the comic relief in this film are poignant as ever (not fewer, but further between, due to the overall increased length of this cut), but the film would have stood just as fine without them: It is a good, firm kick in the groin area. Not hard enough to kill you, but certainly firm enough to grab your attention remorselessly, directing your consciousness inward.

The director's cut is not only longer. It is stronger. It is scarier. It is more beautiful. Because it is easier to understand, it opens up a completely different path of contemplation. Instead of spending time trying to understand the movie, its message becomes clearer; This version of the movie stands as an immovable post-it note inked across your refrigerator, in such a manner that it becomes unavoidable - uncomfortably so - as you in your early-morning stupor grab for the milk to go with your cereal. It is serving as a reminder to the viewer: You are alive. But you shan't be forever. What are you going to do about it?

In many ways, the Director's cut of Donnie Darko is a beautiful piece of film-making. Ultimately, however, this edition primarily serves as an instrument of appreciation: The director's cut is a reward that deepens the satisfaction and understanding of the original movie, while having only limited value on its own. Then again, nobody but admirers of the Darko saga would spend £5 on watching a movie in a local art-house cinema at 11:15 on a saturday night, instead of investing the money in measures of alcohol at the public house.

You know there is something special going on, when you stumble out of a darkened cinema hall, out among a thousand drunk, singing people whose highest priority in life it is to try and hail a cab, and if they have enough cash left for the fare home, and you find yourself thinking... "I am alive. But I shan't be forever. What am I going to do about it?"

In the months after I first saw Donnie Darko I thought about it quite a bit. Mostly at night. As a matter of fact, if the thought of the film ever popped into my head, I would find myself spending hours upon hours contemplating the many ins and outs of it all. What does it all mean? What exactly happens in certain scenes? Is it making a commentary on something else? Is there anything that remains unanswered?

Wisely, writer/director Richard Kelly refuses to fully explain what everything means within the 113 minutes of his first (and thus far only) film Donnie Darko. Instead, leaving people like me to decode it on their own. To finally settle my mind (and to right my sleeping patterns) I wrote out every single thing that I thought about this film. And here it is:

***SPOILER ALERT***...obviously

The first quote in Ezekiel_Sk8’s post above is an excerpt from The Philosophy of Time Travel (available on all DVD versions of the film) explains a Primary Universe and how it can collapse upon itself. In Donnie Darko, the Primary Universe, the universe in which we live, is slowly unraveling due to all the negative aspects of the world. Examples seen in the film include the narrow-mindedness of Mrs. Farmer, those who conform to Jim Cunningham’s narrow-view of the world and his own horrible hypocrisy shown as he cries towards the end of the film and his child porn ring, the inability for Mr. Monnitoff and Mrs. Pomeroy to teach freely without restraint, the two relentless thugs who harass Gretchen and her parental situation, Donnie’s two friends who treat Cherita very unkindly for no reason and possibly even the political battle between Bush and Dukakis. Due to all these horrible things, a Tangent Universe has formed. According to the book, which in the film was written by Roberta Sparrow (aka “Grandma Death”) and given to Donnie the Tangent Universe that the world slips into (which occurs on October 2nd in the film) can only last for “no longer than several weeks,” as Donnie finds out via Frank, the exact time until the Tangent Universe collapses upon itself is 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. After that time, as mentioned in the excerpt, the Tangent Universe will collapse upon itself, and existence will end.

The first sign of the Tangent Universe being formed, according to Sparrow, is an “artifact” that defies logical explanation and she claims that “Divine intervention is deemed the only logical conclusion for the appearance of the Artifact.” Obviously, in the film, the artifact is the plane engine which falls onto Donnie’s room. And as hard as the authorities try to find the plane that the engine fell off of, they cannot, and never will. The engine was dropped by a higher power as the first of many clues for Donnie to follow in the right order with the eventual end result being Donnie sending a similar artifact back through a time portal, which, as stated by Sparrow, is the only way for the Tangent Universe to be closed, disaster to be averted and the Primary Universe to continue on as it was before the rift was caused.

Sparrow mentions how there is a “Living Receiver (whom) is chosen to guide the Artifact into position for its journey back to the Primary Universe. No one knows how or why a Receiver will be chosen.” This Living Receiver is Donnie. Sparrow states that the Living Receiver is given certain powers of great strength (thus how he can ram the ax into the statue) and is also subject to hallucinations, odd dreams and visions.

Enter Frank, the 6 foot tall bunny rabbit whom we are to assume is just a hallucination of Donnie’s at first, but there is much more behind Frank. For under the circumstances of the effects of The Living Receiver, the same higher power who created the artifact has created the illusion of Frank. Frank is supposed to guide Donnie along on certain tasks that will conclude with Donnie sending the artifact back to the Primary Universe. Donnie feels he must do everything Frank says, for as he cites when he is hypnotized, “I have to do what he says, he saved my life,” which he did when he took him out of his room and onto the golf course when the artifact was dropped onto Donnie’s room. The illusion of Frank is in fact based on an actual person, Frank is Elizabeth Darko’s (aka Donnie’s sister’s) boyfriend, and the image of the rabbit is in fact a costume that he has created to wear on Halloween at the end of the month. Yet the illusion of Frank is exactly that, an illusion.

Thus, this illusion of Frank and any other illusions Donnie has, gives him the following “clues” to follow:

• Frank takes Donnie out of his bedroom, saving his life, and thus, making Donnie feel as if he is indebted to him and must follow everything he says. He also informs him that the world will end in just over 28 days.

• A plane engine falls on Donnie’s room although he wasn’t there, authorities are unable to find where the engine came from

• Frank instructs him to flood his school via a dream he has about his school flooding and then appearing to instruct him to do this, which he does

• Frank, in a vision, tells Donnie that he can “do anything he wants” and “he (Donnie) can too.” And also mentions time travel for the first time.

• Donnie sees a vision of “liquid spears” showing people’s paths and movements before they take them. He is instructed by one of these “liquid spears” to go into his father’s closet, where he finds a firearm.

• Donnie tries ridding himself of Frank by stabbing him in the eye

• Frank shows Donnie what a time portal looks like in the movie theatre. Instructs him to burn down Jim Cunningham’s house, which he does.

• In the final time he sees the vision of Frank, we find out that Frank has been greatly manipulating the thought of Donnie. He then states that “Frank is gonna kill” and tells Donnie that “The sky’s gonna open up.”

Now in result of following those actions, or “clues,” the following events of the film occur:

DUE TO FRANK REMOVING DONNIE FROM HIS ROOM: Donnie feels he must do everything Frank says because he saved his life. Thus, follows along with every other command he gives him.

DUE TO THE ENGINE FALLING FROM THE SKY: Donnie eventually pieces things together and realizes the exact artifact that must be send back through time in able to save the world

DUE TO THE FLOODING OF THE SCHOOL: A PTA meeting is held in which Mrs. Farmer makes the overture that the material being taught is unsuitable for the school, thus resulting in the firing of a teacher that Donnie is very close with Mrs. Pomonoy. As she is fired, she puts the phrase “Cellar Door” on the chalk board and explains this phrase to Donnie. When Donnie enters the time portal towards the end of the film, we hear her repeat the phrase “cellar door,” which leads Donnie to suspect that he must enter Roberta’s house through her cellar door, where they interrupt a robbery in process by two thugs from school and eventually, leads to the death of Donnie’s love Gretchen. This also leads to Donnie meeting Gretchen, which as Donnie mentions, would have never happened if they didn’t have school cancelled that day.

DUE TO DONNIE’S FIRST VISION OF FRANK IN HIS BATHROOM: Frank decides to look into time travel with his science teacher Mr. Monnitoff, who in turn gives him The Philosophy of Time Travel, which explains the exact situation Donnie has found himself in and helps lead to his resolution that he must send the artifact back in time. It also gives him the idea that Frank wants him to speak with Roberta Sparrow herself, which helps lead him to her house towards the end, where Gretchen is killed.

DUE TO THE VISION OF THE LIQUID SPEARS: Donnie further comprehends the fate of each person, and realizes that he may be the only one who can see fate as it occurs, thus, realizing he can change things. It also gives him the idea to carry the firearm with him when he decides to go to Roberta’s house.

DUE TO DONNIE’S SECOND VISION OF FRANK IN HIS BATHROOM aka THE STABBING SEQUENCE: When Donnie sees Frank’s face unveiled, and realizes that he is behind all the bad things that have happened to those close to him, as well as the final component in Gretchen’s death, he shoots him in the eye. Which does not further the plot as much as it is simply Donnie thinking he is extracting revenge on the vision of Frank, when he actually kills the human form of Frank.

DUE TO THE MOVIE THEATER SEQUENCE AND THE BURNING DOWN OF JIM CUNNINGHAM’S HOUSE: Donnie can now recognize a time portal when he sees one. He also knows what Frank looks like (and that’s why he can shoot him later on). The burning down of Cunningham’s house results in Donnie’s mother having to chaperone the trip to Los Angeles due to Mrs. Farmer staying to defend Jim Cunningham and every other parent being unavailable to do so. Donnie receives the exact information of the flight they take via the telephone call during the party right before Gretchen and Donnie make love (it can be assumed he listens to the message after they are finished). As a result, Donnie knows exactly where the plane will be along its course when he has to do what he has to do (which I’m getting to…)

DUE TO THE FINAL VISION DURING DONNIE’S HYPNOSIS: He realizes that the portal will become visible from the sky, and that everyone will die if he doesn’t do what he must do (“Frank is gonna kill”)

Thus, the often confusing final events of the film are as follows:

• At the party, Donnie gazes through a time portal and hears the phrase “cellar door.”

• Thus, realizing time is limited and he still has not delivered his letter to Roberta Sparrow, he urges Gretchen and his friends to follow him to her house

• Upon arrival, he sees the cellar door of Roberta’s home, knows he must enter. Gretchen tags along.

• They are mugged by the two thugs, who drag them outside, yet as a car approaches, Donnie mumbles “Deus ex machina” (God coming forth from the machine) and this is indeed what happens. Roberta Sparrow stands in the middle of the road, with Donnie’s letter in hand (the letter we are to assume that she has been waiting her entire life for, which proves that Roberta probably had a vision of her own of all these events and thus, quit the church, wrote the book and lived on her own, waiting everyday for the letter and the moment that will complete her purpose in this master plan)

• The car swerves to miss Roberta, yet kills Gretchen in the process.

• Donnie shoots the human form of Frank in the eye, enacting revenge for all the bad things that he believes have resulted. Perhaps shooting him in the eye to say “I couldn’t kill you this way by knife, perhaps I can by bullet.”

• Donnie goes back to his house, with Gretchen’s body in tow. He plans to take his family’s car up to Carpathian Ridge, where he first woke up in the film after sleepwalking. On his way outside to the car, he spots a portal forming directly over his room, which is where the artifact will fall in the Primary Universe.

• He drives up to the ridge, recalling what Frank said about the world ending, as the police show up at Donnie’s to investigate the death of Gretchen.

• He overlooks the ridge and sees what Frank referred to as “the sky opening,” these are many time portals in the sky, just like Frank had showed Donnie. If you look closely, you can see the plane that Donnie’s mother and youngest sister are on approaching the portal.

• As the voiceover has Donnie recalling that time travel can involve “a metal craft of any kind” he uses the extraordinary powers he is given as the Living Receiver in this Tangent Universe to rip the engine from the plane his family members are traveling on (which helps him time exactly when it will be flying where it is) he then sends the engine through a time-portal.

• After completing this incredible task, Donnie stares at Gretchen…who is the ultimate motivation for Donnie to do what he has to do. Although he understands that he is saving the entire universe (As he is slowly figuring things out, he has the scene with Cherita in which he tells her “Someday, everything will be better for you,” which marks when he is enlightened and understands). Yet Gretchen is the ultimate because he loves her, and feels that he is giving her a chance to live.

• The Tangent Universe, the past 28 days, slowly unwinds and is extinguished. The only thing that remains is the artifact.

• Donnie lies in his bed, laughing, due to the fact that his mission was successful (He probably knows this because he is mysteriously back in his old room, pre-redecoration). The artifact comes slamming down into Donnie’s room, killing him instantly, yet saving the world.


Why does Donnie stay in bed? Does it tie into another loophole…which is…

• “Every living creature on earth dies alone,” which is possibly telling Donnie to stay in bed and die. As he must serve as a martyr for the entire universe? Is it possible that Roberta tells him this because she knows that he is the Living Receiver, yet perhaps made an error in not mentioning the Living Receiver’s necessary martyrdom in the book, and thus can only interfere by telling him this, which prompts him to stay in his bed? Or does she say it to help along Frank’s incentive to do what he says, as Donnie states under hypnosis, he feels if he doesn’t do what Frank says, he’ll be all alone.

• Many have cited a very subtle difference between the final moment before the engine hits in both universes. In the Tangent Universe, Frank (human form) drops off Elizabeth at her house as he speeds away and honks his horn. In the Primary Universe, Frank honks his horn, but stays in front of Donnie’s house as he does so. Many have taken this as a higher power that is trying to wake Donnie up so he can get out of his house and continue living. As fascinating as I think this is, I find the martyrdom of the Living Receiver to work better in the story.

• Perhaps there's a slight political commentary in the film? As the world is cited to end only a couple days before Election Day ’88 elects George H.W Bush as president of the United States? The election is mentioned multiple times throughout the film. The commentary on the absurdity of self-help (Jim Cunningham's shallow views), the glorification of physical beauty over actual statement in art (the talent show with Cherita and Sparkle Motion), the evil bureaucracy of education (the firing of Mrs. Pomeroy, the restriction of what Mr. Monnitoff can say to Donnie) and in a commonly overlooked detail, the intrusiveness of the government in our everyday lives (the man in the red suit is a FAA agent sent to spy on the Darko's over suspicion of the engine crash, he can be seen earlier in the film with the other FAA agents).

• For the record, the assembly scene seems to be the film’s most pivotal moment that does not advance the plot, but just shows Donnie as the anti-conformist that he is.

The films setting. Being a native Virginian, it’s clear that the film takes place in suburban Virginia, as evidenced by Virginia plates, a Virginia flag at the school, watching a Washington Redskins game on TV, the Middlesex Times-Dispatch (similar to the Richmond Times-Dispatch). But where exactly in the state does it take place in? This is mostly only interesting to Virginians like myself, yet it's something I wonder. Richard Kelly was born in Newport News, Virginia, and grew up in Midlothian, in the southeast suburbs of Richmond. The town Middlesex actually exists, but would be nothing like the suburban town in Donnie Darko, as it is a town of mere hundreds on Virginia’s eastern shore. The DVD special features, which include documents of Donnie Darko being arrested for arson (as mentioned in the movie) are labeled County of Fairfax, a county in northern Virginia.

• There is one non-spiritual event that moves the plot along. Donnie is suspended for mouthing off to Mrs. Farmer, not allowing him to go to after school activities. Thus he cannot attend his sister’s dance performance, thus he is free to encounter Frank in the movie theatre, find out about the portals and burn down Jim Cunningham’s house during that time. Yet!!! While this is a non-spiritual thing in the original theatrical cut of the film, Richard Kelly’s extended version has Frank stating to Donnie in a voice over to “Watch closely” as the film begins and thus, which leads Donnie to become angered.

• And while the question of who or what is the higher power in the film still bugs me, I don’t think its answer is entirely needed. As a matter of fact, it's something about the film I not only do not need to know, but could potentially ruin the mystery of the film.

The mystery of Donnie Darko is something I think I can say makes the film so great. These are my possible answers to this beautiful mystery of a film, but in no way are they “the” answers. Donnie Darko has all the components of a great movie, well-acted, tells a great story, has interesting characters, well written and visually pleasing. Yet I think it’s the mysteries of this film that has made it the cult classic it is today.

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