Donnie Darko

Super Duper Analysis

A Poem by Donnie Darko
(from the deleted scenes off the DVD)
A storm is coming, Frank says.
A storm that will swallow the children,
and I will deliver them from the kingdom of pain.
I will deliver the children back to their doorsteps;
I'll send the monsters back to the underground.
I'll send them back to a place where no one else can see them,
except for me
because I am Donnie Darko


Donnie accepts his death, understanding what his continued life would mean. Most of the film takes place in a tangent universe, where Donnie is guided by Frank and others, and shown what will happen if he survives the jet engine.

Does Donnie choose to die? To me, this is hard to answer. At one point, Donnie asks his physics teacher about free will versus following the 'path of god.' We can actually see this 'path of god' for some people when their movements are predicted by some computer graphics. On a larger scale, Donnie has been marked for death as his path, and it is debateable as to how much choice he really ever had. I think to say he accepts it after losing Gretchen and killing Frank is the most accurate perspective.

Another theme of the film is dying alone. Grandma Death says that every living creature dies alone. In a way, Gretchen, Frank, and Donnie all do die alone. Donnie thinks about this doom in questioning the existence of god. He is often a lonely guy; the idea seems unfair. I think this theme is really about having to accept our own deaths. We need to see that the destruction of ourselves is just another form of creation -- something Donnie himself points out (in his own way) in analyzing Graham Greene's story in school.

Detailed Analysis

In the beginning, Donnie wakes up in the middle of the road near the top of a mountain. He smiles in amusement at his own sleep-walking, which is how he got there.

At the dinner table we are introduced to Donnie's family. Donnie doesn't fit perfectly, but they still love him. If you include the deleted scenes, Donnie will say goodbye to each of these characters before he dies. In the final cut, we just see him kiss his older sister on the cheek before he drives away from his house with Gretchen for the last time.

Donnie, feeling guilty about fighting with his mom, starts taking his medication again. This, it seems, will induce more sleep-walking. The deleted scenes mention that they were actually placebos the entire time, and we know Donnie actually sleep-walks either way.

Donnie's dad wakes up in the middle of the night. The point is that these sleeping problems run in the family. In one of the deleted scenes, his dad says to him, "I used to be crazy..." implying Donnie's emotional problems are also genetic.

We see the clock strike midnight. This helps us keep track of the time left until the end of the world. Donnie probably talks to Frank on the golf course between 1 and 2 am, which means the world ends around 8 am. We will see the clock strike midnight one more time.

"Wake up, Donnie," we are introduced to Frank as he awakens the hero for the first time. Richard Kelly says this is the moment we enter the tangent universe. The writer (R. Kelly) suggests we take everything literally in a sci-fi fashion, but I prefer to think of this (the main/tangent universe) portion of the movie as a vision or dream of Donnie's.

Donnie talks to Frank in the golf course. The extended scenes on the DVD contain a longer conversation -- this is how, for example, Donnie knows that Frank's name is Frank. The end of the world can be viewed as the collapse of the tangent universe, which I like to think of as the end of Donnie's vision.

We see Elizabeth (Donnie's older sister) sneaking home. Her boyfriend, who is the pre-death Frank, drives away and honks. Watching the movie, even with the extended/ deleted scenes, I don't think you could tell that pre-death Frank was supposed to be her boyfriend. I only know this from the director's commentary.

Boom! the jet engine crashes into the house. Scary stuff, dude. No one is hurt. When we return to the real (non-tangent) universe, it is still unknown where this engine came from. Kelly says the engine is the only physical artifact which survives from the tangent universe. The website hints that in real life, the plane it came from remains unharmed, even after halloween.

Donnie is found asleep on the golf course. We meet Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), and Donnie catches the weird vibe.

Some other Donnie Darko pages
  • Cellar Door
    Curious Facts

    The pills Donnie is taking are actually placebos (from the deleted scenes).

    Frank is Donnie's older sister (Elizabeth)'s boyfriend, which you can only really tell from the deleted scenes.

    The red car Frank drives really is the actor (playing Frank)'s car.

    The actor playing Frank (James Duval) really is the guy in the bunny suit the whole time. Richard Kelly says "we couldn't afford anyone else." (Which is esp funny since they mostly didn't pay the actors at all.)

    Donnie and Elizabeth Darko (Donnie's older sister) are played by Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, siblings in reality.

    The movie was shot in twenty-eight days, exactly the time-span of the movie itself, and on a budget of under five million.

    Alex Greenwald (the badass from school) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie) are good friends in real life. Alex is also a singer in the band Phantom Planet along with Jason Schwartzman (from Rushmore).

    Jena Malone is pretty cute.

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