Examination: Donnie Darko

Sunday, April 11, 2010 8:24 PM By Simon

Ladies and gentlemen, when I'm in a rut, when I have nothing else to talk about, on lazy Sundays such as these, when there's an overabundance of posts with no apparent purpose, I always turn to the subject of my undying curiosity: Richard Kelly's emo-tastic piece of brilliance Donnie Darko.

Now, what I'd normally do was rave of the performances of Mary McDonnell and Jake Gyllenhaal, the greatness of Kelly's direction, the absolutely amazing story, complicated enough to warrant many revisits, yet accessible enough to enjoy it the first time. People, for a time, this, to me, was my favorite movie.

Of course, that was before the Internet, when I was exposed to a great selection of films. But this shall forever remain in the top ten. I've seen it more than anything else, read into every line and innocuous detail, so that at this point, it's safe to say I am a minor expert on everything Darko.

Therefore, due to my severe lack of anything to do, here is a basic rundown of the ending, how it became the ending, and a small lesson in paradoxes (which, incidentally, I am also an obsessive of. That, and black holes).

(beware)

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I won't get into what Tangent and Primary Universes are, you can Wikipedia that shit. But, in my terms: Donnie was never supposed to live through the jet engine. The first time he lived, an event never explained, he went through the events of the film without Frank, our noble bunny. Or maybe he didn't. Either way, Frank ends up dead Halloween night, shot through the eye in his morbid blue rabbit costume. That's when we get the Tangent Universe. There, Frank, now a Manipulated Dead, or person who dies in the Tangent Universe, but cannot in the Primary (because they died as a result of events exclusive to the Tangent), goes back to the Primary, where he lures Donnie out of his house, avoiding the Artifact, aka the jet engine, the thing that falls through what I assume is a wormhole in space and time, the thing that sets off the two universes. The entire month where the Tangent Universe exists is not supposed to happen, and nobody can escape unless Donnie rights the situation.

Fastforward to the edge of the Tangent, the very end, where Donnie sits with Gretchen's corpse and watches the sky fall. The plane should not have been carrying his mother and sister, at the very least...presumably, Donnie's death would've caused grief, enough that Samantha would not have been performing at the talent show at all, much less have gone on star search. It's flying is where the warp begins. And so, when it's reset, he stays in his bed, laughing maybe from relief that it's over, maybe because he thought it was all a dream. Either way, he's gotten rid of Frank, wiped him out for the last time (the magical foreshadowing bunny, that guy...I still haven't figured out if the shooting, come to think, of Frank was in the other universes, or if the Frank we know, of the movie theatre especially, was a spectre from only this last universe), and he stays in bed while he gets pummeled by the Artifact. Because of this, presumably, Ms. Pomeroy won't get fired, Jim Cunningham won't be caught (though, as revealed by a puzzle on the website, he does kill himself a few days later. All's well), Kitty Farmer won't...loose her shit, I guess. As all these things were indirectly caused by Donnie's presence in the Tangent universe, a time he wasn't alive in the Primary, they are void. The paradox has been solved, technically called an ontological paradox.

The characters, during the "Mad World" sequence, react the very moment it's broken. As hinted throughout the film, they are the Manipulated Living, subconsciously aware of the situation, and trying to push the Living Receiver (Donnie, the variable) towards his goal. Presumably, they all feel the Universe breaking, as the ones directly effected by it, and can finally calm the fuck down.

Any questions?

5 comments:

Mike Lippert said...

Wow, I think I understand. Great job at clarifying, I've never thought of it like that. I still don't like this movie as I discovered a couple of months ago when I revisited for a blog post over at my site, but alas it was also my favourite for some time many years ago when it first came out. I've always read the ending, and maybe you'll negate this because you've obviously put much more thought into it than I, was about the choices we make between love and fear and how these two things are completely inseperable. So, when Donnie lives he is alive but unhappy (he gets in trouble at school, can't control his teenage sexual urges, seems depressed most of the time etc.) However, in the last scene upon Donnie death he is happy because he is relieved of the pressures of life but his greatest fear has come true: he has died alone, as expressed by Jenna Malone in the film's very last line of dialogue when the boy asks if she knew Donnie and her response is No. How did I do?

April 12, 2010 at 7:27 PM
Film Intel said...

I need to go back and watch this again. I've seen it twice but not for a substantial amount of time. I'm sure your explanation makes sense (and I remember that website puzzle as well) but perhaps, as many directors have claimed over the years, we don't need to get 'the answer' to enjoy the film. Certainly, like most people, I had no idea what was going on when I first watched Donnie and I enjoyed it immensely.

April 13, 2010 at 5:55 AM
Simon said...

@Mike, like I said (I think I said, at least), this is my interpretation, that is, the most literal I could think of in a very metaphorical movie. Your explanation to the last scene is good, too. This is just how I saw it.

@Film Intel, go watch it again, it's awesome. ...

April 13, 2010 at 12:05 PM
elgringo said...

Dear Simon,
how dare you make me think! I read blogs to see funny juxtaposed pictures of the Baldwin family and the movie Thumb Wars. But in all honesty, Donnie Darko was recommended to be by a co-worker at Hollywood Video. It had gone under my radar, which it did for a lot of people, even with it's big cast. This movie made me fall in love with Jena Malone...a love that went on hurt me over and over again as her terrible oeuvre continued to grow. The ending never really made a lot of sense to me so I watched the Director's Cut commentary which only made things more confusing. Your write up has cleared up a few points but I'd have to revisit it before knowing if I completely understand.

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May 20, 2010 at 12:04 PM
blake said...

Smooth explanation. I've never really thought it through to this detail.

May 21, 2010 at 6:25 PM