Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko” has managed to become somewhat mythical among movie buffs, despite being so widely celebrated. It’s a movie with a fairly simplistic tale about time travel and paradoxes, but also has been interpreted by many people and injected with ideas that fit the general frame work of what “Donnie Darko” is. Some people call it a Christ allegory, some people call it a time travel movie, and Kelly himself has called the movie “Catcher in the Rye” if it were written by Phillip K. Dick. There is a surefire hint of author Phillip K. Dick in the way that our main character Donnie Darko is stuck in this hazy world of suburban conformity and alarming aggression. It seeps in to the desperation to be accepted and act accordingly by just about everyone.
Darko is never quite asleep, nor awake. Richard Kelly makes the town Darko inhabits feel like this dreary world stock piled with hideous people, all of whom spit out anyone remotely self-aware or willing to break down any kind of walls. The way I’ve always seen is that “Donnie Darko” is about multiverses, a comic book movie with various universes but no superhero in general. Donnie is one of the only people living in two realities where fate is pushing him to move back and forth as a force and live out two actions that can affect his environment. Reality A and Reality B is what Donnie is living when we see him.
One reality sees Donnie living through the plane crash, which allows him to meet his girlfriend Gretchen, and somehow disrupt the lives of some. His mom manages to stand up for herself, Jim Cunningham has his house go up in flames thanks to Donnie while being revealed as a vicious pedophile. Kitty Farmer is also taken down as someone who was believing in a false idol; however the confrontation in the field results in Gretchen dying by being run over by the car.
Had Donnie not survived the plane crash, the Darkos would have never met Gretchen, and she might just survive to live her life. However Jim will likely be revealed as a pedophile further down the line than Donnie decides on, while Kitty is almost never going to be taken down as alpha female of the community, judging and deciding for everyone.
It’s really up to Donnie to decide whether he wants to die and allow Gretchen to live through Halloween and perhaps in to a better life without him, or if he wants to stay alive and be one of the elements that caused her death. It’s interesting to note that, though Gretchen never actually meets to Darkos or knows who Donnie is at the end of the movie, there is a semblance of both universe having some how drifted in to one another. When Gretchen waves at Rose Darko, they have some hint of knowledge of one another, perhaps a trace of Donnie staying behind in some form. At least Rose does, even though it’s never indicated that she has the powers Donnie does.
When we meet Jim Cunningham, as played by Swayze, he becomes the virtual pied piper or uniformity and conformity who also simultaneously becomes Donnie Darko’s adversary until the very end. Through the very end, the idea of the Fear and Love lifeline seems abstract and absolutely simplistic about life‘s bigger choices, but they do matter in the grand scheme of Donnie’s own life. He fears being alone and is terrified of dying alone, and chooses love with Gretchen, The only way he can save her is by choosing loneliness and confronting his fear.
The way most people in his town are capable of not being alone by accepting conformity which grants them love by folks that appreciate their lack of identity. Although that’s not gospel as the two most unique characters in the narrative, Karen Pomeroy and Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff are alone, but they are at least together in the final scenes. “Fear” and “Love” seem like ridiculous extremes to build decisions on, but for Donnie it means just about everything as his decisions are ultimately based on Fear of, and Love for.
Everything in between is blank and can be altered by his own sense of awareness of time and paradox. Self-sacrifice is what Donnie is all about from the moment we see him, and his jumping between two realities and two fates never makes him whole. While Frank the Bunny is arguably a figment of Donnie’s imagination, he’s also quite real in that he exists in one reality. Donnie is quite real in that he’s alive and conscious, but he’s also dead in one reality after being hit by the stray plane part.
So Frank and Donnie are one and the same, and never quite conscious, solid beings or mere ideas that are flesh and bone until the very end. So should Donnie not carry out the final act of violence which kills Frank, would it alter the very fabric of time? Would Donnie cease to exist or would Frank the Bunny simply stop appearing to Donnie allowing Frank the man to somewhat move forward in his own timeline?
It’s also never truly indicated if Frank could have seen visions of his fate, even though everything in the climax seems to come together like a puzzle. Donnie can decide his fate and his future, but regardless he can’t escape the principles of life, which is human cruelty, the unfairness of life, and that some people ultimately have to die. It’s all about balance and perhaps ascension to a higher state of being beyond the world of a droning, monotonous suburbia, and people hopelessly victim to their fears, and desires to be loved.
The 4K restoration of Donnie Darko will premiere at the Vista in Los Angeles on March 30th, and officially open in Los Angeles at the Cinefamily and in New York at Metrograph on March 31st.