Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001) is a psychological horror film surrounding the hallucinations, fears, and relationships of the title character, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal). The story involves not only Donnie Darko’s personal life but also the concept of time travel, as Donnie attempts to piece the universe back together. In the middle of the night, Donnie is lured outside by the voice of a hallucination who is later known as Frank (James Duval). Donnie sleepwalks onto a golf field, where Frank tells him when the world is going to end. Soon after, during the same night, a corruption in time occurs, and a jet engine from an unknown aircraft in a different universe crashes into Donnie’s room. Donnie feels that Frank saved his life, so he starts obeying everything Frank tells him to do, no matter how dangerous or destructive. Frank eventually leads Donnie to Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), a senile old woman who a book on time travel years before. Upon meeting her, Roberta tells Donnie that “every living creature on earth dies alone.” This idea of dying alone deeply upsets Donnie, and he discusses this fear with his psychiatrist (Katharine Ross). Donnie’s violent actions leads to the death of his girlfriend, Gretchen (Jena Malone) and Frank, now no longer a hallucination, but a normal teenager in a bunny suit. After their deaths, the universe is back in order, and Donnie can return to the time before the jet engine fell. The film then cuts back to before the crash, and shows Donnie laughing in his bed by himself. He lays down and the jet engine crashes into his room, killing him. This last laughing scene is most commonly interpreted as Donnie’s acceptance of his death.
Thesis: This film explores the idea of death and dying alone through both Donnie’s stereotypically teenage experiences, his struggles with his mental illness, and the philosophy of time travel, and uses the idea that “destruction is a form of creation” to explain the purpose of Donnie’s violent actions.
Topic 1: Donnie’s interaction with Freudian symbols, such as cigarettes, represent his battle with the belief of having control over his life and having a predetermined destiny.
Topic 2: While on the surface, Donnie’s destructive acts seem like nothing but senseless acts of violence to get revenge or simple teenage desires, but their purpose is to piece the universe back together.
Topic 3: As a teenager, Donnie struggles to figure out who he is and what he believes, which is further prompted by the pressure to obey Frank, fit in at school, and maneuver the societal norms he is placed under in a somewhat conservative city.