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DanBuck

Donnie Darko

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Watched this film for the fourth time this weekend with some of my graduated students. (I have started a sort of impromptu advanced level film class with those who've finished my course, loaning out films and discussing between periods.) We watched it, took notes and we discussed it for an hour and a half. Here's what I've got.

Who sets this whole thing in motion? I get the feeling from the film that either the time hiccup (starting with the jet engine) or the calling of Donnie out of his room is the result of a higher power. And I've always wondered who that power is supposed to be. I noticed this time that when Donnie floods the school he spray paints the words "They made me do it."[Emphasis added by me] But one of my most exciting discoveries of my most recent watching was at the end of the film, when the bully kid has Donnie on the ground with a knife to his throat. Donnie grunts something, and this time I thought I heard a familiar phrase. So I went back and watched it again with subtitles and sure enough, he says "Deus Ex Machina" (which of course means "God from the machine" and is a literary device best known for being used in greek plays. It signifies when the author uses a god or some exterior force to just come and fix everything.) Which brings me to my next group of thoughts.

Donnie Christ - Savior/Superhero There are of course the obvious factors that make us at least consider Donnie as a Messianic figure. His death for the salvation of others (which you could argue occurs), his overcoming death, even if only for a short time, his super powers. But its also of note that the film on the marguee as Donnie and his girlfriend leave the theater is The Last Temptation of Christ. And at the end , at Roberta Sparrow's house, after he says "Deus ex machina" which in a way, is what Jesus was for the universe, he says "Our Savior".

It's also important to note that Donnie may just be a superhero. He has super powers - Seeing into the near future, he has super strength (the axe into the mascot statue's head) and he can see through people's facade's (Cunnignham, Farmer and Charita). He is sort of Death man(the man who should be dead and isn't), he has a costume, the dark sweatshirt and eventually the skeleton costume. He puts his hood up before he does a task for frank every time. He sees Evil Dead, his name is Donnie Darko (which the girlfriend notes sounds like a superhero's name, and he doesn't deny).

Is it all just a crazy dream? My previous theory was very concrete, Donnie is given extra time on earth to do certain deeds. His death reverses all those things, but the echo of the truth lingers on even without Donnie in the world. But...

The reference to Last Temptation imples that perhaps Donnie is experiencing an elaborate hallucination like that of Jesus in the that film. Perhaps he is living an alternative life, the life of his dreams, before he dies. (He gets the girl, burns down the school, decloaks the bad guyand discovers time travel - its many high school boys dreams) It begs the question, so, did any of it really happen? In fact, the invention that he and his girlfriend devise for the very odd science class they are in, is one that sends images into the mind of babies so they'll have pleasant memories to call upon. And the girl says "Wouldn't it be great if we could go back and replace bad memories with happier ones?" Is that what Donnie is doing for the course of the film?

Fear---Love

Of course, the fear and love spectrum is laid out by Mrs Farmer (the P.E. Teacher/Cunnigham disciple) in the scene where Donnie confronts her. But this time, I noticed a number of planted literary and filmic references that I hadn't seen before.

At the beginning of the film Donnie's mom is reading Stephen King's It a book about a clown that represents people's fears. Donnie and his girlfriend go to see Evil Dead, but there's another horror film playing at the same theater. Of course Donnie's bunny friend is frightening. There's the implication that Fear is okay in Donnie's world, while Jim Cunnigham's worldview makes no room for it. "I'm not afraid anymore" screams the poster child of his program. At the end of the film, the real Frank's car has a passenger... a clown.

I think Charita (the heavyset asian girl) is the important character here. She always looks frightened, and yet, there are moments where she overcomes her fears. (her dance) and of course we find out later she loves Donnie, but is afraid of him when he actually speaks directly to her.

SEX I notices a lot of references to sexuality and even asexuality.

-The Smurfs conversation - smurfs are asexual.

- "What's the purpose of life, if you don't have a dick?"

-Donnie thinks about sex all the time and begins to undo his pants while in hypnosis

-said of Jim Cunningham "I can't believe he's still single." then he ends up being a child pornographer.

-Donnie and his girlfriend

-They live in Middlesex

Protecting the children

-Frank says "They are in great danger"

-Cunngham exposed by the fire

-Barrymore's teacher character makes a speach about what kids being fed prescribed nonsense

-The psychiatrist prescribes pills to Donnie that he doesn't want to take.

-The Sparkle magic girls seem to be being used for adults' agendas - at least Farmer.

Well, that's all I can think of now- anything to add?

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I've been scarce around these parts lately - various things, and now in full time rehearsals for THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE for three more weeks, so that ain't going to change much for a while - so I can't dig into this topic like I'd like. But I sure appreciate you posting on this one. I'm starting a movie group with some people from church just as soon as rehearsals end, and I think we'll be starting with DD.

Over at metaphilm.com ("I never metaphilm I didn't like..."?) they've got a couple DD things, and this comment about a feature piece they link to: "A feature piece on the Donnie Darko phenomenon includes a few stabs at interpretation

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I like a lot of the things you have to say here, Dan, but have a hard time thinking of DD in terms of "messianic figure." The scene of his "calling," if you will, where Harvey-from-Hell first speaks to him at night, doesn't even come close to calling him to be a do-gooder, does it? It seems to me that the scene, if anything, felt like he was being called to evil. But i can't remember exactly what it was that the Dark One told him there, and all i can think of right now is, "It's got fangs!" and i know that ain't right even if it has to do with a dangerous rabbit.

I get the feeling from the film that either the time hiccup (starting with the jet engine) or the calling of Donnie out of his room is the result of a higher power.  And I've always wondered who that power is supposed to be. 

Yes, that is exactly my point. But just because some good things happen from the course of actions DD takes, does that mean he was called by a "good" higher power?

..."Deus Ex Machina" (which of course means "God from the machine" and is a literary device best known for being used in greek plays. It signifies when the author uses a god or some exterior force to just come and fix everything.)

That is a great find. Could DD be calling out for the director to release him from the tragedy that is coming his way? Could this be another example of director-as-God who leaps into the picture when called upon and fixes everything that's gone wrong?

The reference to Last Temptation imples that perhaps Donnie is experiencing an elaborate hallucination like that of Jesus in the that film.  Perhaps he is living an alternative life, the life of his dreams, before he dies. 

I really like this explanation, and i think it fits perfectly into my "saved by God (the director)" theory.

I think Charita (the heavyset asian girl) is the important character here. 

CHUT-UP!

-s.

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Oh, and FWIW, pull out American Beauty and Adaptation and throw in Magnolia and 13 Conversations About One Thing, and i might be sold on the idea.

-s.

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The more i think about it, i really like my theory: DD is called by an evil power in the form of a harmless bunny (an angel of light, if you will)... From this point on, the life he lives is on the wrong path. Because of the wrong path, which is perhaps an alternate reality, the supernatural unveils itself to him in unforseen ways... Until in the end he cries out the "Deus Ex Machina" line and God or some exterior force comes and fixes everything by restoring life to how it was before DD missed his demise with the jet engine.

Hmmm. I'm looking at that paragraph and it makes absolutely NO sense. grin.gif

-s.

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I can't buy Frank as purely malevolent. It seems too both that ALL the things he has Donnie do result in some good.

1. Flooding the school introduces him to his grilfriend who was being harassed by the bullies, until Darko interferes. And then, of course, she needs a supportive figure in her life cuz violent daddy is coming back later in the film.

2. Burning down the house exposes a pedophile ring.

3. Frank's timeline (which he gives to him that first night, is the exact time when his reentering the worm hole reverses the course of time so that the plane carrying his mother and sister doesn't crash.)

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I am wondering if the storyline of DD is intentionally coherent enough to deal with it as a puzzle that has a definitive unraveling. There is a certain arc that is pretty explicit with the end looping back through Frank's act back to the beginning. But one thing I enjoyed about the film is that it does bring us into contact with the mysteriousness of time and the confusing concatenation of daydreams that come along with the question: "What if..."

So many time travel movies make their mark by tying up the whole story in a little package that makes convenient sense. DD refuses to allow us to think of it in terms of this genre.

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and if the Last Temptation of Christ theory is correct, it has nothing to do with time travel -except that which happens in imagination.

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yes, if. But there is also the possibility that the Last Temptation of the Time Bandits Theory is true.

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i did a search in advance of making this topic, PTC. And Richard Kelley news didn't seem to fit what I wanted to do here.

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DanBuck wrote:

: And Richard Kelley news didn't seem to fit what I wanted to do here.

Well, the thread barely mentions him at all -- it's mostly about a rumoured 'director's cut' of Donnie Darko. But yeah, the thread title would have needed to be changed.

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Oh, and FWIW, pull out American Beauty and Adaptation and throw in Magnolia and 13 Conversations About One Thing, and i might be sold on the idea.

MAGNOLIA's already there. Qualms about AMERICAN BEAUTY noted - it's been almost universally seen by the aforementioned gang, but not quite "owned" in the same way. 13 CONVERSATIONS I'd suggest for the "B List" - much seen, much identified with, but not "de rigeur" like the core ones.

The real oversight on this list? MATRIX.

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...one thing I enjoyed about the film is that it does bring us into contact with the mysteriousness of time and the confusing concatenation of daydreams that come along with the question: "What if..."

One thing I enjoy about this post is the apt and erudite use of "concatenation"....

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Okay, I don't think anyone's mentioned this judging from the messages so far and if it's so obvious it doesn't need mentioning this will be a bad first post but here goes - watching the (region 2) DVD on a PC I clicked around looking for Easter Eggs and hit Frank's left eye. A couple of deleted scenes with Kelly's commentary play. The first is between Donnie and therapist Thurman. They are discussing the existence of God. Basically, Donnie is saying he doesn't want to be alone, and life is meaningless if he is (without God/another person?). The scene was cut as he didn't want to hit the audience over the head with the themes he feels are most important in the film - the futile search for God, meaning, agnosticism and atheism (Donnie raises the question during the scene of whether he is an atheist) - which are already heavily present. Kelly also says that there was no need for this extra footage as what is included is enough to help Donnie make sense of his search for meaning - the whole "Deux Ex Machina thing..." Dunno if this helps any...

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Thanks Romi! Welcome aboard.

-s.

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VERY interesting!! I'll have to look for that. What menu is it on?

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Main menu, left eye as you look so I guess it's actually Frank's right eye. A little white rabbit head appears. If it doesn't straight away try waiting until Frank says "Come closer..."

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There's a new-ish article on Ebert's site, written by Jim Emerson. Apparently, the entire movie is all about Donnie's sexual fixation on his older sister.

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There's a new-ish article on Ebert's site, written by Jim Emerson.  Apparently, the entire movie is all about Donnie's sexual fixation on his older sister.

Well for one thing, somehow I'd never picked up that

: "We soon learn that Elizabeth has stayed home from college for a year to be with her boyfriend Frank."

:biggrin.gif'oh::

Some of this is really interesting and certainly sheds a lot of new light on the film for me, even if its single theory idea is a bit simplisitc. It does tie in a bit with my thoughts that its about lonliness when I watched it last week.

But other bits of it are just plain silly ("And then there's that name she's chosen for herself -- reminiscent of the fairy tale of Hansel & Gretel. Is Gretchen going to leave a trail of crumbs to help Donnie find his way out of the woods?" - oh come one)

I think it certainly makes me appreciate the film more and it will be interesting next time I watch it again (which will probably be soon having read this)

I also found this quote interesting:

Well, a movie exists independent of its maker: All that matters is what's in that rectangle on the screen, no matter whether it was put there on purpose or not. As the saying goes: Trust the art, not the artist.

Matt

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Also doesn't Ebert look totally different with new glasses? His new look much miore suits his writing style than the jolly, camp look he had before (admittedly, this is based on limited photographs)

Also it doesn't really explain why Gretchen appears at the end of the film. But I'd not previously considered the angle that this might all be in Donnie's head, hwhic does make a lot of sense.

Matt

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I haven't read the article yet, but I'm anxious to as it reflects a theme I was picking up on (see below observations from my notes) but hadn't been able to do anything with as of yet.

SEX  I noticed a lot of references to sexuality and even asexuality.

-The Smurfs conversation - smurfs are asexual.

- "What's the purpose of life, if you don't have a dick?"

-Donnie thinks about sex all the time and begins to undo his pants while in hypnosis

-said of Jim Cunningham "I can't believe he's still single." then he ends up being a child pornographer.

-Donnie and his girlfriend

-They live in Middlesex

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I just re-watched the film last night (felt like an appropriate Halloween film), and I have to say that it gets better with each viewing. There is more and more that one picks up on, and the film feels more and more like a cohesive work, and the ending feels like it fits more.

As for this person's review, like a lot of reviewers, they miss some key elements in the pursuit of proving their arguments. As in, yes, the film is to some extent about Donnie's sexual frustration, but that's not ALL it's about and to affirm that "reading" of the "text" is, in my mind, to miss out on the experience of the whole film.

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