Jim Cunningham depicts drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex as "instruments of fear." In the movie, Donnie smokes a cigarette, drinks alcohol, and engages in premarital sex. The climax of the movie occurs after he surrenders to all three temptations.
The song that plays as Donnie is riding his bike home in the theatrical version is "The Killing Moon" by Echo & The Bunnymen. As Gretchen waits for the school bus, a Volkswagen Rabbit vehicle quickly passes in front of her. When Elizabeth Darko is sleeping on the recliner, there is a stuffed rabbit next to her. As Donnie reaches for the car keys, there is a Polaroid picture of him and his sister in Halloween costumes on the desk. Donnie is dressed as a rabbit. When Donnie is talking to his sister after his mom leaves near the end, a "jack o lantern" bunny is seen on the table. Frank, the rabbit, often appears near a water source (sprinklers, water main, faucet).
The movie takes place in 1988. Frank tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days, 06 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. If you add these numbers, the sum is 88. When Samantha asks when she can have kids, Donnie says: "Not until 8th grade." Donnie mentions to his therapist that his dog Callie died when he was eight. (He is later seen holding a stuffed toy dog in her office.) Donnie jokes about the Back to the Future (1985) DeLorean which had a speed of 88 MPH. According to the television reporter, the fire at Jim Cunningham's house was extinguished "sometime after 8:00 last night." The red-eye flight that almost crashes is Flight 2806 which boards at Gate 42 at 12 AM. The climax of Donnie Darko occurs one week before the 1988 US presidential election, when George Bush won on November 8, 1988 [11/08/88]. The movie was shot (for a budget of less than US$5 million) in 28 days. There are 28 scenes in the director's cut of this film.
There are many comic book references that show up through the film. Gretchen comments on Donnie's name as sounding like a superhero, to which he replies "What makes you think I'm not?" Many characters have alliterative names (Donnie Darko, Cherita Chen, Frankie Feedler, Daye Dennis, Joanie James, Sean Smith, Donnie Dickson) like many comic book heroes (Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Susan Storm etc.). Also, it is believed that Donnie is a superhero, as he has powers and he uses them to save others.
Frank says the world will end in "28 days 6 hours 42 minutes 12 seconds." That figure is not random: it comes from adding or subtracting 1 from each part of the figure 27d 7h 43m 11s, which is the precise length of one lunar month (by one of the less-used definitions - sidereal instead of the usual synodic).
The words "Cellar Door" are written on the chalkboard in Karen Pommeroy's classroom. When Donnie asks about their meaning, she replies that "This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that Cellar Door is the most beautiful." In the director's commentary Richard Kelly mistakenly attributes the phrase to Edgar Allan Poe, but it was actually J.R.R. Tolkien who, in his 1955 essay "English and Welsh", said that "Most English-speaking people . . . will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful."
During the film Donnie surrenders to the 3 temptations which Jim Cunningham mentions: alcohol, drugs and premarital sex. The other film that was being played in the cinema where Donnie and Gretchen watched "Evil Dead" was "The Last Temptation of Christ".
Richard Kelly said that the movie had a very difficult time finding a US distributor. Since the film embodied myriad genres and tones, distributors were confused by the movie's message, and how to market it. Additionally, Kelly also claims that "Darko" was very close to premiering on the Starz network until Newmarket Films picked up the film for theatrical distribution.
When Donnie tells Gretchen he accidentally burned down a house, they are walking directly in front of Jim Cunningham's house. The Life Line Exercise Card that Donnie reads is about a girl finding a lost wallet. Later, Donnie finds Jim Cunningham's wallet on the sidewalk outside his mansion.
The short story 'The Destructors' (which Karen Pomeroy discusses in her class that seemingly parallels the events occurring at the time in the "real" world, and was discussed as inappropriate at the PTA meeting ultimately leading to Pomeroy's dismissal) was written by Graham Greene. Graham Greene's birthday is October 2nd (1904). October 2nd, 1988 is the day Frank the Bunny tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 06 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.
Well out of his teens, Vince Vaughn reportedly turned down the part of Donnie due to his age. Mark Wahlberg was interested in the part, but apparently was only willing to play the part with a lisp. Jason Schwartzman was also strongly considered for Donnie, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Tim Robbins was the first choice for the role of Eddie Darko.
In the movie theater scene, Richard Kelly originally intended to have Donnie and Gretchen going to see C.H.U.D. (1984). However, there were problems with finding out who owned the rights to the movie. Finally, Sam Raimi came to the rescue by allowing Kelly to use and distort footage from The Evil Dead (1981), free of charge. This scene was filmed at The Aero Theatre at 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA. The Aero closed in 2003 but re-opened in early 2005.
EASTER EGG: The DVD contains several Easter Eggs, or hidden items. Two are visible in the "Philosophy of Time Travel" book in the Special Features. On each of the appendix pages, press the up arrow on your remote and press enter. For Appendix A, the viewer gets a deleted scene about the flooding of the school, and Appendix B, the viewer gets a different trailer for the movie. Another can be found after selecting the "Cunning Visions" menu screen. At the bottom of the screen, highlight the Special Features menu entry, press the right arrow on your remote to highlight the icon, and press enter. This will allow you to enter a Web site gallery.
The original poster art for the movie had used an Arabic-style font, but this was changed to the more common Trajan typeface for the video release after the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. However, the font retains its original style in the film itself.
According to the commentary by Richard Kelly, the Man in the Red Jogging Suit is an agent from the FAA, which was so confused by the jet engine event that they sent agents to monitor the family members. The Mystery Woman, seen during Sparkle Motion's talent show performance, was a talent scout from Star Search (1983).
In the "Cunning Visions" infomercial, Jim Cunningham pats a child on his behind. The young boy who wants to learn how to fight at the school assembly is the same boy in Jim Cunningham's infomercial (Larry Riesman).
When Donnie's mother asks Kitty if she has heard of Graham Greene, she replies that she has, since she's seen Bonanza (1959). However, Kitty is getting him confused with Lorne Greene, who appeared in the series. Sam Raimi, who allowed the Donnie Darko production to use and distort a clip from his movie Evil Dead free of charge, is married to one of Lorne Greene's daughters, Gillian. There is also a native Canadian actor, Graham Greene who has appeared in many films portraying native Americans including "Dances with Wolves". Graham Greene, the author, had many of his books adapted for films, including, "The Quiet American" (twice), "Brighton Rock" and "Our Man in Havana".
Some songs featured in the movie were substitutes for songs which the makers wanted but were denied the rights to. The dance performance was performed to "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe), and Duran Duran's "Notorious" was re-dubbed in post-production. U2's "MLK" in the final scene is substituted Gary Jules' cover of the Tears for Fears song "Mad World" instead.
When casting for the role of Donnie's sister, it came to Richard Kelly's attention that Maggie Gyllenhaal (who had few film credits at the time) would be available for the shoot. The agent who proposed her casting reminded Kelly of her scene in Cecil B. DeMented (2000), where she drank urine. Though Kelly was slightly hesitant towards the idea, he did like the way she drank urine - and knew he wouldn't have to work hard at creating a sibling rivalry between her and her brother, star Jake Gyllenhaal.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Early in the film when Donnie is riding his bike home, he passes Frank's car traveling in the opposite direction. This car later kills Gretchen, prompting Donnie to shoot Frank in the right eye (which Donnie had also stabbed through the water-mirror). Soon after, when time is "reset" and everybody wakes up to the Mad World song, Frank is wiping a tear from this eye.
Judging by what is seen and heard of The Evil Dead in the movie theater scenes, it takes the better part of an hour for Donnie to go from the movie theater to Jim Cunningham's house, start the fire, and go back to the theater, just in time to catch the end of the film (listen for Bruce Campbell's scream).