Donnie Darko (2001) Poster



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  • There is a UK website that offers a brilliant explanation, and alternate theories.

    This is the best resource I've found. After reading it, I rewatched the film and it was a totally different experience.

    You can also look up The Philosophy of Time Travel, the fictional book in the film written by Roberta Sparrow. Edit

  • Some prefer the original release because it leaves much of the meaning of the events in the film to the viewer's own imagination, while others prefer the director's cut because it makes the film a little easier to understand. The choice is up to the viewer. The Director's Cut has about 20 minutes more footage, some changes to the music order in the soundtrack, as well as some new tracks and sound mixing, some new effects, and the insertion of pages from The Philosophy of Time Travel (POTT). The new scenes and the pages of the POTT explain more about the meaning behind the events in the film, but do not fully explain the events of the film. For a complete detailed list of the changes go to the Alternate Versions for this movie.

    The original release fits the surreal theme and the music soundtrack is arguably better (e.g. featuring Echo & the Bunnymen at the beginning). Edit

  • It's not fully explained other than to give Donnie a weird entrance with foreshadowing of what's to come. Edit

  • No. Director Richard Kelly wrote it during the editing stages of the film and was intending to incorporate it into the original version but time and budget constraints prevented this. Although the book Dr. Monnitoff gives to Donnie seems to have many pages, only those that are shown on the website and on the DVD were created by Kelly. The Director's Cut restores the original vision of the pages that Kelly wanted.

    Additionally, you can look up the book and find several Donnie Darko sites that have complied all the shown pages from the movies. Edit

  • Director Richard Kelly put the phrase in the film to show that there was some kind of advanced machine someplace in the future at work, manipulating people and sending signals to Donnie in Middlesex. When Donnie mentions this in the film he comes to realize that there really is a deus ex machina. Donnie mutters, "deus ex machina, our saviour" as a car driven by Frank stops nearby, which startles his attackers and causes them to flee. The car acts as the deus ex machina; that is, the unexpected or improbable device that is introduced to resolve a problem, thus it is Donnie's "saviour." Edit

  • Donnie empathizes with her character and feels a connection to Chen because he too is an outcast. The director mentions that Cherita Chen is getting verbally abused and that this is why she starts wearing the earmuffs. He also mentions that she acts as a catalyst for Donnie to realize who he really is, understand what his personal views are and what he must do. Her interactions with Donnie give us further insight into his character. Chen also likes Donnie Darko and has been keeping track of him at times thus being used as the eyes and ears of the beings of the future on Donnie's activities. Edit

  • Similar to the previous connection, it's believed that she feels some sense of déjà vu when she sees Rose. We don't know if Rose or Gretchen ever met in the Tangent Universe, but even so, she might feel some connection with her and Donnie's family, in a similar déjà vu sense. After the scene of Donnie and his family discussing the Philosophy of Time Travel, you see Donnie and a girl in overalls jumping on a trampoline. You see Gretchen wearing something extremely similar to this after the second crash of the jet engine where she waves to Donnie's mother. This may be evidence of Gretchen and Donnie's mom/family having met before. Edit

  • "Deus ex machina, our saviour." Edit

  • The Philosophy of Time Travel's chapter "Dreams" states, When the Manipulated awaken from their Journey into the Tangent Universe, they are often haunted by the experience in their dreams.... Those who do remember the journey are often overcome with profound remorse for the regretful actions buried within their dreams... This is seen in the film during the "Mad World" sequence when Jim Cunningham wakes up sobbing with what appears to be guilt. To further prove this, hidden on (archived here) was a newspaper article about Jim Cunningham's suicide, which occurs in the Primary Universe on October 12th, 1988, just days after Donnie's death. Cunningham's suicide took place on the fourteenth hole of the Sarasota Heights Country Club golf course, which is where he first met Donnie.

    Also, Donnie did not fail in revealing him as a criminal because that was never his main goal. Frank told Donnie to burn down Cunningham's house, which eventually led to the discovery of his kiddie porn dungeon. This leads Mrs. Farmer to go to Cunningham's defence instead of on the trip with Sparkle Motion, causing Rose Darko to go on the trip instead, which allows Donnie and Elizabeth to throw a party. Frank leaves this party to get more beer and has to drive by Grandma Death's house on the way back, which is where Frank runs over Gretchen and Donnie kills Frank. Without this party, Gretchen wouldn't have been killed. So, according to the Philosophy of Time Travel, since the Ensurance Trap (Gretchen's death, caused by Frank) was successful, the Living Receiver (Donnie) is left with no choice but to use his Fourth Dimensional Power to send the Artifact back in time into the Primary Universe before the Black Hole collapses upon itself. So burning down Cunningham's house was much more important than Donnie revealing him as a criminal (although Cunningham's suicide shows that he still suffers for his actions). Edit

  • Richard Kelly states in the commentary that he cycled there, and the idea of the odd opening was to give Donnie's character a grand but strange introduction, as a foreshadowing of what's to come. Edit

  • Teachers cannot discuss religion or religious theories in school. The school in the film required their students to wear uniforms, which may be a sign that it was a Catholic school. If so, Monnitoff might be concerned that discussing scientific theories which would dispute the existence of God or conflict with Catholic doctrine might not be allowed, thereby putting his job at risk. Edit

  • It's possible, although it seems a bit unlikely, since it would require Frank to be the offspring of a very young father. Of course, no one other than Richard Kelly knows for sure, and this detail has never been covered. It seems likely as, in the notes of "The Philosophy of Time Travel", Frank's surname is revealed to be Anderson. Edit

  • In the deleted scenes of the theatrical cut DVD, and reincorporated in the Director's Cut, is a scene where Dr. Thurman reveals to Donnie that he's been prescribed placebos. Dr. Thurman is trying to help Donnie Darko without putting him on medication which could possibly have negative side effects. Further Dr. Thurman—who is being manipulated by the beings of the future—appears to know that there is something special about Donnie and is one of several people helping him fulfill his true destiny. However, Dr Thurman is not mentioned in the list of Manipulated Living at the back of "The Philosophy of Time Travel". Also, water is the element through which Frank Bunny reaches Donnie; when Donnie takes his placebos, he facilitates a connection with his messenger. Edit

  • In Donnie's previous session with her, he admitted to vandalizing his school and burning down Jim Cunningham's house. Dr. Thurman had to tell his parents that Donnie had committed a crime, as by law. It's believed that the session was the day before the party, although no explicit timeframe is given. According to the DVD commentary by Richard Kelly, if a minor confesses to a teacher or counselor that he has committed a crime in which no one was hurt, the adult must contact the child's parent. Edit

  • Earlier in the film Eddie Darko refers to a gem collection that Roberta Sparrow used to be known for, stating that kids used to try to break into her house to steal them, so we assume that this is a reason for Seth and Ricky being there. The "real" reason, of course, is that they needed to be there as part of the assurance trap for Donnie, so they are also acting as the Manipulated Living; Ricky is a pawn of fate, as is Seth. Edit

  • To highlight Kitty's stupidity, she is getting confused with Lorne Greene, an actor who played a character in Bonanza. Graham Greene is the famous author who wrote "The Destructors", the short story that Donnie's class is reading, and which subsequently causes problems for the teacher Karen Pomeroy. Not to be confused with Canadian actor Graham Greene. Edit

  • In the Director's Cut, there is a scene where Gretchen refers to a cut on Donnie's neck. The cut comes from the scene with Seth's attack in the bathroom, although this appears to occur some time prior, so there may be an editing problem here. Edit

  • It mentions she worked in the Library of Springfield until 1929. This would not mean she had contact with "The Philosophy of Time Travel" as it was not published until 1944 according to Roberta Sparrow's obituary. No specific relevance is mentioned. Edit

  • In the letter to Elizabeth Hartford of the Rare Books Dept. of the Library of Congress, "Karen P. Monnitoff" (presumably Karen Pommeroy having married Kenneth Monnitoff) states that the Philosophy of Time Travel is being sent to Ms Hartford on specific instructions from her husband in the event of his untimely death. Karen states that Ms Hartford would know where to put it—"a place where they can never find it." The website alludes to Dr Monnitoff's work with the CIA previously to being a teacher. Edit

  • He is among the group of men who are identified as FAA agents. Edit

  • Donnie Darko: 16 Elizabeth Darko: 19 Samantha Darko: 10 Rose Darko: 42 Eddie Darko: 44

    ...Donnie's birth date being 28 May 1972, as stated on the website. Edit

  • The movie is set in Middlesex county, Virginia. The film was filmed in Long Beach, California. Edit

  • Richard Kelly has given various reasons for this. 1. It was a favorite time, when he was a teenager. 2. Very few films (at the time) had been set in the '80s. 3. He didn't feel comfortable setting a teenage film now, with no knowledge of current teenage life. (It could also be a reference to Back to the Future as both movies take place in the '80s and the movie is also referenced at some point during the film-And let's not forget the DeLorean needed to reach a speed of 88 miles per hour in order to time-travel.) Edit

  • It was just an establishing shot confirming Prof. Monnitoff's statement about her teaching in Middlesex and giving her character and her book more "weight." Edit

  • As explained by Richard Kelly in the Director's Commentary, it is a vital part of the story. By entering through the door, Donnie and Gretchen are attacked, which enables Frank to kill Gretchen. This is also shown when cutting to the scene at Roberta Sparrow's house when the cellar door is shown for several moments.

    Karen Pomeroy, the English teacher, has "cellar door" written on the chalkboard when Donnie comes to see her. This happens shortly before the costume party and scene at Roberta Sparrow's house and Karen is in the process of packing up her things after being fired. When Donnie asks why "cellar door" is written on the board, she explains that a famous linguist once said that out of all the combinations of letters and words, "cellar door" was the most beautiful. This is based on phonaesthetics.

    Further, Karen is one of the Manipulated Living, meaning she is part of the forces directing Donnie to his ultimate fate. Edit

  • "For Whom the Bell Tolls", written by Steve Baker and Carmen Daye, courtesy of Associated Production Music LLC. This track is available as a royalty free track from Associated Production Music on one of their collections titled "Voicing the Classic 2". More importantly it can also be bought now on the 2-CD Donnie Darko soundtrack, currently only available in the UK. Note that this track is often confused with "Ave Maria", but this is definitely not "Ave Maria." Edit

  • "The Killing Moon", written by Will Sergeant, Ian McCulloch, Les Pattinson and Pete De Freitas Performed by Echo & The Bunnymen Courtesy of Sire Records/Warner Music U.K. Ltd. By arrangement with Warner Special Products (Plays during the sequence when Donnie cycles home at the beginning of the original movie. Note this is changed in the Director's Cut to "Never Tear Us Apart", by INXS. In the Director's Cut, "The Killing Moon" replaces "Under the Milkyway" during the party sequence)

    "Lucid Memory", written and Performed by Sam Bauer and Ged Bauer (Used during the "Cunning Visions" video)

    "Head over Heels", written by Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal Performed by Tears For Fears Courtesy of Mercury Records Limited Under license from Universal Music Enterprises

    "Lucid Assembly", written and Performed by Ged Bauer and Mike Bauer (Used during the "Cunning Visions" video)

    "Ave Maria", written by Giulio Caccino and Paul Pritchard, Courtesy of Associated Production Music LLC (Played in the background when Rose, Donnie's Mum, is talking to her friend)

    "For Whom the Bell Tolls", written by Steve Baker and Carmen Daye, Courtesy of Associated Production Music LLC (Plays during the sequence where Donnie is in the cinema with Frank and Gretchen, and also plays over the end titles)

    "Show Me", written by Quito Colayco and Tony Hertz, Courtesy of Associated Production Music LLC (Plays during Cherita's "Autumn Angel" sequence)

    "Notorious", written by Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, Courtesy of Capitol Records, Under license from EMI-Capitol Music Special Markets (Sparkle Motion's dance track. Originally it was intended that West End Girls would be used, but the licensing cost was too expensive)

    "Proud To Be Loud", written by Marc Ferrari, Performed by The Dead Green Mummies, Courtesy of Marc Ferrari / Master Source (Plays at Elizabeth's party. Some sources tell me this is a version by Pantera. It is one of two songs that were left off of the 2-disc soundtrack. The second is "Voices Carry" by 'Til Tuesday)

    "Love Will Tear Us Apart", written and Performed by Joy Division, Courtesy of Warner Music U.K. Ltd., By arrangement with Warner Special Products, (Plays at Elizabeth's party, prior to Donnie going upstairs with Gretchen)

    "Under the Milky Way", written by Steven Kilbey and Karin Jansson, Performed by The Church, Courtesy of Arista Records, Inc. Courtesy of Festival Mushroom Records Pty Ltd. (Plays at Elizabeth's party, when Donnie and Gretchen come downstairs, but only in the original version. In the Director's Cut this plays on the car radio when Donnie and his Dad are talking)

    Note that two tracks (as mentioned above) used in the rough cut of the film shown at the Sundance Film Festival were West End Girls, by the Pet Shop Boys (replaced by Notorious in the original and Director's Cut) and Never Tear Us Apart, by INXS (replaced by The Killing Moon in the original cut, and reinstated in the Director's Cut).

    "Stay" by Oingo Bongo. (Only in the Director's Cut, and plays on the radio while Donnie is talking to his sister in the kitchen)

    "Voices Carry", by 'Til Tuesday. (Note this is playing on Donnie's radio during the scene where he calls his mother a "bitch" on the Director's Cut. It's the other of the two tracks from the film not on the more complete 2CD soundtrack, the first is "Proud to be Loud" by Pantera) Edit

  • It was not possible based on the initial limited release of the film and the expensive requirements for licensing to release a soundtrack with these songs. However, a two-CD soundtrack has appeared for sale in the UK (with a release date of 4 October 2004) which contains both the original soundtrack CD and a large number of tracks (but not all) from both the original and Director's Cut. Follow the previous link for a complete track listing. Note of course that there is still the original soundtrack for sale with the original tracks by Michael Andrews, and the rearrangement of "Mad World" sung by Gary Jules. Edit

  • In a sense, no film is very similar to Donnie Darko, and it's that sense of originality which made the film very popular. However, here are some films that fans have suggested: Source Code (2011), Los cronocrímenes (2007), Frequency (2000), Heathers (1988), Southland Tales (2006), The Nines (2007), The Sixth Sense (1999), Twelve Monkeys (1995), A Beautiful Mind (2001), A Scanner Darkly (2006), American Beauty (1999), Blue Velvet (1986),Brazil (1985), The Butterfly Effect (2004), What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? (2004), I Heart Huckabees (2004), City of Angels (1998) (remake of Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)), Contact (1997), Dark City (1998), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Fargo (1996), Fight Club (1999), Tideland (2005), Gattaca (1997), Heavenly Creatures (1994), Identity (2003), Jacob's Ladder (1990), Final Destination (2000), K-PAX (2001), Lost Highway (1997), Memento (2000), Mirrormask (2005), Mulholland Dr. (2001), Naked Lunch (1991), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Abre los ojos (1997) (remade as Vanilla Sky (2001)), Pi (1998), Pretty Persuasion (2005), Primer (2004), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Lola rennt (1998), Silent Running (1972), Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), Solaris (2002), Stay (2005), Stir of Echoes (1999), Sybil (1976), The Final Cut (2004), The Fisher King (1991), The Game (1997), The Good Girl (2002), The Ninth Gate (1999), The Prisoner (1967), La science des rêves (2006) (The Science of Sleep), Twin Peaks (1990), Unbreakable (2000), Waking Life (2001), Der Himmel über Berlin (1987) (remade as City of Angels), The Jacket (2005), La cité des enfants perdus (1995),He Was a Quiet Man (2007), Soul Survivors (2001), The Machinist (2004) and The Chumscrubber (2005). Edit



The FAQ items below may give away important plot points.

  • Donnie has been chosen as the Living Receiver in the Tangent Universe in which most of the movie takes place. (It starts at midnight on 10/02/1988 just before Frank the Bunny lures Donnie from his room and ends, well, at the end.)

    The Tangent Universe is unstable on it's own and then further glitched when The Artifact (engine) was duplicated in both universes. As Donnie was at the vortex of the creation of the Tangent Universe, it's probably why he was chosen. In this new universe, there are the Manipulated Dead (people close to the Receiver that died in the Tangent) and Manipulated Living (people close to the Receiver.) Both groups are driven by an unknown force to guide the Receiver (Donnie) to send the Artifact (engine) back to the Primary Universe so that when the Tangent Universe collapses, it can happen safely and not take the Primary Universe down with it.

    The Manipulated Dead are extremely powerful and have the ability to travel in time. That's why Frank lures Donnie from bed and makes him flood the school (in The Philosophy of Time Travel - PoTT - water is an energy used to create a portal and the flooding led to school being cancelled thus led to him walking Gretchen home) and burn down Jim Cunningham's house (which led to a sequence of events the cumulated with Donnie and his sister throwing that costume party setting up the final part of the film) As the film goes on and Donnie reads PoTT, he becomes more aware of why he's being driven to do these things.

    The Manipulated Dead know that the Tangent Universe will collapse and all existence in all universes will be destroyed and thus use their powers to travel back in time and use Donnie. The Manipulated Living are also leading Donnie to his fate but do not realise it.

    Everything that happens in the Tangent Universe happens for the reason of Donnie sending the Artifact back to the Primary Universe in order to save the Primary Universe. Edit

  • Richard Kelly states this in the DVD commentary (with Jake Gyllenhal): Donnie laughs for the same reason the other characters were reflective at the end. As explained in the POTT, they have some memory, if not of details than of a feeling by way of dreams. It could be that he woke from these dreams and felt relieved. Or that he found peace. Or that he didn't realise he was about to die.

    He had to die, so his girlfriend doesn't die in the future. He did it to save her life. Edit

  • Human and Bunny Frank are the same. The bunny costume is always inhabited by Frank, though we do briefly see Frank outside of the costume. He is Elizabeth's boyfriend in both the Primary and Tangent Universes.

    Now here's where it gets complicated - there are essentially three versions of Frank.

    The first is Frank in the Primary Universe. We only see him in the very ending montage of the film (more on that later.)

    Then there is the Tangent Universe, in which most of the film takes place. We first see him lure Donnie out of bed so he's not crushed by the jet engine (the Artifact.) This is the Manipulated Dead Frank. He was made a Manipulated Dead after his Tangent Universe counterpart is killed shortly before the Tangent Universe is to collapse. Manipulated Dead are very powerful and have the ability to travel through time.

    So, Manipulated Dead Frank (we'll call him MD Frank) having been killed, travels back a few weeks in time to when the the Tangent Universe was created, to Donnie's bedroom, and makes sure Tangent Universe Donnie is not killed by the Artifact. This is because Donnie is the Living Receiver - chosen by an unknown force and tasked to return the Artifact to the Primary Universe so that all existence doesn't collapse.

    MD Frank is aided by other Manipulated Dead and by Manipulated Living. Manipulated Living make decisions and perform actions to guide Donnie as well, but they're not aware of it.

    In the theatre scene, MD Frank takes of the bunny head and reveals his eye is shot out.

    Towards the end of the movie, when Donnie, Gretchen, and his friends go to Roberta Sparrow's house and are attacked by the two bullies, a car comes racing down the street and runs over Gretchen, killing her. The driver of the car is Tangent Universe Frank before he's killed. Donnie shoots him in the eye, killing him. MD Frank is watching from the bushes. All this leads to Donnie ultimately succeeding in his mission to return the Artifact and allow the Tangent Universe to collapse safely and the Primary Universe to once again be, primary.

    Back in the Primary Universe, the characters seem to have some deja vu memories from dreams on what happened in the Tangent Universe. In the closing montage, we see Primary Universe Frank drawing the bunny mask over and over and looking troubled as he lifts a hand and touches his eye. Edit

  • There are two Manipulated Dead in the Tangent Universe. The Manipulated Dead are people close to the Living Receiver (Donnie) that died while in the Tangent Universe. These two people are Frank and Gretchen. As Manipulated Dead, they have great power, including time travel, and use this power to guide Donnie to return the Artifact (jet engine) to the Primary Universe so that the Tangent Universe can collapse safely without taking the Primary Universe with it. Edit

  • Not exactly, but kind of. The Philosophy of Time Travel's final chapter is about dreams. Survivors of the Tangent Universe are often haunted by dreams about what happened and experience Deja Vu. However, they don't recollect everything and see it as nightmares and odd phenomenon. Edit

  • She's concerned that Donnie might be on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. She may also, as a Manipulated Living, subconsciously realise that the collapse of the Tangent Universe is coming. Edit

  • It's implied that her mother was abducted by her ex-husband, Gretchen's father. Earlier in the film, Gretchen mentions to Donnie that her dad stabbed her mom in the chest four times and they had to move and choose new names.

    It's never revealed what actually happened to her mom that night because it's just several hours from the collapse of the Tangent Universe. There aren't any clues if the same thing happened in the Primary Universe, or, if Gretchen, being one of the Manipulated Dead, was telling the truth. Edit

See also

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