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 quickly passes in front of her. When Elizabeth Darko (Maggie Gyllenhaal) 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).
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.
When casting for the role of Donnie's sister, it came to Writer and Director 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 Jake.
Writer and Director Richard Kelly came up with the idea for the future blobs while watching football. John Madden used to use a "telestrator", where he'd diagram a paused video to show where the players were about to go moments before letting the tape roll. Kelly watched this while high, and started to think about what would happen, hypothetically, if "someone upstairs" was doing that to humans. Fittingly enough, Donnie first notices the future blobs while watching football.
When Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) tells Gretchen (Jena Malone) he accidentally burned down a house, they are walking directly in front of Jim Cunningham's (Patrick Swayze'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 words "Cellar Door" are written on the chalkboard in Karen Pomeroy's (Drew Barrymore'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."
In the "Cunning Visions" infomercial, Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) 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).
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, California. The Aero closed in 2003, but re-opened in early 2005.
While filming the scene where Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) speaks about how Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) directed her to put a Lifeline exercise card in an uncomfortable place, Writer and Director Richard Kelly laughed so hard, he had to leave the set.
Judging by what is seen and heard of The Evil Dead (1981) 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).
The short story "The Destructors" (which Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) discusses in her class, that seemingly parallels the events occurring at the time in the "real" world, and was discussed as inappropriate at the P.T.A. meeting, ultimately leading to Pomeroy's dismissal) was written by Graham Greene. Graham Greene's birthday is October 2, 1904. October 2, 1988 is the day Frank the bunny tells Donnie that the world will end in twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes, and twelve seconds.
On the set of Charlie's Angels (2000), Drew Barrymore and Richard Kelly agreed that her production company, Flower Films, would produce this film for four and a half million dollars (and that Barrymore would play Miss Pomeroy). Kelly says that if Barrymore hadn't stepped in, the movie would have either gone straight to video, or cable television via Starz.
Frank says the world will end in "twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes, twelve seconds." That figure comes from adding or subtracting one from each part of the figure, twenty-seven days, seven hours, forty-three minutes, eleven seconds, which is the precise length of one lunar month (by one of the less-used definitions, sidereal instead of the usual synodic).
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. Mara Wilson was considered for the role of Samantha Darko, but she turned it down.
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).
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, et cetera). Also, it is believed that Donnie is a superhero, as he has powers, and he uses them to save others.
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 website gallery.
During the film, Donnie surrenders to the three temptations, which Jim Cunningham mentions: alcohol, drugs, and premarital sex. The other film that was being played in the theater, where Donnie and Gretchen watched The Evil Dead (1981), was The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
Richard Kelly said that the movie had a very difficult time finding a U.S. distributor. Since the film embodied a myriad of genres and tones, distributors were confused by the movie's message, and how to market it. Additionally, Kelly also claims that this movie was very close to premiering on the Starz network, until Newmarket Films picked up the film for theatrical distribution.
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 September 11, 2001. However, the font retains its original style in the movie.
The Director's Cut greatly alters the pacing of the film, adding deleted scenes, new visual effects, and switching the soundtrack of the movie around. Richard Kelly regards this version not as a Director's Cut (this title was the publisher's idea), as he considers the theatrical version just fine in its own right. Instead, to him the new version is a Special Edition of sorts.
Initially, Richard Kelly sought permission from the estate of Peyo, the Smurfs, to show a Smurf doll, for Donnie and his friends, at which to shoot. While on the same conference call, Kelly was told that Donnie would also be allowed to talk about Smurf sex, because what had been written in the script was considered an accurate description.
Some songs featured in the movie were substitutes for songs which the makers wanted, but were denied the rights. The dance performance was performed to "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys, and Duran Duran's "Notorious" was re-dubbed in post-production. U2's "MLK" in the final scene, was substituted with Gary Jules' cover of the Tears for Fears song "Mad World" instead.
In the scene where the entire school is flooded, you can see a shot of a message underneath the mascot's statue. It says, "They made me do it." Later in the scene of the Halloween party, just before the end, you can see a shot of a message on the fridge which says: "Frank was here, went to get beer." The two texts are in the same hand writing which is a hint at the fact that the Frank who went out to get beer, is the same Frank as Donnie's imaginary bunny.
Before Mara Wilson retired from acting, she got the script for the film, to read for the role of Samantha Darko, but declined to audition for the film, due to being freaked out over the script. At the time, she was already physically ill in her hotel room in England.
Writer and Director Richard Kelly was impressed with the commitment to craft exhibited by young Jake Gyllenhaal. For the scene where Donnie is hypnotized by his therapist, only to instead begin experiencing a sexual fantasy involving Christina Applegate, Kelly considered doing a take where he would instruct Katharine Ross not to snap her fingers and break the trance. Upon concluding that the future A-lister would most likely simply remain in the scene and continue on masturbating, Kelly thought better of the idea.
When Donnie's mother, Rose (Mary McDonnell), asks Kitty (Beth Grant) 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, The Evil Dead (1981) 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 (1990). Graham Greene, the author, had many of his books adapted for films, including, The Quiet American (1958) (twice), Brighton Rock (1948) (twice), and Our Man in Havana (1959).
When Donnie returns home at the beginning of the movie, Rose is reading Stephen King's It, which prominently features a clown. At the end of the movie, the passenger in Frank's car is dressed in a clown costume.
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 travelling 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 afterward, when time is "reset", and everybody wakes up to the "Mad World" song, Frank is wiping a tear from his right eye.