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DONNIE DARKO -- Disussion Thread

Old 03-20-02, 02:10 AM
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DONNIE DARKO -- Disussion Thread

This was a good movie, but I just didn't get the ending. I really wanted to love this movie, but the total confusion that it left me with is a little frustrating and disatisfying. There are so many plot points that I just don't understand. Did all of the characters go back in time, or just Donnie? or just the jet Engine? What was the point of Drew Barrymore's character? What was the point of the chubby Asian girl? What was the significance of the letter to the old woman, and her waiting for it, and so on. The questions go on and on. Can someone please give me your thoughts?
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Old 03-20-02, 02:53 AM
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Like you, I really wanted to like it too but I just cant shake the feeling that the director was trying way too hard (this was his first film, no?) and should have left some things out. I want to "understand" the movie but I cant help but think it's one of those trying-to-be-deliberately-confusing-so-as-to-seem-deep type films. Of course, I'm probably wrong, I dunno.
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Old 03-20-02, 01:43 PM
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Listen to the lyrics of the brilliant Tears For Fears cover because it explains an awful lot:

"I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
That the dreams where I am dying are the best I've ever had"

This is how I interpret the film:

Spoiler:
From the moment the first closeup of a clock occurs (signaling the first appearance of "Frank"), the film is simply Donnie's dream about his own death. The dream portions don't need to make sense - just like in one of your own dreams not everything makes sense or connects up.

99% of the film takes place in a split-second of dreamtime - like the last frittering sparks of a mind being snuffed out. This means the opening sequence and the final scene (returning to the jet engine falling on Donnie's house) are the only "real" events in the whole film. The whole film IMO is about Donnie's mind accepting his own demise.
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Old 03-20-02, 02:50 PM
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I have felt the itchings to write an essay about the thematics at work in the film.

Suffice it to say, I recommend you read about Nietzsche's theory of Eternal Recurrence. That may make you think about it in a new way. Or not.
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Old 03-21-02, 02:21 AM
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I rarely bump my own threads, but I really want to hear some more opinions on this movie. I guess I am still looking for some more interpretations.
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Old 03-21-02, 04:53 AM
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Just watched this movie the other day, and WoW!

I really dug it. If you want answers, the film was left open-ended on purpose...but if you want to know what the director intended watch the DVD with the commentary track. Very interesting.
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Old 03-21-02, 09:35 AM
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Originally posted by Bruce
I really dug it. If you want answers, the film was left open-ended on purpose...but if you want to know what the director intended watch the DVD with the commentary track. Very interesting.
Really? The commentary track was interesting? You could have fooled me because that was the one element of the disc that I was sorely disappointed with. I listened to the first half hour, got tired of the inane "you remember when we shot this scene? it was like 2 a.m. in the morning, dude!!" comments and shut it off.

I was hoping for some more substantive discussion of the themes of the film. Do tell whether this discussion magically appears towards the end of the commentary?
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Old 03-21-02, 11:52 AM
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Originally posted by grunter


Really? The commentary track was interesting? You could have fooled me because that was the one element of the disc that I was sorely disappointed with. I listened to the first half hour, got tired of the inane "you remember when we shot this scene? it was like 2 a.m. in the morning, dude!!" comments and shut it off.

I was hoping for some more substantive discussion of the themes of the film. Do tell whether this discussion magically appears towards the end of the commentary?
Well there were two commentaries actually. The one with the cast was pretty much filler, but I enjoyed the one with just the director and the star. It was pretty interesting, especially towards the end.
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Old 03-25-02, 09:56 PM
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Both of the commentaries contain some pretty deep analysis of the film.
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Old 03-26-02, 10:16 PM
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Here's what I think:

Spoiler:
There are two ways, I guess, of interpreting the movie's ending. One is that the entire thing is a dream of Donnie's. The other is that it all did actually happen. I have not listened to the director's commentary, so I don't know which he was going for, but I just assumed the latter, that the events really did happen. If you assume that, then Donnie traveled back in time to place himself in the path of the falling jet engine, which also traveled back in time. As far as Drew Barrymore's character . . . well I think that she just wanted a part in the movie that she helped produce. If that's not the only reason, then her character could just fall under the teacher category; that is, she is there as a kind of role model, someone with information or ideas that not everyone has (like Donnie). So she is persecuted for being different (like Donnie), as often happens in movies and life. The Asian girl, I think, plays a supporting role showing the audience that there are some that understand or empathize with Donnie's feelings toward the world, that he is not totally alone in being disgusted with its corruption. Now, the letter to the old woman is something I can't really explain. I was expecting her to play some kind of role at the end of the film. Since she did not, the letter itself must be important in some way. Maybe it's just Donnie's way of steeling himself for what he must do.

The only real question I was left with at the end was this: Donnie goes back in time to sacrifice himself, obviously in the hopes that doing this will prevent Gretchen's and his mother's and sister's deaths. (I assume that the director's idea of time travel includes the logic that Donnie cannot exist at two different places in the same time frame; that is, he cannot both be in his room and outside when the jet engine crashes.) However, if the engine has come back in time already, doesn't that mean that the jet itself is already fated to crash itself? So if his mother and daughter still end up getting on that flight, they will still die. I guess a possible explanation is this: if Donnie dies under the jet engine, he will not expose Patrick Swayze as a child molester, that stupid lady that adores Patrick Swayze will thusly not have to protest his incarceration, and Donnie's mom will thusly not have to take his sister to her dance thingie. Maybe that throws things off enough that his sister will not be on the flight that crashes. Or maybe the family will be in mourning, precluding his sister's going to the dance thingie in the first place.

And that's all I've got.
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Old 03-26-02, 10:26 PM
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Just thought of something:

Spoiler:
Donnie doesn't know that his mother and sister are about to die when he goes back in time. He does so merely to save Gretchen (since by never meeting him, she will never end up where she is when she dies). So if he does save his mother and sister, I guess it will just be coincidence.
One more little thing I thought was cool. When Donnie and Gretchen first start talking, she says his name sounds like a superhero's, and indeed he turns out to be one.
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Old 03-27-02, 12:28 AM
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Can anyone explain the fat guy in the orange jumpsuit???
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Old 03-27-02, 03:43 AM
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Hey Lothaerius, good points. I just thought of something. You said that the old lady didn't play a part. I hope I am recalling correctly (it's been a while now), but if you think about it...

Spoiler:
She did have a part in it, because the guys that ran over Gretchen swerved to miss the old lady who was standing in the middle of the road, thus hitting Gretchen.


Could this be significant?
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Old 03-27-02, 07:45 AM
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I was lost at the end of this one too. can someone tell me how to unblacken the blacked out parts to this thread?
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Old 03-27-02, 07:48 AM
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I read an interview with the director where he stated that the philosophy of time travel book explains what he intended the logic behind the story to be. That's why it's on the DVD and the website. Unfortunately, the print is so small on the DVD that I can only make out bits and pieces of it and I can't seem to get the website to come up. If it's not a violation of copyright laws and someone with a good, big television wanted to, it'd be great to see the contents of the book posted on here in spoilers. I did get the gist that it tried to address the paradoxes within the film.
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Old 03-27-02, 10:09 AM
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Philosophy of Time Travel

Here are the book's contents, transcribed from the website:
Foreward
I would like to thank the sisters of the Saint John Chapter in Alexandria, Virginia for their support in my decision.

By the grace of God, they are:

Sister Eleanor Lewis
Sister Francesca Godani
Sister Helen Davis
Sister Catherine Arnold
Sister Marry Lee Pond
Sister Virginia Wessex

The intent of this short book is for it to be used as a simple and direct guide in a time of great danger.

I pray that this is merely a work of fiction.

If it is not, then I pray for you, the reader of this book.

If I am still alive when the events foretold in these pages occur, then I hope that you will find me before it is too late.

Roberta Ann Sparrow
October, 1944

Chapter 1
The Tangent Universe

The Primary Universe is fraught with great peril. War, plague, famine and natural disaster are common. Death comes to us all.

The Fourth Dimension of Time is a stable construct, though it is not impenetrable.

Incidents when the fabric of the fourth dimension becomes corrupted are incredibly rare.

If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable, sustaining itself for no longer than several weeks.

Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence.

Chapter 2
Water and Metal

Water and Metal are the key elements of Time Travel.

Water is the barrier element for the construction of Time Portals used as gateways between Universes at the Tangent Vortex.

Metal is the transitional element for the construction of Artifact Vessels.

Chapter 4
The Artifact and the Living

When a Tangent Universe occurs, those living nearest to the Vortex will find themselves at the epicenter of a dangerous new world.

Artifacts provide the first sign that a Tangent Universe has occurred.

If an Artifact occurs, the Living will retrieve it with great interest and curiosity. Artifacts are formed from metal, such as an Arrowhead from an ancient Mayan civilization, or a Metal Sword from Medieval Europe.

Artifacts returned to the Primary Universe are often linked to religious Iconography, as their appearance on Earth seems to defy logical explanation.

Divine Intervention is deemed the only logical conclusion for the appearance of the Artifact.

Chapter 6
The Living Receiver

The Living Receiver is chosen to guide the Artifact into position for its journey back to the Primary Universe.

No one knows how or why a Receiver will be chosen.

The Living Receiver is often blessed with a Fourth Dimensional Powers. These include increased strength, telekinesis, mind control, and the ability to conjure fire and water.

The Living Receiver is often tormented by terrifying dreams, visions and auditory hallucinations during his time within the Tangent Universe.

Those surrounding the Living Receiver, known as the Manipulated, will fear him and try to destroy him.

Chapter 7
The Manipulated Living

The Manipulated Living are often the close friends and neighbors of the Living Receiver.

They are prone to irrational, bizarre, and often violent behavior. His is the unfortunate result of their task, which is to assist the Living Receiver in returning the Artifact to the Primary Universe.

The Manipulated Living will do anything to save themselves from Oblivion.

Chater ??
The Manipulated Dead

The Manipulated Dead are more powerful than the Living Receiver. If a person dies within the Tangent Dimension, they are able to contact the Living Receiver through the Fourth Dimensional Construct.

The Fourth Dimensional Construct is made of Water.

The Manipulated Dead will manipulate the Living Receiver using the Fourth Dimensional Construct (see Appendix A and B).

The Manipulated Dead will often set an Endurance Trap for the Living Receiver to ensure that the Artifact is returned safely to the Primary Universe.

If the Endurance Trap is successful, the Living Receiver 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.

Chapter 12
Dreams

When the Manipulated awaken from their Journey into the Tangent Universe, they are often haunted by the experience in their dreams.

Many of them will not remember.

Those who do remember the Journey are often overcome with profound remorse for the regretful actions buried within their Dreams, the only physical evidence buried within the Artifact itself, all that remains from the lost world.

Ancient myth tells us of the Mayan Warrior killed by an Arrowhead that had fallen from a cliff, where there was no Army, no enemy to be found.

We are told of the Medieval Knight mysteriously impaled by the sword he had not yet built.

We are told that these things occur for a reason.
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Old 03-27-02, 10:16 AM
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There are also news stories about how Patrick Swayze's character shot himself on the golf course and the weird religious lady took over the company.
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Old 03-27-02, 04:17 PM
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You're right about the old lady, caiman, I'd forgotten that part. With the help of the information that jericho88 graciously posted, here are some further thoughts:

Spoiler:
Obviously, the jet engine is the Artifact in Donnie Darko, Donnie is the Living Receiver (conjuring fire = burning down Patrick Swayze's house, conjuring water = flooding the school, increased strength = burying the axe in the head of the solid bronze lion(?) in front of the school, get it?), and Frank is the Manipulated Dead. All the crap Donnie has to go through, culminating in Gretchen's death, is his Endurance Trap, which is created by Frank. (Did everyone realize that Frank is also Donnie's older sister's boyfriend? I'm pretty sure I'm right about that anyway.) The purpose of the Endurance Trap is to make the Living Receiver use his power to send the Artifact back in time to the Primary Universe, and this is what happens at the end of the film. However, isn't it odd that the reason Donnie felt obligated to listen to Frank is that Frank saved his life, telling him to come outside before the jet engine crashes into his room the first time. And if Frank had not done this, the Tangent Universe would never have been created in the first place. You wanted a paradox? Well there you go: Frank saves Donnie just to have him go back in time to the very place he would have been without Frank's intervention.

As to Roberta Sparrow . . . she's still an enigma isn't she? What part does she play? She acts as part of Donnie's Endurance Trap since it's her that Frank and his friend swerve to avoid, thus killing Gretchen. She's not the Manipulated Dead, though, because she doesn't die. And she doesn't seem to have any of the characteristics of the Manipulated Living (she sure doesn't ever try to save herself from Oblivion). I don't know, I think I like the idea that she's some kind of external agent in her own formula.
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Old 03-27-02, 07:34 PM
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According to the director's commentary, the guy in the orange jumpsuit is one of the FAA investigators, who has been assigned to keep a close watch on Donnie in the matter of the falling jet engine...
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Old 03-27-02, 08:00 PM
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Originally posted by Lothaerius


Spoiler:
However, isn't it odd that the reason Donnie felt obligated to listen to Frank is that Frank saved his life, telling him to come outside before the jet engine crashes into his room the first time. And if Frank had not done this, the Tangent Universe would never have been created in the first place. You wanted a paradox? Well there you go: Frank saves Donnie just to have him go back in time to the very place he would have been without Frank's intervention.

Spoiler:
Actually, I disagree with this slightly. From what I got out of the Philosophy of Time, is that the Tangent Universe would occur anyway. I think if Frank had not saved Donnie's life, the Tangent Universe would still take place, since Donnie's presence was not the cause of or reason that the Tangent Universe existed. Perhaps if Donnie had died, Frank would have used someone else as the Living Receiver. So maybe there is another factor at play, where the Manipulated Dead chooses who is the Living Receiver. If that is the case, perhaps the Manipulated Dead chooses the person most "right" for the job. Maybe? I dunno. It's all weird and confusing.
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Old 03-27-02, 11:41 PM
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Alright caiman, I think we're both starting to think about this a little too hard . . . but I'm having fun so how about this:

Spoiler:
The fact that Donnie dies under the jet engine proves that he was the Living Receiver.

Donnie could not have just died and had someone else be the Living Receiver, because then it would have been that person that died in a freak accident and not him. I'm basing this argument on the end of the Philosophy of Time. Note what it says:

"Ancient myth tells us of the Mayan Warrior killed by an Arrowhead that had fallen from a cliff, where there was no Army, no enemy to be found."

"We are told of the Medieval Knight mysteriously impaled by the sword he had not yet built."

These are examples of previous Receivers. The Living Receiver, according to the Philosophy of Time, must die. It is part of being the Living Receiver. My point is that whoever died by jet engine at the end of this movie would have been, by definition, the Living Receiver. In this case it was Donnie. Frank could not just have chosen someone else. Indeed, it was not Frank's call. "No one knows how or why a Receiver will be chosen."

I know this contradicts what I said earlier. Just ignore that stuff I said about the Tangent Universe not existing if Frank hadn't saved Donnie (since there was no way around Frank's saving Donnie). I feel better about this argument.

Last edited by Lothaerius; 03-27-02 at 11:47 PM.
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Old 03-28-02, 08:27 AM
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Great discussion, guys! I'd like to throw in my two cents:
Originally posted by Lothaerius
Spoiler:
However, isn't it odd that the reason Donnie felt obligated to listen to Frank is that Frank saved his life, telling him to come outside before the jet engine crashes into his room the first time. And if Frank had not done this, the Tangent Universe would never have been created in the first place. You wanted a paradox? Well there you go: Frank saves Donnie just to have him go back in time to the very place he would have been without Frank's intervention.
Spoiler:
I just went and re-watched this part, and the Tangent Universe is created before Frank saves Donnie. According to the director's commentary, the Tangent Universe comes into existence when the clock strikes midnight, immediately before the October 2, 1988 title card. Then, in the scene immediately following the title card, you first hear Frank's voice prompting Donnie to wake up. There would only be a paradox if the Tangent Universe were created after Frank wakes Donnie.

Spoiler:
As to Roberta Sparrow . . . she's still an enigma isn't she? What part does she play?. . . I don't know, I think I like the idea that she's some kind of external agent in her own formula.
Spoiler:
I'd say that she is, in effect, a "messenger from God". Note that she is/was a Sister in a holy order. Also, a sparrow is a bird with religious overtones. (Jesus makes specific mention of sparrows when he sends the apostles out to deliver His word.)

It's also interesting that her book was published in October 1944, exactly 44 years before the Tangent Universe was created -- though I have no idea what significance, if any, the number 44 might have.

In addition to serving as the messenger, her part, as caiman mentioned above, is to receive the letter from Donnie, which places her in the middle of the road, which leads to Gretchen's death, which leads to Donnie sacrificing himself to re-establish the Primary Universe.

I think.
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Old 03-28-02, 08:43 AM
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Great discussion. I think I agree with the conclusions that have been reached in the thread. Just wanted to thank Jericho for taking the time to post the book.
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Old 03-28-02, 10:31 AM
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I don't know about everyone else, but for me, as soon as the whole Tangent Universe explanation started getting discussed, it really took away from the film.

I haven't listened to the commentaries yet, as I haven't had the chance, but I look forward to doing so.

Nevertheless, on my own I was trying to figure out what meaning the story held and what motivated the characters. It seemed that there was a much more in depth study of the effects of post-Vietnam conservativism and how it affected the family unit. If you watch the deleted scenes, the director says that Francis Ford Coppola read the script and told him that the meaning of the story was in the line "the children have to take care of themselves," or whatever it was exactly, which eventually got cut from the movie anyway (d'oh). I think Coppola was thinking along the same lines as me.

Then all this Tangent Universe stuff comes out, which is entertaining, but not as deep as I thought. Maybe this film has what Sidney Lumet refers to as the unintended third meaning (the first 2 being what the writer and the director intended).

I don't know, it just seems a lot less complex that I had hoped.
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Old 04-02-02, 12:37 PM
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Has anyone browsed through the Web Site Gallery on the DVD? It contains some very interesting information about what happend after
Spoiler:
Donnie is killed by the engine


Some interesting tidbits are:

Spoiler:

The teacher played by Noah Wyle is killed in a hit and run accident and is survived by his wife, Drew Barrymore's character. In his will, he has the copy of "The Philosphy of Time Travel" sent to the Library of Congress.

Motivational Speaker Jim Cunningham is found dead on one of the greens of the golf course from a self inflicted gunshot wound. His house is found to be emptied of all furniture and belongings.

Donnie's family moves to California after Donnie dies. His death becomes a local legend.


There are a few other things too. Pretty interesting.
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