Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.


I’m just going to jump straight to the ending with this one, as it’s what I thought about the most after watching. The way I see it, there are two different ways I can look at the ending, stemming from the two possible scenarios that Frank was either in Donnie’s head or really there.

If Frank and his orders to Donnie were all in Donnie’s head, then that must mean so too was the doomsday prophecy he gave … which, since Donnie is just imagining everything, means that the world didn’t actually end … which means that nothing before the final few minutes of the movie actually happened. If that’s the case, then the ending is essentially the death of someone whose actual actions and thoughts we know nothing about, and therefore the entirety of his character has nothing to grasp onto anymore. If Frank and his orders were actually real, however, I guess that still keeps Donnie interesting seeing how he was still willing to, often gleefully, do the deeds as ordered, instead of fleeing in horror or trying to stop him … but then how is Frank also a “normal” person who reacts to running over Gretchen like he’s never seen Donnie before? Did he just … forget or something? Are there multiple Franks running around? To me, that scene disproves that Frank and Donnie were two actual beings talking to each other instead of Frank being imagined.

Is it a mix of the two? Is Donnie really seeing Frank sometimes and imagining him other times? Was Frank just a manifestation of Donnie’s supernatural foresight into knowing when the world would end? That’s the closest I can come up with to something satisfying, but it still doesn’t work because, again, why would he manifest in Donnie’s head as a real person he doesn’t know?

It might not even matter, because even before the ending, the involvement and discussion of time travel was the one thing about the story I wasn’t enjoying. Everything else seemed to be a very interesting tale of a jaded, troubled teen dealing with a psychosis, further fueled by the neglectful conformity forced upon him and isolation both by his own doing and others’ doing that feeds into his loneliness, all led by an unsurprisingly fantastic performance from Gyllenhaal. But whenever time travel was brought up, it felt very out of place. I had been hoping that it would show its purpose by the end and everything would come together, but it only ended up muddling most of what I was really liking about the movie. What I had initially thought was that the point was for Donnie to gleefully accept his death as generating an alternate timeline in which everyone’s lives are better without him, especially with the callback to that line about replacing bad experiences with happier ones. That’s a very dark and depressing idea that I would have gotten behind and felt fit the story. But the more I thought about the logistics of it all, the more the story fell apart.

Further, if the wormhole and world-ending stakes were real, how does the airplane engine being sent back in time make sense? If it were being sent back to October 2 of the same timeline, that works because it’s a stable time loop. But being sent back through that timeline and to the October 2 of the other timeline? The only way that works is if in both timelines, the world ends on October 31, 1988 and sends the engine back to complete the loop. The difference is that in one, Donnie stays in his room and dies; in the other, he leaves the room because of Frank and lives to complicate the lives of others before the world ends. Which … eh, that could be interesting, but not only does it not add up because of what I already said (plus, does Donnie jump from the end of the latter timeline to the start of the former? How did that work?), but I find that much more convoluted than it needs to be for the story to work.

So essentially, I have two interpretations, one that makes the story mean nothing, and another that doesn’t make any sense. Which means I’m left with a story that I was getting into for a vast majority of it, albeit with a few issues, but ultimately rings completely hollow for me when all is said and done. I'm not ready to rate it in case I missed something really obvious, but as of now, it didn't pan out for me.

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