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Donnie Darko

Amazing. Genius. The best two words to sum up this film. If you haven’t already seen it, here’s what I recommend:
First, go watch it before you read anything else about it. If you’ve read much already, just try and forget it all. Just watch it like any other film.
Done that? good.

Now go to the official site and play the “game”, at least up until you get the option to read The Philosophy Of Time Travel (you might have a problem loading the actual chapters, in which case try right-clicking on the Flash area and choosing “play”). Now, you should understand the film better. It’s the perfect time to watch it again, but this time follow it more closely. Note how almost everything is interlinked, sometimes subtley, other times not-so.

Still don’t get what’s going on? well I must admit I’m not 100% sure of everything, but I get most of it. Here’s the lowdown (major spoilers ahead, so be warned!):

Right up until the short bit at the end, the film takes place in a Tangent universe. A tangent universe is unstable, and lasts only for a matter of weeks before collapsing in on itself and forming a black hole in our universe (the primary universe). The tangent universe is formed “within” the primary universe, engulfing those within the immediate area. An artifact may occur, an artifact being made wholly of metal, which is transferred from the primary universe to the tangent, appearing mysteriously in the tangent to the belief of those people in the tangent. If an artifact occurs, a living receiver will be chosen to guide it back to the priamry universe before the tangent collapses. In the film, Donnie is the living receiver, and the airplane engine is the artifact. The version of Frank that appears to donnie in his dreams, in the mirror and at the cinema is a manipulated dead version of frank, who essentially ensures that Donnie returns the artifact to the primary universe.

What is seen at the end takes place in the primary universe, or what we’d call our reality. Donnie returns the artifact, but it lands in the same place, and this time it kills him.

there’s more to it, but essentially that’s what happens in the film.
What makes it so good is that this all happens around a believable story about various characters in a small American town, trying to make the most of their lives. It gets the mix of light and dark moods just right, and whilst there are elements of humour, it never tries to be true comedy. The multitudes of interlinks between almost everything in the film is another stroke of genius. You probably won’t notice everything the first time you watch it, at least if you take my advice, but there is ALOT of it. The character of Donnie himself is one that is easy to be sympathetic with, and even relate to (at least in part), despite his disturbing visions and realisation of superpowers. The strangeness of the film is never over-emphasised, so it doesn’t feel forced, and there aren’t too many occasions where CG is relied upon (I actually think the end-of-the-tangent effects are pretty well-realised). All in all, Donnie Darko is a classic film, and should be seen by all. Don’t be put off by the sound of it being sci-fi – whislt it IS about time travel, unlike e.g. Back To The Future, it does not make time trvale the be-all and end-all of the film, by any means. There is a saying that “God is in the details” and in this film, at least, this saying is correct.
The Tangent universe only lasts for a little over 28 days. Miss it at your peril.
Oh yeah, and the soundtrack’s pretty damn good too. Lots of nice instrumental bits.

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  • Jim Carruthers

    What pisses me off is that a new version, “director’s cut” is being released.

    So, I bought the first version, now what the fuck am I supposed to do? Buy the movie all over again?

    Or just forget that the movie was made in the first place?

    Yah, that’s it. Who’s Donnie Darko?

  • jadester

    this may be a case where the director’s cut doesn’t really add anything to the film. I suspect this, because it would be difficult to do without actually spoiling the air of mystery is sustains (without being so messed up that it’s completely unfathomable)
    perhaps we’ll see donnie actually talk to Roberta before the collapse of the tangent. Something like that, i’d imagine. And why the therapist wanted to see him urgently. Maybe a little more of living Frank as his sister’s boyfriend(? or was he just a friend?). That’s about all the *real* loose ends, that The Philosphy Of Time Travel doesn’t (and couldn’t) explain.

  • Jim Carruthers

    While I know the studio system is still in effect, my first response to “director’s cuts” is “well, why didn’t you get it right the first time, dumbass?” [and why isn't there a Red Foreman html tag]

  • jadester

    which reminds me, i need to do a post on the genius that is That 70s Show. I understand it’s very popular in the US, but in the old U of K it’s criminally unknown.

  • Lono

    holy shit, that movie is so fucked up… only last week did my therapist allow me to discuss it outside of the office. It reminds me of the film of William S Burroughs ‘Naked Lunch’. I left the theatre totally stunned and disconcerted… but have really come to appreciate it over time.

  • Scott Butki

    I loved it. I’m not sure if drugs will help with appreciation of it but I think it’s briliant.

    Director’s cuts are often the directors way of showing how they wanted it versus what they had to put out after the studio and lawyers got a hold of it.
    There are different songs, for example, that they wanted in the movie but had trouble getting authorization to use.

    I’ve been talking a bit about DD over in my review about The Life Aquatic.