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The Darko Family
- Alliterative Name: Gretchen comments on how it sounds like a superhero name.
- Ambiguous Disorder: Dr Thurman is convinced Donnie is a paranoid schizophrenic based on his visions of Frank. While this diagnosis is false, there's undoubtedly something not right about Donnie.
- The Anti-Nihilist: His whole life seems to be one big, cruel cosmic joke. No matter what he does, he's apparently condemned to repeat the same loop over and over again... unless he kills himself beforehand. Meanwhile, his school life is spent constantly at odds with crusading teachers and motivational speakers. Yet this doesn't stop him from enjoying things while they last, and in his final scene, before getting crushed by the jet engine, Donnie just... laughs.
- Big Brother Bully: Tells Samantha that if she tells their parents he's been smoking, he'll put her favourite toy in the garbage disposal.
- Caught with Your Pants Down: Donnie almost starts masturbating during a hypnotherapy session. He literally buttons up his jeans, looking very confused and embarrassed.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Donnie could also be interpreted as a Deconstruction, as his behavior has him sent to counseling and diagnosed with schizophrenia, as well as the isolation leading him to violent behavior in his youth and adolescence. However, there's a possibility that he's not even one of these at all...
- Commander Contrarian: A sympathetic example in regards to Jim Cunningham's preaching.
- Deadpan Snarker: Where most of his funny moments come from.
- Death Is the Only Option: By the end Donnie realizes that his own actions lead to Gretchen's death and that he must save the future from himself.
- Dying Alone: An expressed fear by Donnie. And indeed we see him die alone at the end of the movie.
- Expy: Of Holden Caulfield.
- Go Out with a Smile: Donnie dies at the end while laughing hysterically, presumably out of relief that he has fulfilled his role as the Living Receiver.
- Heroic Sacrifice: No matter how you slice it, no matter how you interpret the plot, he's fated to either die young and meaninglessly, or live and cause chaos and pain all around him. Upon realizing this, he chooses to die, becoming an active player in his own life and making his death worth something.
- Hormone-Addled Teenager: Downplayed. Compared to all the other guys his age, Donnie doesn't obsess that much about sex. He does however almost masturbate while under hypnosis and has at least one swimsuit poster in his room.
- Iconic Outfit: Donnie's skeleton outfit.
- Insane Equals Violent: Played with. Donnie doesn't put up a fight when he's being physically threatened and only commits arson because Frank tells him to, so he's harmless for the most part. Played straight when he shoots Frank out of vengeance.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Averted. Donnie feels alone, but the people around him are for the most part loving and supportive, even when he's telling them some weird stuff.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While Donnie's bluntness can come across as rude, he's a genuinely kind person underneath it all. He tells off his friends when they pick on Cherita, walks Gretchen home when she's being harassed and gives Ms Pomeroy a sense of solidarity on her last day.
- Kubrick Stare: Due to sleepwalking.
- Laughing Mad: Hypnotized!Donnie giggles while talking about the apocalypse, his horrific visions, and how they pushed him to flood his school and burn down a building.
- Mad Oracle: The ability to see the future takes a heavy toll on Donnie's already unbalanced emotional and mental state.
- The Mentally Disturbed: Starts out mildly unwell, being a sleepwalker with a history of anger problems. By the end of the movie he's cracking from the pressure Frank has him under.
- Psychotic Smirk: When Frank gives him orders, Donnie's expression changes to one of these.
- Resigned to the Call: Goes along with Frank's instructions because he owes him his life. He doesn't seem to take any pleasure in burning down Cunningham's house until he learns the truth about him.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Donnie's usual attitude. Frank is the only person he follows without question.
- Suicide for Others' Happiness: Donnie allows himself to be killed by the falling plane turbine to allow the various people in his life to live/be happy.
- Teen Genius: His test scores were "intimidating".
- Tomato in the Mirror: Donnie has visions of a man named Frank who wears a large grotesque rabbit suit and claims to be a time traveler. Following Frank causes Donnie to avoid being killed by a Jet Engine that falls from the sky. Frank instructs Donnie on the actions he must take in order to save the future. The plan involves a metal artifact that will serve as a Deus ex Machina, a resolve to the central conflict of the plot. Donnie locates the artifact in the form of a gun. Donnie uses the artifact to shoot the man who accidentally hit Donnie's girlfriend with his car. The scenes that follow reveal that the man Donnie shot was in fact Frank, that the tragedy of his girlfriend's death was the result of his own actions, and that the artifact that will save everyone is not the gun that Donnie found but the Jet Engine that must fall on Donnie Darko, to avoid the tragedies of what would follow had it not. The Jet Engine itself being a time traveling artifact that would have fallen off the plane Donnie Darko's family would have been on, if Donnie had survived. Thus, revealing at the end that Donnie Darko is the villain of this story, and he must save the future from himself.
- Troubled, but Cute: Gretchen apparently thinks so, though the Director's Cut implies that she may not have made that choice on her own.
- What You Are in the Dark: Donnie sacrificed his life to save the world, and no one will ever know.
- Actually Pretty Funny: During a heated argument with her brother, Elizabeth tells him to "Suck a fuck." He responds "How exactly does one suck a fuck?" After a pause, they both crack up.
Rose & Eddie Darko
- Mary McDonnell & Holmes Osborne
- Actually Pretty Funny: Donnie is brought before the principal for telling a teacher "to forcibly insert the lifeline cards into [her] anus" (his teacher's words, not Donnie's), and the teacher's distressed recital of that line causes Donnie's father to start laughing and cover it up with a cough.
- After Donnie and Elizabeth's dinner argument, Samantha innocently asks "What's a fuck-ass?" Eddie starts cracking up at this.
- Chekhov's Gun: Donnie discovers a gun in their room. He later uses this to kill Frank, which then creates the apparition that's been giving Donnie instructions.
- Good Parents: Donnie's parents are loving and understanding, and he seems to love them back in his own way.
- Hollywood Driving: Eddie almost runs over Roberta Sparrow because he's too busy talking to Donnie in the co-driver seat.
- Manly Tears: At the end, Eddie Darko is holding his Samantha and trying (but failing) to hold back tears after his son's death.
- Sophisticated as Hell: When a political debate brings up Elizabeth's plans to not have kids until she's at least thirty, Rose Darko calmly swirls her wine at dinner and asks her daughter if she believes Dukakis will protect the nation long enough for her to "squeeze one out".
- Daveigh Chase
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Donnie doesn't get on particularly well with her.
- Children Are Innocent: Kept out of the loop for all of the plot.
- Innocent Swearing: "What's a fuckass?"
- Oblivious Younger Sibling: Has no idea about Frank, Donnie's criminal acts, the end of the world or the fact that Jim Cunningham is most likely trying to groom her.
- Jena Malone
- Big Damn Kiss: Shares one with Donnie after a particularly nasty moment of bullying.
- Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: With Donnie.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Had a history of domestic abuse so bad she and her mother were forced into witness protection. Gretchen isn't even her real name.
- Give Geeks a Chance: She's set up with Donnie in just her second scene and gives him an opening in her third. Yeah, she's definitely the love interest. The Director's Cut implies that some otherworldly force is nudging her towards Donnie so he can complete his mission.
- Hello, Nurse!: All the boys in her English class make eyes at her in the hopes she'll sit next to them.
- Precision F-Strike: In the director's cut, she gives a loud "Fuck em!" after Seth and Ricky harass her.
- Sex for Solace: Implied with Donnie.
- Troubled, but Cute: She gets a lot of male attention despite being borderline asocial.
- Jolene Purdy
- Alliterative Name: Cherita Chen.
- Funny Foreigner: Cherita Chen has a Speech Impediment and is bullied. Played With from a Doylist perpective, as she is the butt of several jokes initially, but becomes sympathetic to the audience.
- Headphones Equal Isolation: Cherita Chen wears earmuffs in an attempt to protect herself from the bullying she is constantly subjected to. In one scene we see Donnie wearing her earmuffs too and he seems to enjoy them.
- Stalker with a Crush: Possibly for Donnie. She keeps a book with his name on it.
- Token Minority: The only character of Asian descent.
Seth & Ricky
- Alex Greenwald (Seth), Seth Rogen (Ricky)
- '80s Hair: Seth has a mullet.
- Ax-Crazy: Seth brings a switchblade to school and threatens Donnie in the bathroom with it. He also laughs sadistically when he holds Donnie at knifepoint in the film's climax.
- Bully Brutality: Knife-toting Seth.
- Evil Counterpart: To Donnie's friends Sean and Ronald. While Sean and Ronald can be jerks, they're relatively harmless and don't do anything worse than drink beer and shoot the empty bottles. Seth and Ricky meanwhile harass, steal, maim and possibly even kill people. Also extends to their names: both start with an S and an R.
- Hate Sink: Every scene they're in has them acting increasingly horrible.
- Hollywood Satanism: Ricky has a "What Would Satan Do?" sticker in his locker.
- Jerkass: Both taunt Gretchen over her psychotic stepfather with absolutely no provocation.
- Karma Houdini: It's because of Seth and Ricky being delinquents that Gretchen gets run over by Frank, yet we don't see them get any comeuppance at all.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: They would have killed Donnie and Gretchen if it hadn't been for a car coming around the bend...
- Those Two Bad Guys: With only one exception (Seth ambushing Donnie in the bathroom) they're almost always seen together.
Sean & Ronald
- Gary Lundy (Sean), Stuart Stone(Ronald)
- The Bully: To Cherita.
- Dirty Coward: Ricky was able to scare them off while he and Seth were attacking Donnie and Gretchen.
- Hormone-Addled Teenager: "Beer and pussy! That's all I'll need!", followed by some kinky Smurfette fanfiction.
- Jerkass: Not particularly likeable.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: Over Smurfette. Donnie ends it by being too smart for them to keep up with.
- Smoking Is Cool: Light one up before school and act like it's as hardcore as smoking marijuana (to which Donnie lampshades: "It's a fucking cigarette.") They also drink beer.
- Those Two Guys: They're seldom seen without each other and have the exact same personality.
- Drew Barrymore
- Atomic F-Bomb: After she loses her job, she runs outside the school and screams "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK" at the top of her lungs.
- Cool Teacher: She often acts less like a teacher and more like a Cool Big Sis.
- Fired Teacher: Ms. Pomeroy is fired from her job for teaching "offensive" literature.
- Not So Stoic: Her Atomic F-Bomb moment.
- Only Sane Man: Her speech when she's about to be fired.
Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff
- Noah Wyle
- Cool Teacher: Not as much as Ms Pomeroy, but he's very approachable.
- Mentor Archetype: Gives Donnie some literature on time travel, which turns out to be a valuable asset.
- Office Romance: The ending reveals that he'd been seeing Ms Pomeroy this whole time.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Able to talk with Donnie on equal footing.
- Tranquil Fury: After Seth and Ricky taunt Gretchen over her mother getting stabbed, he coldly tells them to get out.
- Beth Grant
- Activist Fundamentalist Antics: Mrs. Farmer's raison d'etre, particularly in the first act.
- Black and White Insanity: When Donnie states that Cunningham's binary logic doesn't translate to real life, Kitty threatens to fail him on the spot.
- Culture Police: Kitty Farmer wants to ban certain "offensive" books from school. Her engagement leads to Ms. Pomeroy losing her job.
- Establishing Character Moment: She's carrying Jim Cunningham's book in her very first appearance.
- To her fellow teachers Pomeroy and Monnitoff. Kitty is authoritarian and has a binary view of the world, while her colleagues encourage free thought and debate.
- Also to Rose Darko. Kitty gets hysterical over pretty much anything, while Rose is The Stoic.
- The Fundamentalist: Her entire character revolves around Jim Cunningham.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Mrs. Farmer doesn't swear, so when Donnie is sent to the principal's office after snapping at her, she claims that "he asked [her] to forcibly insert the lifeline exercise card into [her] anus!"
- Holier Than Thou: "Our paths through life must be righteous. Pray that your son doesn't succumb to the path of fear!"
- Hypocrite: Kitty verbally doubts Rose Darkos commitment to their daughters dance troupe, even though the only reason Kitty cant chaperone them herself is because she would prefer to defend her mentor, Jim Cunningham, from child porn allegations.
- Large Ham: Has a very flamboyant way of expressing herself.
- Mood Whiplash: Kitty is shown to be ecstatic about her dance troupes victory, but is then shown the news about Jim Cunninghams arrest.
- Power Hair: The only scene (not including the end) when she doesn't sport it, she's at the end of her rope.
- David Moreland
- Adults Are Useless: He's a split second too late at catching Seth and Ricky doing drugs on school grounds.
- Backhanded Apology: When Pomeroy complains about being fired, all he says is "I'm sorry you have failed."
- Jerkass Has a Point: As misguided as it was to fire Ms Pomeroy, it wasn't entirely unreasonable. She did get the students to read a book about delinquent teens and encourage them to justify the character's actions. All of this right before the school was flooded.
- James Duval
- The Atoner: Frank's actions in helping Donnie seem to be his way of making up for accidentally killing Gretchen and eventually preventing her death from occurring in the first place.
- Cheshire Cat Grin: The expression on Frank's mask is a rather disturbing parody of a cutesy buck-toothed rabbit.
- Deadpan Snarker: When Donnie asks him why he wears he wears a bunny suit,he simply asks: "Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?"
- Deus ex Machina: Lampshaded when Donnie murmurs this as Frank arrives to solve (sort of) everything.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Under his mask.
- Expy: Of Harvey, the imaginary rabbit. His skeletal silver mask and ability to travel through time are also a shout-out to The Terminator.
- Eye Scream: When Frank takes off his mask, he displays a gruesome wound destroying his left eye. Donnie will later shoot him in that exact spot, fulfilling the vision.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: When Donnie stabs at the liquid barrier Frank erects, Frank's right eye starts to glow. This turns out to be foreshadowing later on.
- Hair-Raising Hare: His mask looks cadaverous, which is a good foreshadowing of his undead origins.
- Imaginary Friend: Frank is Donnie's imaginary guide in a man-sized rabbit costume. May also be a Not-So-Imaginary Friend, depending upon how you interpret the movie. Or both.
- Knight of Cerebus: While there's no shortage of antagonistic characters, it's ultimately Frank who does the most on-screen damage by killing Gretchen.
- Kubrick Stare: Tends to tilt his head forward in lieu of any facial expressions.
- Moe Greene Special: How he dies in the tangent universe. This is foreshadowed by the scene where Donnie stabs at a watery barrier towards rabbit-Frank, causing ripples and then a glow around the eye.
- Never My Fault: After running over Gretchen and realising that he'd killed her, the living Frank puts the blame on her for being in the middle of the road.
- Psychopomp: Another interpretation of Frank, such as in the theory that the whole film is a Dying Dream of sorts meant to allow Donnie a chance to come to terms with his untimely death.
- Some Kind of Force Field: Frank can make invisible barriers out of water.
- Stranger Behind the Mask: Frank knows Donnie, but Donnie (and the audience) hasn't met him yet.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Has to orchestrate events that will push Donnie into killing him before the Tangent Universe collapses in on itself.
- Patrick Swayze
- Black and White Insanity: Assuming he actually believes what he's peddling.
- Bright Is Not Good: His self-help videos are incredibly saccharine.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Due to most of the ancillary characters' Weirdness Censor, nobody seems to notice that Cunningham gropes the ass of the young boy he is hugging in one of his "Attitudinal Beliefs" videos.Frank: [voice-over] Pay close attention. You might miss it.
- Disc-One Final Boss: It's only after Donnie gets rid of him that he begins to realise Frank will soon fill the void.
- Evil Counterpart: To Donnie. Both are set up as saviour-like figures, except Cunningham is little more than a charlatan taking advantage of a naive town, while Donnie doesn't try to exploit his visions. Cunningham's advice is interchangeable and vague, while Donnie's is unique to every problem and much more helpful. Both also have issues with lust, but while Donnie's lust is healthy for a teenager, Cunningham's is perverse.
- Faux Affably Evil: His wholesome all-American image gives him a natural charisma that only Donnie is able to see through. While it's obvious he's a charlatan his collection of child porn was something nobody could have foreseen.
- For Want of a Nail: His arrest galvanises Ms Farmer into starting a defense campaign, which means the girls' dance troupe has to be chaperoned by Donnie's mother. With Donnie's father out on business at the same time, this gives Donnie and Elizabeth the chance to throw a party and for Gretchen a place to hide out. The real Frank then goes off to buy beer for the party, which leads to Gretchen getting hit by his car.
- The Fundamentalist: Seems to be one at first, but then he's revealed to be a hypocrite.
- Karma Houdini: Jim Cunningham is a pedophile with a large stash of child pornography in his mansion which is discovered. In his final scene it sure looks like he's on the frayed end, however, due to the paradox causing it never to happen, nobody finds out that he is a pedophile. This is just invoking Death of the Author, however, as Word of God confirmed that he got caught on the day after Donnie would have burnt down his house. It also says that he commits suicide out of self-loathing not long after his vague dream-recollections of the Tangent Universe.
- Man of Wealth and Taste: Well-dressed, nice house and likes to play golf.
- Villain with Good Publicity: A motivational speaker who is adored by the school faculty. He's also a closet pedophile.
- Katharine Ross
- Patience Cleveland
- Einstein Hair: Years of isolation and old age took their toll on her appearance.
- Epilogue Letter: She's actually been waiting for Donnie to write this.
- Silent Whisper: Donnie walks up to Roberto Sparrow and she stands on tiptoe to whisper, "Everything on this earth dies alone." Donnie's dad asks what she said and the scene cuts without revealing (until later). New viewers will almost always ask prior viewers what she said.
A domestic abuser that stabbed Gretchen's mother.
- Ax-Crazy: He has "emotional problems".
- Domestic Abuse: A particularly barbaric one.
- The Dreaded: He stabbed her mother and managed to get out of prison. When Gretchen's mother goes missing, she freaks out.
- For Want of a Nail: His terrorising of Gretchen and her mother drives them to move to Donnie's town, leading to Gretchen having a relationship with Donnie. When he catches up to them, Gretchen is flushed out into the open and killed by Frank, causing Donnie to kill Frank out of vengeance and set up the events that originally started the Tangent Universe.
- The Ghost: Never physically appears.
- Karma Houdini: Evaded a prison sentence and managed to stay off the grid for the good part of a month. As he's not caught before the end of the world, he effectively gets off scot-free.
- Outside-Context Problem: Unlike the other antagonists in the film, he has nothing to do with Donnie. His actions only affect Gretchen, her mother and Frank.