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Film / Donnie Darko

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Donnie: Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?
Frank: Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?

Donnie Darko is a 2001 American Science Fiction Psychological Thriller film written and directed by Richard Kelly. Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the title role, with Jena Malone, James Duval, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Seth Rogen and Maggie Gyllenhaal in the supporting cast.

On October 2, 1988, troubled teenager Donnie Darko encounters a figure in a demonic rabbit costume while sleepwalking. The figure introduces himself as "Frank" and tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, moments before a jet engine crashes into Donnie's bedroom. Crediting Frank with saving his life by causing him to sleepwalk out of the house, Donnie starts to do his bidding while gradually trying to uncover the strange events around him, which may or may not be related to Time Travel, an alternate dimension, and/or Donnie's worsening schizophrenia in ways that still bear interpretation, analysis and confusion to this day.

The word-of-mouth cult following that the film grew led to Kelly being given the opportunity to create a Director's Cut, which released in 2004. It greatly alters the pacing of the film by adding deleted scenes and new digital effects as well as changing parts of the soundtrack and making more of an effort to explain some of the film's ambiguous elements. Kelly considers this version not really a director's cut but rather an "extended special edition", and fan opinions remain somewhat divided as to which version is better.

Rumors of a sequel have been vehemently denied by fans for years.

This film includes examples of:

  • The '80s: The film takes place throughout the month of October 1988. This was reportedly because that's when Richard Kelly grew up, and he wouldn't be able to write a coming-of-age story in the 2000s due to lack of a frame of reference.
    • A minor aspect of establishing the film's setting and characterizing Donnie's family is the presidential election of that year, which came down to George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis (who we see debate at one point), and would've been just around the corner from the events of the film.
  • Activist-Fundamentalist Antics: Mrs. Farmer's raison d'etre, particularly in the first act.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • Donnie's father, Eddie Darko, chokes out a chuckle at the "He told me to forcibly insert the lifeline exercise card into my anus" line.
    • Earlier in the film, Donnie argues with his sister and she tells him to "Suck a fuck." He retorts by asking how that's even possible, before there's a pause, followed by both of them laughing.
    • Donnie's father, Eddie, tries (unsuccessfully) not to laugh when Samantha innocently asks "What's a 'fuck-ass'?" after she hears it during the vulgar exchange Donnie and Elizabeth have during dinner.
  • Age-Inappropriate Art: Cunningham who turns out to be a pedophile hosts an event where local elementary school girls perform pop songs en masse in heavy makeup and skimpy clothes. The parents love it.
  • Alliterative Name: Donnie Darko, Cherita Chen, Frankie Feedler, Daye Dennis, Joanie James, Sean Smith, Donnie Dickson.
  • All Therapists Are Muggles: Dr. Thurman initially characterizes Donnie's visions as "daylight hallucinations" but eventually comes to believe that they're genuine.
  • All There in the Manual: The book The Philosophy of Time Travel, alluded to in the theatrical version and quoted briefly in the Director's Cut explains the plot (or at least the Director's interpretation of it) and removes all the ambiguity with a lot of hand-holding.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Donnie. 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.
  • Arc Number: Frank tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie then writes these numbers on his arm to remember them.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: After Donnie's English teacher Karen loses her job, she runs outside the school and screams "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!" at the top of her lungs.
  • The Atoner: Frank. His 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.
  • Author Avatar: Richard Kelly describes the nameless kid who shows up at the end of the film as this.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Lampshaded.
    Gretchen: What kind of name is "Donnie Darko", anyways? It sounds like a superhero name.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Between Donnie and Gretchen in front of the school building half-way through the movie.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": The go-to response of poor old Cherita Chen whenever getting bullied is "Chut up!" Considering she even throws it at Donnie after he tells her that things will get better, it's seemingly her immediate defense-mechanism response when any fellow schoolmate tries to talk to her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Albeit a bit more on the obtuse side upon first viewing, the film ends with the events of the past 28 days unwinding for Donnie, culminating with him back in his bedroom on October 2, after which he stays in his bed and laughs as the jet engine comes crashing down on him. What prevents this from being a total downer is the ripple effects it has.
    • Donnie would have died outright had Frank not spoken to him and gotten him out of bed, and thus the entire rest of the movie wouldn't have happened, and so the whole purpose of the film seems to be allowing Donnie to come to terms with his premature death and to realize that as sad as it is, it's way better than the alternative of the world ending.
    • Furthermore, Donnie's survival results in the deaths of his girlfriend, mother, sister, and Frank, as well as his English teacher losing her job. On the flipside, Patrick Swayze's character gets away with his nefarious activities, at least for a while, and Donnie's death means that he never meets Gretchen.
    • And if Sparkle Motion still goes on their trip, then at the very least Mrs. Farmer and many of Samantha's teammates, if not Samantha herself, die in the plane crash, but in that case Samantha's teammates were doomed either way.
  • Black-and-White Insanity: Why Donnie is a fan of the grey spectrum; attempting to divide things into two emotions only is a great way of ignoring human emotions in general, as well as the fact that there are almost always more than two choices to any given real-life interaction. The prompt he's given in the Life Line assignment (about a woman finding a wallet and returning it but choosing to keep the money inside) is what provokes him into a rant on how this thought process doesn't work, for the simple fact that neither fear nor love is involved directly at all - it's a question of raw greed.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The Life Line scene has the teacher arguing this (Fear vs. Love), while Donnie asserts that the world revolves around Grey-and-Gray Morality.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Another interpretation of the Life Line scenes are that the teacher is trying to assign all things a moral weight based on their positions between Fear and Love as opposed to a broader worldview which includes not only traditional moral concepts such as right and wrong as well as other emotional components such as greed, joy, anything, not simply things that are sourced in Fear or Love.
  • Break the Motivational Speaker: Donnie undermines Cunningham's methods, attacks his very simplistic "fear vs. love" spectrum, and eventually calls him "the fucking Antichrist". It turns out that the guy is a kiddie porn enthusiast, so Donnie was sort of right.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Sums up the relationship between Donnie and Gretchen.
  • The Bully: A cliche not absent from this movie are the two school bullies going after Donnie and Gretchen.
  • Bungled Hypnotism: Donnie's psychiatrist uses hypnotism to investigate what she thinks are his paranoid hallucinations. One of her questions causes him to fixate on his sexual fantasies instead, forcing her to wake him up in a hurry when he starts to reach into his pants.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Take your pills one night, doom the universe.
    • May not be the case. In the director's cut, Dr. Thurman tells Donnie that the pills are not actually antipsychotics but placebos.
  • Cardboard Box of Unemployment: Donnie's teacher Ms. Pomeroy is fired from her job for discussing offensive literature. There is a shot of her leaving the classroom with a box full of books, a desk lamp and a U.S. flag.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Donnie almost starts masturbating during a hypnotherapy session before Dr. Thurman wakes him up, and he literally buttons up his jeans, looking very confused and embarrassed.
  • Celeb Crush: While under the influence of hypnosis, Donnie tells his psychiatrist that he wants to smash Christina Applegate and almost starts masturbating to her, forcing the shrink to hastily end the session. (In an earlier draft, it was Alyssa Milano.)
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal pistol Donnie's hallucinations lead him to, which he will later fire, causing Frank to die and Donnie himself to realize why he was seeing Frank at all.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: The expression on Frank's mask is a rather disturbing parody of a cutesy buck-toothed rabbit.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Donnie. He 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...
  • Comically Missing the Point: Donnie misunderstands his shrink during the hypno session in a funny way:
    Shrink: What else do you think about during school?
    Shrink: Do you think about your family?
    Donnie: I just turn down the volume...and think about fucking Christina Applegate.
    Shrink: l asked you about your family, Donnie.
    Donnie: No. I don't think about fucking my family.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The seemingly idyllic Stepford Suburbia slowly unravels over the course of the film. One of the arguments for starting the film without "The Killing Moon" is that it allows things to seem much more normal at first and gradually get twisted as the month goes on.
  • Culture Police: Kitty Farmer wants to ban certain "offensive" books from school. Her engagement leads to Ms. Pomeroy losing her job.
  • Curse Cut Short: The scene cuts away before Donnie can tell Kitty Farmer to shove her learning material up her ass.
  • 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.
  • Deconstruction: Of 1980’s coming-of-age movies such as The Breakfast Club, time travel, and the concept of alternate universes. What happens when an alternate universe is abandoned? Does it keep going, cause a Time Crash, or more? Most importantly, what happens to the people living in said universe?
    • In the director's cut, it is revealed that alternate ("tangent") universes are inherently unstable and can only last, oh, about 28 days before collapsing, which can endanger the existence of the primary universe. Once the artifact (the jet engine) is returned to the primary universe, the tangent universe no longer contains the anomaly of having a duplicate object from the primary universe (the artifact) in it and unravels without forming a black hole. Presumably, the people in the tangent universe cease to exist in the tangent universe but go on living in the primary universe.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Donnie refers to Frank as a "6-feet tall bunny rabbit".
  • Deus ex Machina: Lampshaded when Donnie murmurs this as Frank arrives to solve (sort of) everything.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Jim Cunningham. Due to most of the ancillary characters' Weirdness Censor, nobody seems to notice that Cunningham gropes the young boy he is hugging in one of his "Attitudinal Beliefs" videos.
    Frank: [voice-over] Pay close attention. You might miss it.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The jet engine, at least in-universe. It's mentioned that nobody, not even the FAA, has any idea where it came from as if it literally only exists to kill Donnie, and in doing so drive the plot.
  • Driver Faces Passenger: Donnie's father almost runs over Roberta Sparrow because he's too busy talking to Donnie in the passenger seat.
  • Dying Alone: An expressed fear by Donnie after he is reportedly told by Sparrow that every living creature on Earth dies alone. This sadly comes true, as we see him die alone in his room at the end of the movie.
  • Einstein Hair: Roberta Sparrow has it.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The Director's Cut has the Fictional Document The Philosophy of Time Travel which is quoted from at the start of each chapter.
  • Epilogue Letter: We hear Donnie narrating his letter to Roberta Sparrow right before committing his Suicide for Others' Happiness in the final act.
  • Establishing Character Music: In the theatrical cut, we're introduced to Donnie with "The Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen. In the director's cut, the song is replaced with "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS.
  • Evil Laugh: After Frank is killed, a shot of his mask on the ground pitching slightly back and forth in the wind conveys this trope very well.
  • Exploding Calendar: The calendar in Donnie's room counts down to the end of the world.
  • Feedback Rule: Downplayed. There is a slight feedback when a student grabs a mic to ask Cunningham a question during the talk he is giving at the school.
  • Fired Teacher: Ms. Pomeroy is fired from her job for teaching "offensive" literature.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Donnie tells Gretchen he once accidentally burned down a house, they are walking directly in front of Jim Cunningham's house. Donnie burns the house down under Frank's command later in the film.
    • The Life Line Exercise Card that Donnie reads is about a girl finding a lost wallet. Donnie later finds Jim Cunningham's wallet on the sidewalk outside his mansion.
    • Donnie's friend suggests that "someone oughta write that bitch [Grandma Death/Roberta Sparrow]." Later in the film, Donnie does just that.
    • After the initial accident with the fuselage, Donnie's father muses about fate and how Donnie could have been another tragic headline. Over the course of the movie, Frank communicates to Donnie that his surviving the crash has destabilized the time stream, jeopardizing the universe, and Donnie accepts his fate, dying young for no reason to the average observer.
    • When Frank visits Donnie in the bathroom, Donnie attempts to poke the invisible barrier between them with a knife until Frank starts to get annoyed. Specifically, right in Frank's right eye, where Donnie is destined to shoot him.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: One scene opens with a shot of Chapter 6, page 1 of 'The Philosophy of Time Travel', entitled 'The Living Receiver.' The next page spells out more than a few details - specifically, that Donnie is a Living Receiver. The text states: "The Living Receiver is often blessed with Fourth Dimensional Powers. These include increased strength (Donnie sinking the axe into the Mongrel's head, even though it's solid bronze), telekenesis, mindcontrol (sic), and the ability to conjure fire (Donnie burning down Jim Cunningham's house) and water (Donnie flooding the school by destroying the water main)." The book also explains that "The Living Receiver is often tormented by terrifying dreams, visions, and auditory hallucinations during his time within the Tangent Universe" (emphasis added for effect).
  • The Fundamentalist: Ms. Kitty Farmer, the school's crusadingly Puritan teacher.
    • Jim Cunningham seems to be one at first, but then he's revealed to be a hypocrite and pedophile.
  • Funny Foreigner: Cherita Chen has a Speech Impediment and is bullied. Played With from a Doylist perspective, as she is the butt of several jokes initially, but becomes sympathetic to the audience.
  • Gainax Ending: A vortex forms over the Darkos' house, causing the plane carrying Rose and her dance troupe to get caught inside of it and have one of its engines ripped off and sent back in time. The events of the film rewind back to October 2, and we see Donnie in his bed inexplicably laughing moments before the jet engine crashes down. All of this is depicted onscreen, but the intents behind it are never outright explained to the audience.
  • Gilligan Cut: When Donnie suggests throwing a party while his parents are away, his sister agrees under the condition that it would be a small party. Cut to the next scene revealing that half the school is in attendance.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Donnie is last seen laughing hysterically in his bed before he dies, presumably out of relief that he has fulfilled his role as the Living Receiver. The original script even includes an image of him in the aftermath of the engine crash: atop the engine, impaled by a wooden beam from his bedroom floor, bleeding from the mouth, but with his face left in an expression resembling a smile.
  • 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!"
  • Hair-Raising Hare: Frank. He's not really a rabbit, but the choice as a Halloween costume makes it In-Universe as well.
  • 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.
  • The Hero Dies: Donnie chooses Suicide for Others' Happiness.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Donnie. 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: Most of the teens in the movie. Displayed best in one of the therapy sessions, in which Hypno Fool Donnie brings everything back to his fantasies about Christina Applegate.
  • Human All Along / Good All Along: Frank. With that nightmarish mask, you could be forgiven for not thinking either.
  • Iconic Outfit: Donnie's skeleton outfit, and Frank's bunny rabbit costume.
  • 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.
  • Innocent Awkward Question: When Darko family dinner takes a turn for the vulgar, younger sister Samantha innocently inquires about the meaning of one of the words used.
    Samantha: What's a fuck-ass?
  • Innocent Swearing: "What's a fuckass?"
  • I Owe You My Life: Frank seemingly saves Donnie from a very bizarre death, which prompts the latter to carry out any task Frank orders on him.
    Donnie: I have to obey him. He saved my life.
  • Jump Scare:
    • Donnie Suddenly Shouting "I CAN SEE HIM RIGHT NOW!" during a therapy session functions as this, compounded by the sharp cut to Frank standing smack in the middle of Dr. Thurman's very normal office.
    • When the school bullies jump out of the dark at Roberta Sparrow's cellar and abduct Donnie and Gretchen.
  • 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.
    • It's because of Seth and Ricky's bullying that Gretchen gets run over by Frank, yet we don't see them get any comeuppance at all.
  • Kiss Diss: Donnie tries to kiss Gretchen in the park. She turns away and points out that there is a weird guy watching them.
  • 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.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Another level to the Mind Screw. If you don't like the Time Travel explanation, it's possible to interpret the film as the bizarre delusions of a paranoid schizophrenic.
  • Mental Time Travel: Suggested in the epilogue.
  • Mind Screw: The film has gained a reputation as one of the most (in)famously confusing movies of its time.
  • Mind Screwdriver: Donnie receives a book on time travel from his science teacher, time traveling also being the central plot-driving device of the movie. A director's cut released a few years after the original DVD release briefly cuts to pages from said book, where the mechanics of time travel in this movie are explained - which is vital to figuring out what the hell is going on. The book was later actually published and released. It explains most of the background and events present in the movie. Yet while it explains some of the time travel mechanics, the closest thing we have to an explanation of where Frank came from or who is manipulating Donnie is a couple of lines in the commentary saying that maybe it's God. Or aliens. Whatever.
  • Moe Greene Special: When Frank takes off his mask, he displays a gruesome wound destroying his right eye. Donnie will later shoot him in that exact spot, fulfilling the vision.
  • Montage Out: The movie ends with a montage of all major characters lying awake at night while Gary Jules' "Mad World" plays.
  • Music Video Syndrome: "Head Over Heels" during Donnie's first scene in the school.
  • One-Eyed Shot: Gyllenhaal's left eye is shown whenever he has nightmares.
  • One-Woman Wail: "The Portal (For Whom The Bell Tolls)"
  • Only Sane Man: Subverted in Ms. Kitty Farmer, who believes she is, but is shown instead to be suffering from Black-and-White Insanity.
  • Please Wake Up: After Frank runs Gretchen over, Donnie repeatedly tells her to wake up as he cradles her corpse.
  • Popcultural Osmosis Failure: When Donnie's mother asks Kitty 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.
  • Portal to the Past:
    • Frank is capable of opening these.
    • So is Donnie, by the end.
  • Power Hair: Ms. Farmer. Only scene (not including the end) when she doesn't sport it, she's at the end of her rope.
  • Precision Crash: The film's plot begins when an engine detaches itself from a plane flying far overhead and crashes directly into Donnie's bedroom.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • The use of the term "fuck-ass".
    • "...I think you're the fucking Antichrist."
  • 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.
  • Psychotic Smirk: When Frank gives him orders, Donnie's expression changes to one of these.
  • Re-Cut: The Director's Cut greatly alters the pacing of the film, adding deleted scenes and new special 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.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Downplayed, but in the final scene, Gretchen seems to have a vague recollection of Donnie, as the paramedics are dragging his body away. The little neighbor appears to catch on to this and asks if she knew him.
  • Romantic Ribbing: After a terse argument with Donnie, his mother, Rose, goes to her husband Eddie, who demonstrates a downplayed version of this trope by reassuring and teasing her at the same time.
    Rose Darko: Our son just called me a "bitch".
    Eddie Darko: You're not a bitch. You're bitching, but you're not a bitch.
  • Rubik's Cube: International Genius Symbol: While Donnie is lying down in bed, thinking, he is playing with a Rubik's cube. Notably the Rubik's cube is a black and white one, quite possibly with M.C. Escher paintings on each side of the cube, instead of the regular white-blue-red-green-orange-yellow ones.
  • Say My Name: Gretchen's last word before Frank runs her over is "Donnie!"
  • The Schizophrenia Conspiracy: Donnie's psychiatrist suggests that his paranoia is caused by his schizophrenia. To be fair, she brings up the hallucination of a giant talking bunny rabbit first to justify her diagnosis. To be fair to Donnie, this part of the plot makes far more sense than the Black-and-White Insanity that he contends with at school.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: The film was adapted by director Marcus Stern into a live stage production that was produced in October and November 2007 by the American Repertory Theatre's Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Secret Room: Guided by Frank, Donnie sets Jim Cunningham's house on fire. The firefighters later discover a secret room in the house behind a burned-down painting where Cunningham kept child pornography material. He gets arrested the next day.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: While Donnie and his friends are drunk...
    Sean: We gotta find ourselves a Smurfette.
    Ronald: Smurfette?
    Sean: Yeah, not some tight-ass Middlesex chick, right? Like this cute little blonde that will get down and dirty with the guys. Like Smurfette does.
    Donnie: Smurfette doesn't fuck.
    Sean: That's bullshit. Smurfette fucks all the other Smurfs. Why do you think Papa Smurf made her? Because all the other Smurfs were getting too horny.
    Ronald: No, no, no, not Vanity. I heard he was a homosexual.
    Sean: Okay, then, you know what? She fucks them and Vanity watches. Okay?
    Ronald: What about Papa Smurf? I mean, he must get in on all the action.
    Sean: Yeah, what he does, he films the gang-bang, and he beats off to the tape.
    Donnie: [shouts] First of all, Papa Smurf didn't create Smurfette. Gargamel did. She was sent in as Gargamel's evil spy with the intention of destroying the Smurf village. But the overwhelming goodness of the Smurf way of life transformed her. And as for the whole gang-bang scenario, it just couldn't happen. Smurfs are asexual. They don't even have... reproductive organs under those little, white pants. It's just so illogical, you know, about being a Smurf. You know, what's the point of living... if you don't have a dick?
    Ronald: [pause] Dammit, Donnie. Why you gotta get all smart on us?
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: In a particularly dark version of this, Donnie has to let himself be impaled by debris from the falling jet engine, as by not dying when the engine hit the house, Donnie has doomed the universe.
  • Sex for Solace: Implied between Donnie and Gretchen.
  • Shout-Out: Many. Many. Many. Some that aren't referenced directly are:
  • Silent Whisper: When Donnie first walks up to Roberta Sparrow, she stands on tiptoe to whisper something barely audible to us but troubling to him. Donnie's dad asks what she said, and the scene cuts without revealing. He later reveals to Dr. Thurman that she said "Every living creature on Earth dies alone." New viewers will almost always ask prior viewers what she saidnote .
  • Small Reference Pools: Most of the music in the film is Nothing but Hits, and as soon as Time Travel is brought up, Donnie references the infamous DeLorean.
  • 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".
  • Some Kind of Force Field: Donnie encounters one in his bathroom. Except it's a hallucination. Well, maybe. He does the logical thing: stab it repeatedly with a butcher knife while sporting a slightly deranged Kubrick Stare.
  • Stable Time Loop: One exists entirely inside the alternate universe: Frank saves Donnie from being killed so that Donnie can be there to send the engine back. Along the way Donnie shoots Frank in the eye and kills him. Frank's ghost, still in the bunny suit and still missing an eye, then travels back and saves Donnie, starting the loop over.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Mentioned by Frank. And indeed, a supernatural vortex shows up during the movie's climax.
  • The Story That Never Was: In the finale, Donnie goes back in time (somehow) and allows himself to be crushed by the falling jet engine that had missed him in the beginning in order to change the sequence of events that led to his hallucinations driving him to commit arson, murder, and vandalism, his girlfriend getting hit by a car, and his mother and little sister possibly dying in a plane crash.
  • Stranger Behind the Mask: Frank, the masked stranger, knows Donnie, but Donnie (and the audience) hasn't met him yet.
  • Stylistic Suck: Jim Cunningham's Cunning Visions tapes replicate the look and feel of 1980s instructional videos, down to their cheesy editing and rock-bottom production values (at one point, the boom mic dips into the frame).
  • Suburban Gothic: Donnie unveils some of the town's dark secrets, but when he dies, all of this is undone and life carries on as it always has.
  • 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: Despite Donnie's disinterest in his classes, at one point we hear that his test scores were "intimidating".
  • Temporal Paradox: Donnie is caught in an unstable time loop that he must close. When he moves himself and the jet engine that should have killed him back into the past, he closes the loop by dying in the way that he should have from the beginning, negating everything in the time loop. This causes everything that was changed by his time travel to exist outside of the normal timeline without affecting it. The one exception is that the engine now went back in time for no reason whatsoever.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: After Donnie tells off his mother after making a scene at the dinner table ("Then why don't you start taking the goddamn pills?"), he waits for her to slam the door before adding a "...bitch.", which she hears.
  • Timeline-Altering MacGuffin: The jet engine has caused a paradox by falling back in time which will destroy the universe unless it is dealt with.
  • Two Decades Behind: Reportedly, the movie was set in The '80s because that's when Richard Kelly grew up, and he wouldn't be able to write a coming of age story in the 2000's due to lack of a frame of reference.
  • Unabashed B-Movie Fan: The director's first choice was C.H.U.D., but there was a problem with the rights. Nevertheless, Donnie still compares Mr. Cunningham to a chud in one scene.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Jim Cunningham, a motivational speaker who is adored by the school faculty. He's also a closet pedophile.
  • What If?: The main plot is essentially a few days of a "What If" scenario for a handful of people, eventually ending by returning where the tangential universe started in the first place and avoiding the "What If".
  • What You Are in the Dark: Donnie sacrificed his life to save the world, and no one will ever know.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To The Last Temptation of Christ — there is no doubt as to why it's in the movie. Both films are about the protagonist seeing a happy life that they cannot achieve, as death is coming for them one way or the other, and realizing that if they accept their fate it will be better for everyone else.
  • Wild Teen Party: Donnie and Elizabeth throw one when their parents go to Hollywood so Samantha's dance team can go on Star Search.


Video Example(s):


Head Over Heels

This plays during the first scene of the movie, the Youtube video being linked on top of the page as an example for how this trope plays out.

How well does it match the trope?

4 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / MusicVideoSyndrome

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