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Donnie: "Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?"
A cult Mind Screw film, set in October 1988, about a schizophrenic teenager called Donnie Darko who sees a demonic rabbit figure named "Frank" while sleepwalking. Frank tells him that the world will end in 28 days, just before a jet engine crashes into Donnie's bedroom. Donnie credits Frank with saving his life by causing him to sleepwalk out of the house, and begins to do Frank's bidding, while gradually trying to uncover the strange events around him which may or may not be related either to Time Travel, an Alternate Dimension, or Donnie's worsening Schizophrenia.
A director's cut version was constructed by the author Richard Kelly several years after the original release. It greatly alters the pacing of the movie by the addition of deleted scenes, new digital effects and soundtrack alterations. The author considers this version not a director's cut but rather an extended special edition, since the theatrical version was already his preferred cut. Fan opinions are somewhat divided as to which version is better.
- Alliterative Name: Donnie Darko.
- All Just a Dream
- All There in the Manual: The book The Philosophy Of Time Travel, alluded to in the theatrical version and quoted briefly in the Directors 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: Arguably, 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.
- Atomic F-Bomb: After Donnie's English teacher loses her job, she runs outside the school and screams "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK" at the top of her lungs.
- Author Avatar: Richard Kelly describes the nameless kid who shows up at the end of the film as this.
- Awesome McCoolname:
Gretchen: What kind of name is 'Donnie Darko', anyways? It sounds like a superhero name.
- Axe Crazy: One of the more perfect examples of this trope, actually.
- Big "Shut Up!": Poor old Cherita Chen yelling "CHUT UP" at Donnie after he tells her that things will get better.
- Bittersweet Ending: If you think about it, the whole movie is this. Donnie would have died outright had Frank not spoken to him and gotten him out of bed: thus the entire rest of the movie. The whole purpose of the film seems to be allowing Donnie to come to terms with his premature death, and to realize that sad as it is, it's way better than the alternative.
- Black and White Morality: The Life Line scene (see Crowning Moment of Awesome) has the teacher arguing this (Fear vs. Love), while Donnie asserts that the world revolves around Grey and Gray Morality.
- 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.
- Butterfly of Doom: Take your pills one night, doom the universe.
- Caught with Your Pants Down: Donnie almost starts masturbating during a hypnotherapy session.
- Cloudcuckoolander: 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...
- Crap Saccharine 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.
- Deus Ex Machina: Lampshaded when Donnie murmurs this as Frank arrives to solve (sort of) everything.
- Downer Ending: Ye Gods...
- It's kind of a toss-up between this and a Bittersweet Ending. The world is not destroyed. It's not destroyed because Donnie allows himself to be killed.
- Though it may be a Shaggy Frog Story, depending on whether you understand the foretelling to mean "You need to have completed the cycle or everything would have gone kablooie", or to mean that world or Donnie's world.
- One interpretation makes it a legitimate Downer Ending, though not in the way it seems to be: The end of the world Frank was talking about was actually the end of the time loop, meaning that the events of the film will continue to repeat over and over again, with different variations each time. This literally ends the universe, as time will never advance beyond the appearance of the portal. By dying, Donnie has only created another variation, and he'll be alive again the next time the world resets, making the ending comparable to Memento. One nice perk of this interpretation is that you get to disregard S. Darko.
- The Eighties:
- Faux Horror Film: This movie was marketed in every way as a straight horror film instead of the dream-like, supernatural mind-screwy coming of age high school movie it is. It's creepy, but never really horror.
- Fired Teacher: Ms. Pomeroy.
- 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 merely a hypocrite and paedophile.
- Funny Foreigner: Cherita Chen has an accent that doesn't exactly match her (presumably) Chinese heritage, and is bullied.
- Gainax Ending: And beginning. And middle.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: Mrs. Farmer doesn't swear; 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.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Donnie.
- Innocent Swearing: "What's a fuckass?"
- 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.
- Killer Rabbit: Not really, but close.
- Mental Time Travel: Suggested in the epilogue.
- Mind Screw: For your sanity, we recommend that you do not try too hard to make sense of the plot.
- Portal to the Past:
- Frank is capable of opening these.
- So is Donnie, by the end.
- Precision F-Strike: "What's a fuck-ass?" and "...I think you're the fucking Antichrist."
- Psychotic Smirk: When Frank gives him orders, Donnie's expression changes to one of these.
- Sanity Slippage: The whole movie is about this.
- 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.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: While Donnie and his friends are drunk...
Sean: We gotta find ourselves a Smurfette.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There's No B in Movie:
- Donnie and Gretchen go to see Evil Dead as a date movie (in a double feature with The Last Temptation Of Christ, oddly enough).
- 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.
- Actually, the reference to "Last Temptation of Christ" makes sense, if you've seen the movie. First off, Donnie is essentially a Christ figure who saves the world by sacrificing himself. Secondly, in Scorsese's film, Jesus has an extended dream of an alternate life while he is dying on the cross. He must choose whether to live as a normal mortal man or to die to save everyone else--essentially the same choice Donnie had to make. The extended dream sequence is basically analogous to Donnie's time loop in that it gets reset at the end when Jesus chooses to die.
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch: Donnie calls his mom "bitch" in the subtlest and calmest way ever:
- 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.
- What Do You Mean It Wasn't Made on Drugs?
- What You Are in the Dark: Donnie sacrificed his life to save the world, and no one will ever know.