I re-watched Donnie Darko recently, and it still makes me think. It’s listed as my favorite movie, and I think it may still hold that spot.
Some of it is just that it has so much going on. Solidly placed in a moment in time (1988), with great music, a great cast… a teen drama, a sci-fi movie, a battle with mental illness, and what I most want to consider, an exploration of time travel and of religion.
As such, I am going to look at Donnie Darko in terms of two things we talk about here on Comparative Geeks. They interplay so much together, that I have to talk about them both together.
So I’m definitely going to have to say: spoilers to follow for Donnie Darko!
Donnie Darko is Science Fiction
If I’m about to make a whole bunch of claims about Donnie Darko, I guess we should lead with the underlying thought. Donnie Darko is a science fiction story. Going back to the definition of science fiction I discussed recently, I guess this needs a little consideration.
Is this a story of humans and aliens? Well, he may not be from outer space, but Frank is from… somewhere. Is it Donnie’s mind? The mind of God? The future? Whatever he is, he is alien to us, different, and we explore who Donnie is in relation to what Frank is.
What then is fascinating with Donnie Darko is that he has the option of taking care of himself, of doing something else. He doesn’t. He does what Frank says, follows his path, follows his plans – and so this explores time travel, and God, and mental illness, and teenage life – while we sit there wondering why he does it all. But his curiosity is so exceedingly human.
Time Travel is Seeing the Future
The future presents itself to Donnie Darko – through Frank, but also through other means. In many ways, you could say the whole length of the film is one long jaunt into the future. Is one long vision of the future.
In the movie, in The Philosophy of Time Travel, the future is a path that God can see. and slowly, throughout, Donnie can see more too. Especially the paths of someone’s near future, a path forward. He sees people get up and walk around, and then, when presented with his own path, follows it.
By seeing the future, he travels through time – finding things he did not know about or expect. But even moreso, the things that Frank knows, the things he makes happen – like the revelations from burning down Patrick Swayze’s house, or the chains of events set in motion like from flooding the school or his mom having to go with his sister with Sparklemotion – would not have made any sense without this future knowledge.
The future is built from what Donnie sees – from the very beginning, from him surviving.
Time Travel is Wormholes and Spaceships
But this is the metaphysical, this is visions of God, this is religion in the science fiction. But they touch very solidly on the science, too – wormholes, as the means of time travel; metal spacecraft, and faster-than-light travel, as the way.
The events that lead to the plane itself being involved, with his mom and sister inside, are set up by Donnie’s actions. But then, from the future that can’t possibly only be in Donnie’s head, the plane engine falls from the sky, through a wormhole, and back to land on Donnie’s house.
Suddenly, it’s all real. Suddenly, it’s an alternate reality. And the one difference between the two, the one change, is whether or not Donnie is at home. The essential difference between one alternate reality and another.
And Donnie, at least, can remember it all. Because he is the time traveler.
28 Days… 6 Hours… 42 Minutes… 12 Seconds…
So here, a confluence of time travel and religion, a way for science fiction to explore for us the question: would we die if it left the world a better place?
A question, a proposition, is posed. First, that every living creature in this world dies alone. And second:
And they’re great memories. The whole length of the movie. Then he’s back, at home, and he laughs, and smiles, and is happy. He dies with the wonderful memories of the time that passed, not alone, but with friends, with having made a stand against his metaphorical Antichrist, with a girlfriend.
And so, the future vision, the paths and things that happen – they make it so that the search for God is not pointless, because he didn’t die alone.