Donnie Darko: Comprehensive Film Analysis

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Donnie Darko: Comprehensive Film Analysis

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Criticism of Donnie Darko
  • Attention-Grabbing Moments in Donnie Darko
  • The Cinematography of Donnie Darko
  • The Main Idea of Donnie Darko
  • Conclusion


The independent film ‘Donnie Darko’ is slightly bizarre, and many do not like that it does not follow a strict narrative. The film is about a teenager who has many mental issues and is told that the world will soon end. The main idea that ‘Donnie Darko’ expresses is that many people of this world are disillusioned, and that main idea can be found within many characters within the film. As stated previously, the director does not follow a strict narrative, for there are many subplots and miscellaneous scenes. Since ‘Donnie Darko’ is a labyrinth of scenes and subplots, many are put off by it.

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The Criticism of Donnie Darko

I’ll start off by stating the things that most people do not like about ‘Donnie Darko.’ “Mr. Kelly is unable to give the movie the kind of pacing that would make us laugh and shock us simultaneously, because he's too infatuated with an aura of hand-me-down gloom.” (Mitchell). The main problem of the story is that the plot is very hard to follow. There are many parts of the film that branch off from the main plot and do not seem to resolve, or even affect anything. Also, the director seems to focus on ‘gloom’ too much. For example, parts which are supposed to be funny, such as the character Jim, tend to seem out of place because of the serious atmosphere that Donnie and the foretold apocalypse provides.

Another part of the film that draws people away is that it is so bizarre. A six foot undead-looking bunny named Frank follows Donnie around, making Donnie do wild things. “What?” is what many people who are introduced to Frank say, and I do not blame them. Frank, and many of the other characters within the film, just seem so random and out of place. Sadly, Frank is never really explained very well either. It seems as though the director wanted to present Donnie’s schizophrenia to the audience with Frank, but was not very successful.

Much of the film has to do with science fiction elements, such as time travel, but does not quite make sense. Why is Donnie in the time travel paradox, and how does it make any sense? It seems as though the director needed to add filler to the movie in order to satisfy the feature length. The time travel element randomly appears when Donnie starts reading a book by some lady who just so happens to be down the road. The lady who wrote the book is old and looks insane, reflecting Donnie in a way. The whole time travel idea is confusing, too, and is presented in a way that leaves the audience questioning what actually is happening.

The film does not tie up the plot very well, either. Towards the end of the movie, Donnie goes back in time, which results in him dieing to the jet engine. Donnie does this in order to save the people he loves from the outcomes that would happen if he had not died. The question is, why wouldn’t Donnie just lead the others into another direction as to save the ones he loves? Did Donnie really have to die, or did the director just want to make a dramatic twist ending? Perhaps a logical ending would have made the film too unsatisfying to the audience who sat through the the entire thing.

Attention-Grabbing Moments in Donnie Darko

Although much of the plot is scattered and doesn’t get tied up well, much of the film is relatable. Some people hate having to live in a society where they are mostly told what to do. Donnie’s schizophrenic lifestyle gives that audience some relief, for they see a teenager breaking out of the chains that society put on them. As a result, the film has a very cult following, those who can relate to it praise it, and others think of it as another film about a teenager.

‘Donnie Darko’ includes many high profile actors and actresses, which leads me to believe that the director was not aiming for the movie to be a “cult classic.” Drew Barrymore was placed in a non-lead role, which makes me think that the director just wanted her name in the film to attract more people into watching it. Why would the director have to rely on getting high profile actors in his film if he is trying to make the movie a “cult classic?”

The Cinematography of Donnie Darko

There are some pros to ‘Donnie Darko’, though. The cinematography is impeccable at many points within the movie. For example, there is a slow-motion scene when the camera goes into and through the hallway of Donnie’s high school. Everything is captured eloquently in that scene, mainly due to the detail that the director includes. All of the cliche high school characters are displayed in their natural habitat, and the viewer may go as far as to question human nature. Such thought provoking scenes bring me to my point that the cinematography is amazing in ‘Donnie Darko.’

The story is told in the eyes of Donnie, so perhaps the scattered plot is not so bad? As Donnie has mental problems, it makes some sense that the film includes bizarre things such as Frank. It is hard to tell if the director is aiming for that, though, especially in the labyrinth of the plot. I have to assume that the director intended for the plot to be corkscrewed, and I do not like the fact that I must assume things while watching the film. Either way, it is hard to say that the organization of the plot is not a major flaw.

The Main Idea of Donnie Darko

The main idea of the film, to show how many people of this world are disillusioned, is actually represented quite well. For starters, the main character, Donnie, sees wild figures who tell him what to do. This causes Donnie to vandalize his school and do other funky things. Although it is exaggerated in Donnie’s case, it is a bit more subtle within the other characters.

Jim, the self-help guru that Donnie’s teacher romanticizes, is actually a morally sick person. Early on in the movie, Jim is portrayed to be a loving person, and the audience can see that there is something odd with him. Later in the movie, Jim is found out to be filming child porn, and gets arrested. This subplot of Jim helps to strengthen the Director’s claim about disillusionment.

Donnie’s family also falls under the Director’s main idea. The parents of the family are middle class americans, who are disillusioned by their materialistic mindset. Donnie’s parents just want their children to be wealthy, like them. Also, they try to prove that they are higher class than the other families on their street, which is completely futile. Donnie’s little sister is shown to be engulfed into the same world her parents are in, too.


Although the director failed at organizing the film, I think that he did a good job of portraying the main idea. The plot was very hard to track and, at times, did not make sense whatsoever. The characters of the film made it outstanding, though, for they all resembled disillusion, which was what the director had been aiming for.

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