The very first time I tried to watch Donnie Darko, I turned it off after about ten minutes or so. It wasn’t that I didn’t get it, it just wasn’t the right time. When Mighty (Adam) and I used to live together, if we weren’t out at the weekend we’d always have people round to eat pizza; drink beer, and watch films. Clearly, having spent the afternoon in a pub garden, sitting down with a group of friends to watch Donnie Darko whilst drinking a few more beers was not a good idea. So off it went. To be fair, before watching it I had absolutely no idea what it was about. Well I knew he had conversations with a six foot tall imaginary bunny rabbit called Frank, but that was it. I hadn’t read a review or even the blurb on the back of the DVD. It was a good week or so before I actually got round to watching it and when I did I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d properly understood it. I knew that I liked it, that I was sure of, but of what Donnie was doing… I hadn’t the faintest idea. I think. I’m not sure. Still, even now, and I’ve since watched it countless times. In fact, why I love the film, and am frustrated by the film in equal measures, is that I’m less sure as to what Donnie is trying to do on each and every viewing. Why does he smile at the beginning when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere…? Each time I sit down to watch it I’m determined that I’m finally going to get it, but by the end I’m usually left more confused than I was to start with.
On the 2nd of October 1988 Frank wakes up Donnie and lures him out of bed to a golf course, where he tells him, “28 days, 6 hrs, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. That’s when the world will end.” Back at home, a jet engine falls through the roof and lands on Donnie’s room. Later that day the FAA tell the family that they have no idea where the engine has come from, Donnie’s father says that Donnie has dodged his bullet and , “(that) somebody was watching over him,” but Donnie is doomed.
Throughout the film Donnie finds him self being guided by Frank, Grandma Death, his therapist, his teachers, and his self perceived ability to see his own fate. The film would appear to be about course-correction, I think, and it’s through his quest to find out about time-travel that he discovers ‘The Philosophy of Time Travel,’ the book written by Grandma Death, and we get hints as to what he’s trying to do. But that’s really all we get, hints. At the end of them film, it would appear that the thing he was trying to correct was him surviving the jet engine landing on his room. His last words are, “I’m going home,” and then he laughs, and it’s this that I have never been able to understand. At first I thought that he was trying to correct/undo Gretchen’s death, but, of course, he had been working on correcting whatever-it-was for long before she was run over and killed. My current train of thought though is – mostly still confused – why is that Frank was guiding Donnie towards correcting the fact that Donnie should have died when the jet engine came through the roof, when it was him that got him out of bed and out of the house in the first place? Or is it that by killing Frank after he’s run over Gretchen that he prevents him from coming back and waking him up in the first place…?
I have, in all honesty, probably watched this film far too many times. One things for sure though, I have to get my hands on a copy of The Philosophy of Time Travel.