Donnie Darko - Conscientiousness Beyond Love And Fear

Thoughts On: Donnie Darko

The psychological sci-fi mind-bender about Donnie Darko's exploration of time and fate.

We've all seen it a dozen times and researched the crazy philosophical science fiction behind it. I need not go into all that here. If you want, check this out...

But, what I'm going to talk about here is what the science fiction elements mean, why they are so complex, the point of them. This film is in short about suicide. It starts with the introduction to Donnie's not so functional personal and family life as well as the fact that he's in therapy. And as we all know the jet engine then falls through his house and into his bedroom. Donnie isn't killed though thanks to one of his sleep walking episodes. Here's the first thing we have to unpack. Yes, this is the start of the end and the catalyst to Donnie realising his powers, but it symbolises the night of his own suicide. On this night Donnie decides to take his life for reasons pertaining to, or even indifferent to, depression or other clinical disorders. This is where I say we should consider the film to have stopped. What we get to experience from here on out is Donnie's imaginings of a life beyond this night where he doesn't commit suicide. In short, the film is the hypothetical of a suicidal person, a question of 'why?'. Why should Donnie kill himself? Why shouldn't he? The 'tangent universe' is his materialised questioning. The 'manipulated' are Donnie's reasoning for questioning.

To understand the questions Donnie is asking you have to put yourself in his shoes, see him as he sees himself. Donnie thinks he's worthless, a problem child, overtly aggressive. These are the terms people use to describe him and is expressed through the manipulated. With the manipulated being controlled by Donnie, not the tangent universe and fate in our metaphorical look at the film, him meeting Gretchen allows him to explore these ideas he has of himself. Through Gretchen, Donnie can juxtapose his aggressive side with his need for affection. This is his core conflict: fear vs. love. Donnie both fears what he's capable of and his capacity to be feared, whilst wanting to be loved. But, as Donnie makes clear, life can't be reduced to love and fear, there's a whole spectra of human emotion to consider. The film is then a suicide note in which Donnie contemplates his capacity to set his own path - to find love without destroying it. With outright fear of life or a love for it, suicide becomes a simple question easily answered. This, however, doesn't frame Donnie's perspective, or anyone's for that matter. We're just not that simple. Exploring the degree to which Donnie's aggressive tenancies and more affectionate ones balance with the hypothetical reality (inside the tangent universe), we're allowed to see how he ultimately justifies his choice of suicide.

Donnie's aggression is made most clear with Gretchen's back story, why she entered Donnie's mad world. Her father abused her mother, stabbed her, leaving her no choice but to flee. What's the most poignant image of the film? Yep, Donnie stabbing at his own reflection with the knife. The connection between the father and Donnie through this image cites his key fear with Gretchen. He doesn't want to hurt her, because like her father (a back story we can consider him to have made up as it come from the tangent universe) he has emotional problems. When Donnie says this to Gretchen he's excited, as if he found something to connect with her over, but such is irony. And such is Donnie's questioning perfectly demonstrated. He likens himself to a key figure in a woman's life and then reduces him to heartless, violent figure only to be escaped. But, alas, the whole scene with the Smurf philosophising. In a town with largely conservative beliefs (ironically Middlesex) Donnie sees 'no reason to live without a dick'. The town around him are Smurfs, blue and boring. They reduce everything to love and fear (well, most of them - his family and friends largely excerpt from this). They are obsessed with this idea of an ego reflection. Ego is a Freudian term and is, in short, the rationalising factor of the mind, used to judge self-worth. It balances socially encompassed ideas and self-centred ones - the human and animalistic parts of us, again, Donnie's need for love and his leanings toward aggression. But, as with Donnie we shouldn't see things so simply...

Love is a concept we revere in society, it is the end all and be all of so many people's lives. Our love is often a reflection of  our maturity, our humanity. But love has its foundations in our base obligations. We love so we can mate and sustain family bonds. Likewise, aggression isn't just base and animalistic as the film presents. It's core to social interactions. Without diving too deep, human interaction is measurable through our passivity and aggression - the ideas we accept, those we reject and those we try to push onto others. It's the simple idea of opposites forming a whole. Without aggression, without what is defined as fear - lashing out at what scares you - there can be no love, no passivity. Donnie takes this idea of a confusing multi-faceted sliding bar to describe what is wrong with simplicity, seeing fear and love as of such significance, being able to make the 'simple' decision of choosing to take one's life or not. Throughout the film Donnie questions how he affects the world and if he needs to be apart of it. He asks if he makes his family any happier, the town any better, his own life with the introduction of a significant other. His final answer is of course, no. The film is a tragedy because Donnie sees the world as a better place without him. The gut reaction, the reflexive response to such an idea is to immediately say, 'no, everyone is of worth. No one should commit suicide'. The only comment I would make on such a proposal is to say, it's not our decision in the end, we don't endure the suffering of those wanting to commit suicide. Yes, we should help them if they want it, but to assume suicide must be stopped is to look at the mad world we live in with a child's eyes. The film however takes no immediate stance on the ethics of suicide, it merely explains why people may chose to take their own lives.

Donnie, because of his depression or in a moment of clarity takes his life because, I've said this before, but, control, the fantasy; control the fantasy. This film is about fate, the idea of God and a human's position under such ideas. Donnie, through fantasy finds he has no control and so decides to take control of his fantasy the only way he knows how - escape it. By closing his loop, destroying the tangent universe, ending questioning, Donnie dies, but manages to affect the real world the only way he thought he could, the only positive way he thought he could ever manage. All in all, the best explanation for the film is the idea of a Mad World. Donnie can't comprehend the world fully, what he understand is he doesn't belong. And so, all I can leave you with is those ideas and the song that best explains the film. While you listen ask yourself the question the film leaves, like I will, you with: was Donnie right to commit suicide...

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