We've all done it before. We watch a film and immediately Google on the internet what exactly the meaning of the film is, what was the moral, or any other kinds of Easter eggs to find. It's safe to say that Donnie Darko is a film that we all started to scratch our heads to.
When the film had it's first screening at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2001, and then hit theaters in America on October 2001, it only grossed $110,494 it's opening weekend. One probable cause for the lack of viewings was that the film was released shortly after the 9/11 attacks (and the movie is based around a jet engine crashing into his home).
The film's budget was around $4.5 million, and grossed $7.7 million worldwide.
Even though the film started off poorly when it was first released, it's gained more attention over the years. The idea of a Tangent Universe is more accepting today, than it would have been almost 20 years ago.
So, what makes this film so great?
Let's start off with the fact it was filmed over a course of 28 days; the same amount of time Donnie has until the world ends. Mind = blown.
But let's also discuss what the film was about, and why that's just even crazier. But before we can do so, we need to explain what a Tangent Universe is.
Imagine our Universe (Primary Universe which is the universe we exist in). Our universe goes in a straight line. Now, if we pick a point somewhere on that line and draw another line at 45 degrees, this is known as a Tangent Universe, which exists from that moment onward. The further away these lines get from each other, one will become unstable and both will be destroyed. So, by rewinding back into time to prevent these two lines splitting, we can save both universes.
Now that we have that explained, we can understand the plot of the movie, which will explain by chapters that are in the book Donnie receives in the film: The Philosophy of Time Travel.
Chapter One: The Tangent Universe
When Donnie wakes up in the beginning of the movie, he's already in the Tangent Universe. We don't know how, but it's already happened. He's woken up and led outside by a creepy rabbit costumed person, "Frank". This is how we know that Donnie is the Living Receiver or the Chosen One. When the Tangent Universe is created, the Living Receiver is usually chosen at random. Donnie was probably chosen because he was at the site where the Tangent Universe was created. It is his job to guide an artifact out of the Tangent Universe and into the Primary Universe. In the film, the artifact is the jet engine. How do we know this?
Chapter Two: Water and Metal
In the book, it states how water and metal are essential in order to time travel. Metal, being the artifact which is the jet engine, is considered the transitional element for the construction. The artifact is created when the Tangent Universe is created. The origin of the jet engine is probably a glitch when the Tangent Universe was copying the Primary Universe, and accidentally created two jet planes. Because one plane already exists and the second one had no where to go, it was dumped at the original site of the creation of the Tangent Universe, Donnie's house. Water is needed in order to construct a Time Portal that can be used as a gateway between Universes and the Tangent Universe. Donnie, under the influences of Frank, floods his school by damaging a water main. This leads to an event where he walks home from school with Gretchen Ross. She is essential because she is the manipulated living, and the ensurance trap, set by Frank who is the manipulated dead.
Chapter Seven: The Manipulated Living & Chapter Nine: Ensurance Trap
The manipulated living are the close friends of the living receiver, and they guide them to return the artifact into the Primary Universe. The ensurance trap is set by the manipulated dead. Gretchen is essentially the trap. Frank tells Donnie to flood his school, in order for him to meet Gretchen, who is also now the love of Donnie's life. Because she gets killed at the end by getting ran over by a driver in a rabbit suit named Frank. Donnie shoots Frank, where he has now created the manipulated dead.
Chapter Ten: The Manipulated Dead
It is their goal to set traps in order for the living receiver to return the artifact into the Primary Universe and out of the Tangent Universe. Donnie had to create the manipulated dead Frank by shooting him in the Tangent Universe, in order to save himself from the beginning. Now you're probably thinking "Wait. If Donnie was suppose to die at the end, why didn't Frank just let him die anyways?"
That's where you're wrong. Remember, we're already set in the Tangent Universe. Frank was killed in the Tangent Universe and travels back in time in order to get Donnie to return the artifact into the Primary Universe safely. You can think of him as a reverse ghost who appears before he is killed.
We all know the movie ends with Donnie traveling back in time and returning the artifact back into the Primary Universe. But does Donnie have to die? Not really. If Donnie avoided the engine crashing again into his bedroom, it wouldn't have started the Tangent Universe all over again. It's already been restored the minute he's back in bed. This brings a matter of question on whether or not Donnie chooses to die. We have no idea if Donnie has gained knowledge in the past 28 days in the Tangent Universe, or if he even knows he's about to die.
The film was definitely ahead of it's time; especially since this sort of idea wouldn't have been discussed 20 or 30 years ago. It's also quite funny that the film Slacker came out in 2001 as well, discussing similar ideas like branching off realities (which could be the same as Tangent Universes). Personally, I think films with such complicated plots that make you think, aren't made enough or watched enough. Inception and Momento are just one of the few films that play around with different ideas of the human mind released more recently. But Donnie Darko is a film that would have done so much better in the box office if it were have been made this year than it did 13 years ago.