Donnie Darko, Stephen Hawking, God & Cynicism

So, I just experienced Donnie Darko (2001) for the first time. I cannot believe that I made it 9 years not knowing about this incredible movie! From a purely aesthetic perspective, this movie is amazing. Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal are phenomenal actors, and this movie serves to prove to me that they always have been so. I want to be cautious with my endorsement of this film (for obvious reasons), but with language and peculiar bunny rabbits aside, I recommend this movie.

Donnie Darko is intriguing on so many levels and I want to explore several reasons why I think this movie is worth watching. I will start with the more surface reasons and work my way to deeper meanings.

1> Richard Kelly (writer) has an uncanny ability to intertwine a multiplicity of themes and genres into one grand narrative. Donnie Darko simultaneously qualifies itself within all these genres: Horror, Drama, Comedy, Contemplative, Love, Satire, etc. I am amazed at how seamlessly this film moves between these emotions yet maintains its focus on the bigger story. What is the bigger story? Well, I’m not sure exactly. Something about time travel, demon-bunny rabbits, God, violence, justice, or love???

2> Donnie Darko possessed me to read my first book written by a prolific atheist (perhaps possessed isn’t the best term here). I immediately went to purchase Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” which I read yesterday. Hawking’s book only piques my interest in the movie’s meaning and intent, but raises other interesting questions in my mind about the way philiosophers and scientists couch their questions about God. With Dr. Hawking, I feel that if he would only rephrase the questions he is asking about God and Creation, he (and Donnie Darko) would come to different conclusions concerning them. Not that Donnie Darko comes to any conclusions about God. Unlike Hawking, I feel as if Donnie’s deepest longing is to be in community. “I don’t want to be alone.” he confesses to his psychiatrist. Despite my deep convictions that overtly conflict with Dr. Hawking, his work that I suppose inspired Donnie Darko leaves me hopeful that we live in a world that is focused in a determined search for meaning and community. And despite the radical cynicism that Donnie Darko employs, it is somehow (perhaps paradoxically) a hopeful story.

3> In the movie, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Donnie Darko, has an interesting conversation with his science teacher. I haven’t engaged in any research, so I can only recall from memory here. The conversation takes a hard left turn when Donnie inquires about time travel. Something Donnie has experienced (in visions or dreams, or perhaps in reality) causes him to explore wormholes, or portals that allow us to see predetermined paths into the future. While experiencing these visions, Donnie sees a portal pertruding from people’s chest (heart/soul) and traveling ahead of them to predetermined locations. Someone wants a beer, so the portal travels to the refridgerator ahead of them. Moments later the person “obeys” the path of the portal. Donnie is apparently gifted with the ability to see this where others cannot. Anyhow, I was thinking of it as a “will” or “desire” in my mind as I watched the film. As Donnie asks his teacher about wormholes and portals, the teacher responds by saying that Donnie is now contradicting himself with regards to the existence of God. His argument is that if there are portals that we can see into the future with, then we have the ability to change that path (choice) and therefore God must not exist. Donnie replies by noting that he is right, unless God is in control of the choice, or provides the choice. I understand the arguments that could proceed from here, but I am interested in one thing at this point – why does Donnie Darko ask a question that the most brilliant mathmeticians fail to ask when faced with time and space conundrums? What if God created the conundrum?

4> Speaking of perplexities, conundrums and paradoxes, Donnie Darko is so rampant with them that it is seemingly a commentary on the complexity of life. After only one viewing (and there will be more!) I am struck most by the relationship between the worldview of the Darko family and the psuedo-religious/self-help guru and his mindless following, Jim Cunningham (played by Patrick Swayze). I suppose there are two camps – the Darko family could include Donnie’s science teacher and his literature teacher (played by Noah Wyle & Drew Barrymore respectively) who collectively represent a cynical worldview. To the contrary, another of Donnie’s teachers, along with a host of authoritarian figures at school, represent a right-wing religio-social dynamic much like that of a religious fanatic. At first, I thought the movie was siding with the cynical worldview (especially given the theme song of “Mad World” by Gary Jules – look up the lyrics – great song, harsh cynicism). Then I began to feel that movie was refusing to pick sides and was rather painting a caricature of both and forcing us to choose unfairly. However, I came to realize the possibility that the movie is an expose of both. If seen in this light, it is possible to view Donnie Darko as a hopeful exploration of life between the spectrums. I am not confident that the film offers any answers. But it does possess the content that draws us into important conversations. Before I close out this point, I should mention the satire the movie immerses us in, with regards to both the cynical and psuedo-religious worldviews. Without giving spoilers, both lifestyles are exposed as lacking the moral resources to overcome the human condition.

That is all for now. I have only begun to collect my thoughts on this (I saw it 4 days ago). So I am sure there will be more to come. (oh, and there is a sequel. “S. Darko” that was released in 2009).

P.S. You have 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds until the world ends! And why are you wearing that stupid man-suit? 😉


  1. My brother pointed out to me that the Gary Jules version of “Mad World” is a remake of the 1982 British band “Tears for Fears”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s