The film Donnie Darko observes a reality where expression is lost and suppressed by the will of the many. Donnie Darko takes a simple story of love and sacrifice and combines it with one of the most complex screenplays ever developed tying in religion, scientific phenomenon and the essence of love. Donnie is a boy isolated in a world of suppression where expression is controlled by the will of the many and tailored to the wants of the community as a whole. The movie is essentially an observation of Donnie’s ability to break away from the constraints of his society and to show his eventual freedom from it. Throughout the movie Donnie acts as a liberator for this suburban community in his ability to change people lives through the connections he makes with them. Every person that Donnie is involved with comes to a realization which in turn changes their whole essence. Donnie lives in a world where Sparkle Motion is praised and artistic expression is not. A world where morals are set with no leeway and the state of things stay the same. Through the film Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly is able to challenge this world and help to change the static and emptiness that consumes the inhabitants turning it into a place that has substance and worth.
Richard Kelly’s most important thematic message is the destruction of societal constraints that allows for growth and expression. This destruction of societal constraints can be seen by the radical actions preformed by Donnie throughout the film. Actions like flooding the school and burning down the house of Jim Cunningham serve to highlight Donnie’s destruction of the society that he lives in unveiling the mask that covers the community’s own mundane perceptions. As the movie progresses the world in which Donnie lives in begins to fall apart and the characters around him begin to break down. Jim Cunningham is arrested, Drew Barrymore is fired, Beth Grant goes into hysterics, and Jena Malone’s family relations become more and more stressed. This culminates in an ending that edifies Donnie’s own sacrifice to save the world from its own fake formalities. Donnie’s sacrifice is one not just for Jena Malone but for everyone that has been apart of his world. Frank is a projection of Donnie’s own need for expression and freedom and that is why he is the leading instigator in Donnie’s radical actions toward the community. When Frank states that the world will end in twenty eight days, he is elucidating that the world that Donnie has come to know will change and that both his world and the world of everyone else will be destroyed changing the characters own personalities. Donnie sacrifices himself to save the characters from their own internal destruction allowing for the ability of growth and expression to take root.
The sub-themes of love, religion, and science serve to support Richard Kelly’s own claim in that expression is essential in societal growth. These themes are forms of expression in their own right which according to Donnie’s characterization will help to break the mundane and prosaic process of society and enliven the world with a sense of purpose and value. Donnie’s love for Gretchen is a form of expression unlike that of Frank’s own view of expression. As the world around Donnie begins to crumble the love between Donnie and Gretchen becomes more and more constrained as the need to keep out the pressures from the outside world become harder eventually leading to the death of Gretchen. But is the expression of love more powerful than the expression of radical action? Kelly seems to conclude that love is a stronger aspect of expression by the notion that Donnie would have stayed in this suppressed world as long as he had the inclination of love in his life. This need for love by Donnie eventually forces him to sacrifice himself to save the world that now has become a wastland of false morality. The world is destroyed by Donnie only to be recreated again so that expression can grow and sprout from the constraints of societal rule.The use of religion and scientific phenomenon are also minimal forms of expression and serve to elaborate on the moral decay of the society that Donnie lives in. Grandma Death’s book is an expressive instrument and along with the other forms of art in the movie, the book demonstrates an anomaly in Donnie’s world as a whole because of the fact that society automatically rejects this form of expressive thought instantly. Drew Barrymore is fired because of her own rejection of societal constraints and the fact that her own mannerisms and belief were not in line with that of societal beliefs.
Although there are many more aspects of the film that highlight the need for freedom within a society such as the use of music and tone throughout the film Richard Kelly main focus is the interaction between Donnie Darko and the other characters. Donnie serves as Christ like figure who sacrifices himself for the well being of the world that he himself inhabits hoping to challenge the prosaic lifestyle that the people around him endure. Overall this movie is a piece of art expressed through the eyes of a man who wanted to capture a society in shackles ultimately being freed by the sacrifice of one boy.
Overall Rating: 10/10
Thematic Value: 10/10