Warning! Warning! This following is discussion extensively my thoughts on the predestination paradox and so contains major spoilers for Donnie Darko. Read ahead at your own risk…
I’m going to preface this retrospective by saying Donnie Darko is one of my favourite films of all-time. I even took to watching both versions of this movie which got me thinking of this week’s topic, the topic of whether time is fixed and so can’t be changed, better known as the predestination paradox. Donnie Darko is one of the movies that really gets this concept and I love every part of it; the October setting, the freaky Horror elements, the realistic characters and, most importantly, its interesting perspective on Time Travel. This aspect is what I would like to focus on here, although, before that, it’s important to describe the plot of the movie again as a quick refresh. If you haven’t seen the movie, you can get it pretty cheaply at this point, it’s a great watch and I highly recommend that you do (especially before you read on).
So what is Donnie Darko about, that’s a good question. The basic plot is a Donnie Darko (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is given 28+ days to stop the world from ending by a man in a creepy bunny suit, committing a multitude of crimes in the process. Saying that though, there’s much more to the story, the film at the same time is a coming of age drama and a story of a man with emotional problems on top of that. He is forced by Frank to commit these crimes along the way pathing for Donnie to save the universe by sacrificing himself in the process, these crimes forcing out a podophile (Jim Cunningham played very well by Patrick Swayze) and allowing him to walk home with Gretchen. He’s very much fated to enact these crimes that pretty much lead to the question, is everything we do predetermined or do we control our fate?
As with most Science Fiction, it also has many layers, coming from specifically those character interactions and the aspect of how one moment can change your life or set off a complete chain reaction of events. The film even homages and critiques 80’s nostalgia and the representation of larger than life stories such as Goonies. A great aspect of the film itself looks at how tragedy and narrowly avoiding death can effect us personally, in fact setting up the film itself. This is also paralleled by the book they read for English class but was cut from the from the original cut, Watership Down.
If you’ve only seen the original cut, this is probably a new scene to you but frankly (no pun intended) it’s an important one in relation to understanding the perspectives of our two main characters. Our main character (Donnie), trying to enjoy his final days on Earth before he has to repair time through self-sacrifice. This sacrifice however is questioned by our own main character. How can he build this time machine? What’s the point of living if he is to die alone anyway? and Is time really just a sequence of events that leads to another? This last question is something that is heavily explored in this film and I will like to look at for the rest of this discussion.
To look at this in full detail, it’s time to go back to the very beginning of the film, a part very crucial to the ending and the final narrative. In this scene, Donnie is lying in then middle of the road, he is dazed and confused. What we are told to believe is that he is sleep walking as established in our first proper dialogue scene of the movie (as seen below) which can be interpreted as the start of these visions. Donnie is then introduced as not entirely mentally stable being off his meds and going to therapy as shown in this great exposition scene here, check it out again if you haven’t seen the film in a while:
This character is mentally unstable making for an unreliable protagonist, this could very much be going on in his head (Frank, the end of the world, etc) making the film even more conflicting and interesting. This gives the film another view point upon the our own and tangent universe caused by at the exact point that Frank warns Donnie about the end of the world in a weird way causes it in the first place. Removing him from his bed and causing two parallel universes. The true reality, where Donnie dies when the turbine crashes into his bedroom and the tangent universe caused when Frank takes Donnie from his bed and tells him of the universe’s fate.
Seems simple enough until we get into the fact that the turbine from the original universe that crashed through the roof of Donnie’s room and killed him comes from the tangent universe posing a main question: If these universe didn’t split in the first place, would the first universe be able to correct itself or would the turbine just cease to exist? This is something that I have come to ask myself ever since I watched the film the first time of many, when I watched it in 2015. Is he always just fated to avoid but end up in the same fate in a vicious cycle that sees his last days struggling to find out what he must do to fix the universe and set everything back to normal, creating an accidental predestination paradox. Following the “God’s channel” to his and Gretchen’s awaited fate, an accidental death.
He spends his last days pretty much connecting with Gretchen and trying to find out how to travel back in time following the book called, “The Philosophy of Time Travel” written by one of the past teachers of his school. This teacher, better known as Grandma Death waits for a letter throughout the film, it seems she pretty much writes the book for Donnie to travel back in time/to the main reality and bring balance back into the universe, this concept explained in this great scene here.
It was interesting, however, to see the differences between the original cut (which is far superior in my opinion) and the Director’s Cut (which was still a decent watch) and how Robert Kelly adds the chapters of this book throughout the movie amongst these sections, it isn’t realised perfectly but it is interesting to read these chapters as he discovers their effects throughout the movie. One of these is the final concept I would like to look which is the physical channel that seems to pull everyone towards their predestined fate, no matter how small (from getting up to get a drink) or to going to Roberta Sparrow’s (Grandma Death’s) cellar leading to Gretchen’s death and for him to shoot Frank (in full costume) leading to him being able to talk to Donnie in the earlier stages of the film, haunting his dreams and “hallucinations”.
By the end though Donnie is left alone about to die, he saves the universe but he does the way he once feared would happen. After finally figuring out what he must do, he laughs and knows he must go through with it, no matter how scared he might be, and after (seemingly) many attempts, he has accomplished and saving those he held dear. As it is stated, “If the world ends, you will only have your loved ones, your experiences and it will only be you and him”. He is the living receiver, he fixed the blackhole and therefore, destroying the tangent universe and leaving the real/prime universe intact. His girlfriend dead, the world about to end, he follows his fate as the “receiver” of this mission to fix this paradox. He dies where he should have died originally and the prime universe continues anew. They may, however, still have some memories of this lost universe, all the time that was taken from them just like a wakening bump in the night.
With that final scene, that’s enough from me for today, Donnie Darko is one of my all-time favourite movies and I’m so glad to be able to talk about it here. I might even touch on it later. I would love to know your personal thoughts on it fellow Future thinkers and Intergalactic travellers down in the comments below…
On Wednesday, get ready for another mind-warping ride into the predestination paradox with the 2015 film, Predestination, a film with a main cast that is exactly the same character…
One thought on ““28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, that is when the world will end”: A discussion of Donnie Darko and the predestination paradox…”
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