Directed by Richard Kelly, the film “Donnie Darko” (2001) is a dark yet enlivening piece of cinema. The film begins with an introduction of Donnie, the protagonist. From the first few scenes of the movie, the audience can clearly tell that there is something not quite right about Donnie. The opening scene depicts Donnie riding his bike home from a nighttime adventure. When Donnie arrives home, he sees that someone has written “Where is Donnie?” on the refrigerator’s white board. Donnie shrugs off his family’s alleged concern and the audience is given the sense that Donnie and his family go through their days in moderate denial of the seriousness of Donnie’s troubles. Over the course of the film, dramatic events hint at Donnie’s importance to the universe, while the reactions of Donnie’s family minimize or nullify the importance of these events.
Donnie’s troubles begin with subconscious desires to leave his house. Early in the film it is revealed to the audience that Donnie has sleep-walked onto a golf course, wrote a series of numbers on his arm with a permanent marker, and woke up to local community members prodding him to get off the golf course. When he arrives home, his family is relieved to see him alive, but does not discuss the matter. While Donnie was away over night, a plane engine crashed through the roof of his house and landed on Donnie’s bed. Had Donnie been sleeping at home – as he should have – he would have been crushed. However, nobody makes mention of this fact or discusses how grateful they are to have Donnie home safely. As a cinematic nod towards the muted emotions of the characters, all of the scenes throughout the film are shot in a grayed spectrum of light. All of the colors in the film are muted or dulled, and the light filters through the sky and windows in a sort of hazy fashion. Though beautiful, the women and girls in the film have a dull, flat color to their faces. The boys and men in the film have flat hair and wear understated clothing. Though the Darko house is grand with a vast front yard, a chandelier in the entryway, and winding stairs going to the second floor, everything that happens within the house detracts from the magnificence of the home. For example, when Donnie calls his mother a derogatory slur, his mother – Rose Darko – does not react to her son. She simply pauses her step, continues on her way, and flatly reports to her husband what their son said. Instead of punishing Donnie, Rose’s husband simply consoles her in a mild way, telling her that she is lovely.
Throughout the film Donnie, his friends, and his family members encounter tragic or jarring events that should have a huge impact on the characters and spark severe emotional reactions. Instead, all of the people in Donnie’s life react with muted, internal suffering rather than outward expression. The example of Donnie’s sleep walking – which is a serious physical and psychological problem – being ignored by the family as well as Donnie’s initial survival of the jet engine crash clearly depict the entire film’s theme of denial and a general misunderstanding of the universe. While the universe attempts to send messages to its inhabitants, Donnie is the only person who takes note of these hints and seeks answers. Unfortunately, the culmination of the film’s events leave the audience believing that the only person who understands the state of the universe and the significance of the film’s events is Donnie, who eventually perishes.