(NOTE: This article may contain some movie spoilers. Do NOT read if you have any intention to watch this film in the future.)
Donnie Darko is perhaps one of my favorite films, in part due to its bleak sense of black humor; yet primarily because of how it dabbles in time travel and how it deals with the dark subject of depression, drug addiction, death, and potentially suicide. In so many respects, I feel the fundamental science fiction/fantasy quality of this film borders on theories found in quantum mechanics. Recently, I wrote an article on quantum suicide and the inevitable immortality that seemingly comes with it. As I (and many others) reflect on this masterpiece of modern cinema, it is hard to not want answers to many questions that go unanswered in the film. On occasion throughout the internet, and even in college level philosophy classes, Donnie Darko comes to the forefront of discussion as film is very accessible for many people (whom may not be used to traditional philosophy stylings). Many people (including myself) are captivated by the tragedy of Donnie as the film builds towards its unsettling climax. For this article, I would like to entail some reasons as to why Donnie Darko is viewed as such a significant masterpiece; both to casual viewers and individuals who study philosophy.
1). Donnie Darko is a very real feeling character.
I find myself sympathizing with Donnie Darko, and in many respects I feel my own existence is similar to his. No, I do not have insomnia; nor do I see hallucinetic visions of bunny rabbits. However, his introverted and depressed attitude; filled with occasionally morbid and philosophical outbursts is very much relevent to my own personality. In modern society, introverted individuals have a tendency to be isolated and outcast; with the exception of those few who are able to manage their feelings appropriately. Donnie goes through his young life feeling very misunderstood and finding solace in his friend-but-not-so-friendly Frank. His depression takes a hold of him and drives him to a pivotal point in the film. And though there is a good dose of fantasy/science fiction throughout the film, he consistently shines through as a real character.
Too add, I do not normally find myself sympathizing and particularly interested in a fictional character as I have been with Donnie Darko for the last year or so (since I saw the movie). This says a lot to the reality of his character.
2). The film leaves some things to the imagination.
While some may not enjoy watching a movie that leaves more questions instead of tying up every loose end and providing answers, there are many who preference Donnie Darko because it is able to successfully leave us asking questions. As someone who studies philosophy, and on occasion likes to analyze this film, the open-endedness is a wonderful thing. The ending, for example, is left very open-ended. We never fully know why Donnie Darko does what he does.
3). The film deals with topics like death, depression, and suicide uniquely.
One of the most captivating aspects of Donnie Darko is the ability of the director and writers to make him feel like a real person. The subject matter of this film is very heavy, with only occasional moments of black humor to lighten the mood. As an individual who studies psychology in college, I found this film to be very interesting in how it approaches psychological topics; which I would imagine are very common in a therapists' office. Further than just strict scientific psychology, the film also dabbles in elements of science fiction and philosophy. These are used as tools to create imagery and this alternative reality world, which undeniably are able to grasp the attention of many film-viewers. Even if you are not particularly interested in Donnie's personal struggle, you will likely enjoy the dark humor, the sci-fi elements like time travel, and so on and so forth. There is really a lot to be had in this film, though they all are so tightly intertwined with a dramatic tragedy.
4). This film shows us that we are mortal.
I watched this film during my late teens, and cannot help but sympathize for this character who was similar in age. So many of us live lives in which we do not ever really consider death until we grow old. Additionally, we may often forget to sympathize and empathize with others who may be enduring difficult situations we could only have nightmares about. On the whole, Donnie Darko's character feels very real; and through this we are able to witness psychological disorders of insomnia, depression, and so on; as well as issues of substance abuse. Some people do not realize that these things are more common than we would expect, especially if you are not plagued with one of these illnesses. I can speak from my own personal disorders that Donnie Darko's character is one I can heavily relate too. The ever present notion that we are mortal lingers with me as it seemingly did with him in the film, and for that reason this film should be commended. It allows you to open your eyes to a side of the world many may not even be able to fathom.
I do not want to get into too many more elaborate details, for fear of spoiling the film for anyone who may not have seen it. I would highly suggest picking it up, or at least renting it; then considering it on a deeper, philosophical level. Even a quick Google search for Donnie Darko will wind you up on multiple philosophy forums and discussion boards with individuals proposing questions that are not exclusive to the film, but rather ones that generalize to the real world. This movie is a real aid when it comes to teaching about these hard thoughts about life. I would highly advise that at least young adults and older adults examine this film, then have further discussions on its content. On very few occasions can Hollywood can produce something worthwhile, which can induce important discussions between us.