Donnie Darko Analysis

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For those of us who had to navigate the innumerable errors of adolescence during the early-to-mid ‘00s, Donnie Darko dredges up a lot of feelings. Though the 2001 sci-fi flick bombed at the box office, it’s kept a steady cult following over the years. There’s an enduring appeal to the time-travel drama, despite the fact that the movies’ attempt at physics is seriously flawed, according to actual scientists.
If you ask three people what Donnie Darko is about, you’ll probably get three very different responses. It was the Bush administration and a confusing time for everyone, especially us nascent teens trying to navigate hormones and Green Day.
From what fans can mostly agree on, here’s the story: Donnie Darko is an angsty high school teen living
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Throughout the movie, Donnie tries to piece together information about wormholes and what the film calls “tangent universes.” It’s heavily implied that the jet engine — which almost kills Donnie in the beginning of the movie — somehow opened a wormhole to another universe. This idea actually does tap into real physics concepts, albeit with some creative freedom.
“Donnie Darko, like many works of fiction, takes two ideas from physics about ‘parallel universes” and combines them,” Sean Bartz, a physicist at Macalester College in Minneapolis, tells Inverse. “The movie also creates the idea of a tangent universe, which to me implies a parallel universe that contacts ours at a single point in space-time.”
While Donnie Darko almost gets the concept of alternate histories correct, it falls a bit short, which is of course forgivable. In the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, “alternative histories” are real. In the movie, this idea of alternative histories plays out in the twist at the end, when we’re not sure which version of reality we’re seeing — one in which Donnie is alive, or another in which he’s
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If this low-budget movie that no one saw is so deeply flawed, why do teens and angsty semi-adults seem to love it so much, even after all these years? Certainly it’s not the for the educational value or blockbuster appeal.
According to Alex Zalben, managing editor at TV Guide, the film taps into an adolescent variant of vulnerability. It’s a movie that understands you at a time you’re struggling to understand yourself and what the hell is going on in the world around you.
“I’d say the simple reason Donnie Darko is still a favorite is because it captures the ‘chosen one’ storyline of a Star Wars or Harry Potter, but filtered through a moody, teen, almost goth tone,” Zalben says. “So unlike a huge blockbuster, YOU — yes you, you sad misunderstood boy — could be Donnie Darko. It also helps that it’s a mystery box, the sort of movie with no easy answers that rewards repeat viewing, and discussion with others.”
Here’s to 16 years of this weird, wonderful movie and the teens at heart who’ll always love it, no matter how
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