Donnie Darko explained: the esoteric meaning of the movie

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We are used to a continuous proliferation of our memories of the 80s. TV series, films, music, all pay homage to that rebellious decade. At the dawn of the new millennium, however, it was this movie – destined to become a cult – to summarize that precise historical period, restoring not only that poetic character, but also managing to describe its anxieties through the figure of the protagonist: Donnie Darko.

Such an atypical name that sums up the anti-superhero figure – as he defines himself in a sequence of the film – a guy that must fight against the ghosts of his psychosis and of the American society narrated in the film. Not only the homage to the 80’s, not only the eternal fight of men with the society in transformation made the movie a cult: if there is a reason why we are still debating is because the film has several interpretations that have never been confirmed or denied by the director and producers.

Donnie Darko is an enigmatic film, open to any kind of explanation. So what differentiates it with modern products that pay homage to the 80s? The deep bond between Donnie Darko and the 80’s comes out thanks to a possible interpretation: the esoteric explanation, linked to the figure of the devil, so popular to any musical or audiovisual product of that decade. In fact, countless are the artists who have been “accused” of invoking the devil, the examples are many: from the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin. Precisely for this reason it is interesting to analyze the film from an esoteric perspective. Which is one of many possible, but perhaps the most fascinating one.

To corroborate this thesis, we must concentrate on the details, because they will solve the puzzle. The beginning of the film, with Donnie awakening away from home, returning to us by bike under the notes of Echo and the Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon is crucial. Because of the end of the song’s lyrics:

“Fate, up against your will; he will wait until you give yourself to him”

Echo And The Bunnymen
Donnie Darko Opening Sequence

Central is the theme of destiny that heralds what we will see later. Let’s keep in mind the verse “he will wait until you give yourself to him”. Who’s him? We will introduce other elements in order to understand if we are talking about God or Satan.

Second important detail is at minute 5:53, when we notice the drawing of Escher’s eye – the one with the skull in the pupil – which is usually associated with death, a topic tightly bound to destiny. Again – a few minutes later – at minute 8:23 – Donnie enters into a trance state and we see the image of Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song depicting Lucifer, and the American flag. The camera insists on this detail as if it wanted to communicate a connection between the two. Afterwards, with the fall of the mysterious plane engine at Donnie’s house, we will hear Frank’s voice and we will see Donnie’s eye, his pupil dilating more and more: the massive presence of the eyes in the film can be another reference to Satan, if we mean it in terms of omniscience and in reference to modern / Masonic culture but, at the same time, it can refer to God, as Solomon wrote in his Proverbs.

Let’s now ask ourselves about the iconic figure of Frank, wearing the now famous and gruesome rabbit costume. Frank is initially identifiable as a “dead spirit” who owns and commands Donnie. He always communicates at midnight, a time associated with many occult traditions. The spirits of the dead are “in communion” at midnight, even more with Halloween approaching. It’s the day when the world ends, as announced by Frank to Donnie.

Now – we know you’ve been waiting for it – comes the part where we play a bit with numbers. The list of the numbers missing until the end of the world is made up of digits that bring us to 666, a number historically associated with Lucifer. The countdown is “28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds”, in our case we can break it down as follows: 8-2 is 6, 6 hours, 4 + 2 is another 6, 12 is the sum of two 6s. Speculation? Maybe. After all, how many times have we heard stories like this? What is certain is that, in our theory, this can be a further argument in support. Let’s go on.

Frank’s presence, which is neutralized and metabolized in Donnie’s life, is brought out in psychotherapy sessions. For Donnie, this presence is comparable to the one of a God, a presence that, however, he fails – or rather, doesn’t want – to rationalize. Frank is therefore not an “external” being to Donnie, he is his ego and at the same time his fear of rationalizing death.

Seemingly irrelevant is the scene in which Samantha Darko reads a poem entitled The Last Unicorn. The name of the unicorn is Ariel, saved by the prince called Justin in a world of magic and wonder. Translating this poem into our interpretation we discover that this world is the alternative world created by Donnie where he (Justin) saves the unicorn (Ariel) which in this case is the projection of Gretchen Ross, the girl he falls in love with, who “awakens” him from his compulsions. And Ariel in the Scriptures is an alternative name for Israel, so in the occult tradition it’s the spirit of Judaism and Gnosticism.

Donnie Darko - Donnie Shoots Frank

Donnie sees his destiny when Ariel/Gretchen joins his spirit and when he has sex with her at midnight, he sees a portal (Cellar-Door) and realizes his destiny by going to Roberta Sparrow’s house. “Grandma Death”, the ex-nun who wrote the time travel book donated by the professor to Donnie. And this is where Donnie kills Frank: the same Frank who unconsciously hit his Gretchen after the scuffle with the bullies who were robbing Grandma Death’s house. Donnie doesn’t simply kill Frank, he kills the projection of his psyche which is shadow and darkness and which, figuring like God, represents his evil.

The crucial key of this duality and its link with Lucifer and the purest (and irrational) materialism is found when he explains the story of Graham Green, the Destroyers, in class and says that “destruction is a form of creation”.

This is the key to decipher the movie from an esoteric perspective. Destruction is creation. And that’s exactly what Donnie does: destroying the multiverse – the parallel world that we see in the film, in which he’s not hit by the engine of the plane – he actually creates the universe (or yet another multiverse) where he doesn’t fool death. Donnie Darko is therefore destructing his projection of Frank, with which the darkest and bestial characters of his unconscious are associated, and he is at the same time a creator – therefore God.

One comment

  1. Congratulations on using ‘esoteric’ more times in a short piece of writing than I have ever witnessed before.
    Interesting article though 👍

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