To view the film Donnie Darko is to constantly ask one important question, “What if?” From the beginning, the audience wonders, “what will happen if Donnie doesn’t take his meds?” (Or maybe, from the very beginning, “what if a car drove over poor Donnie sleeping the middle of the road?”). At the inciting incident, we wonder “what if Frank hadn’t called Donnie out of bed?” (Would we even have a movie?) As Act II begins, the audience must ask, “what if the school hadn’t closed down?” (Would Donnie and Gretchen ever had a chance to fall in love?) Later on we’re invited to ask, “what if Dr. Monnitoff and Karen Pomeroy were really given the freedom that they need to help Donnie?” (What if Donnie never had burned down Jim Cunningham’s house, exposing his kiddie porn dungeon? What if Sparkle Motion hadn’t impressed the Star Search scout? What if Jim’s trial hadn’t forced Kitty to hand over chaperone duties to Rose? What if Elizabeth hadn’t gotten into Harvard? What if Frank hadn’t gone on a beer run? What if Karen Pomeroy had written something less poetic than “Cellar Door” on her chalkboard? And so on…) These pivotal moments represent the causal links that form the narrative structure of the film—the choices that Donnie makes (or are made in his behalf) that propel him towards his goal. If one were to diagram the story on a flow diagram, we would see how each pivotal point moves the story from one clear direction to another. We would also see that at one of these pivotal points, the decision tree grows a funny little branch that somehow finds its way back up to the beginning of the diagram—essentially creating a whole new universe of possibilities. It is this “multiverse” concept that has blown more than its fair share of minds in the y...
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... better for having experienced Donnie Darko, even if it never happened.
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