I finally watched Donnie Darko last night.
I haven't read anything about it (I try not to saturate my mind with other people's opinions cause it's fun to enjoy original thoughts) and the only thing I had really heard about it was from a friend who posits that it explores the feelings of "love" and "fear" and how they relate to life--an idea that the film makes clear anyway.
Before I go into my take on it, I should explain my take on movies/films--and any creation of human imagination for that matter--in the general sense.
People create these--things--from their minds and philosophies . Whether it's a painting, a book, a film, musical composition--whatever--someone thought of it and then made it.
And as the viewer, reader, listener--whomever--we experience the creation.
So during that experience, there are two things happening: there's the idea with which the creator created, as well as the idea which we project onto the creation itself. In this way, "art" is a two-way encounter that is different for every person and every time.
That being said, my "interpretation" of Donnie Darko is similar to my interpretation of Lola Rennt, Memento and Mulholland Drive: it's about living the life you want to live.
Darko took me into the mind of the character and how he resisted the concept of time through time travel and how he rejected one life path and accepted/chose another. To me, Donnie saw--lived, actually--one reality but ended up choosing another--death--in the end.
The details are fun; trying to piece together the chronology (if any) and what "symbolizes" what (if at all). Some of those questions are:
-Did he actually wake up the night of the jet engine crash, go outside to his lawn, see Frank, thus avoiding the engine crash and initiating his Frank-induced life? The way he laughs as he lies in bed right before the jet engine comes crashing down on him at the end to me implies that, yes, he lived out the Frank life and then went back and chose death to avoid that path/destroy Frank/choose a new life/etc. By choosing the portal in order to take back all of the events which panned out over the course of the movie, Donnie creates the very plane crash which leads to his death-by-jet-engine in the end--the same jet-engine crash from the beginning of the movie.
-Was Donnie's mom standing by the tree at the end real? In one brief clip it shows her returning from the Sparkle Motion StarSearch trip, hugging the family--which means the plane crash never happened, at least not with her on it. But in the end, as Donnie chooses the wormhole/time portal, that very same time portal causes the plane she is riding on to crash--or disappear, sans one jet engine. At the end she is seen standing by the tree as the rest of the Darko family stands at a slight distance mourning the death of Donnie but to me it was more of a spirit than a person. She's an aloof character throughout the movie anyway, but it is weird that she is just kind of smirking and smoking a cigarette while the others cry nearby.
-If Donnie didn't "meet" Frank until the end when Frank ran over Gretchen and Donnie shot him, then how was Frank a main character in the movie prior to their encounter? Thus, was Frank real (i.e., just a bad driver in a halloween costume), a figment of Donnie's imagination, or both? I think it's both: Donnie saw into the future/the car crash and then used that character, who his mind named Frank, during the mental process leading up to the car crash. He met Frank in the movie theater and saw his wounded eye before he actually shot him in the eye.
These questions segue into the cyclical nature of the movie itself, which, in turn, inherently questions the concept of time by playing with cinematic chronology. There's no clear end or beginning, and to me that seems to be one of the points.
Another one, as I mentioned above, is the idea of choosing the life you want to lead. It would seem that, through it all, Donnie is controlled by different forces...Frank, coincidence, love and fear. However, my interpretation is that Donnie is really the one in control. Not control in a control-freak way. A control that culminates in his own choice of death, and at the same time, life.
This is my take on the movie right now. I think it's because I brought to it my own belief that life is what we make of it. It's not always easy and rarely is anyone able to pull it off without feeling hurt, second-guessing decisions or with any sort of degree of perfection.
But if we stay true to ourselves and the ones we love, we can transcend the concept of time and, in the "end," live the life we want.