October 2nd, 1988.
An airplane engine falls through the roof of a teenage boy’s home, and should have killed him: should have, had he not been lured out of the house by an enormous rabbit.
Sound familiar? Then you’ve probably seen Donnie Darko. It is a masterpiece of dark cinema, a mind-bending trip into the world of insanity, and it does so in the most realistic of ways: by making the insanity appear sane. For ultimately, this is what we think, isn’t it, those of us whose grip on reality is tenuous? It’s the world that’s gone mad.
The rabbit plagues Donnie; the rabbit tells Donnie the world is going to end in twenty eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds. And oh, Jake Gyllenhaal does such a good job of believing it, never doubting it, and descending into the madness that comes with the freedom of knowing it’s all going to end. Yet all the while, we remain rooted firmly in the real world. School goes on; work goes on; life goes on. The rabbit is an illusion; the rabbit is real.
Certainly, the world doesn’t seem like it’s going to end. Nor does it for any of us, of course. Almost certainly, when the end does come, it will be abrupt, it will be instant, and we won’t know any different. But Donnie…oh, Donnie knows.
And it is despair that comes with this. The knowledge that any thing, any action, is meaningless. He burns down the principal’s house, and it is meaningless. A vile secret is unearthed because of it, and it, too is meaningless. He falls in love…and it is meaningless.
The story behind this film unravels the very nature of what is real and what isn’t, and in a very Descartian way dissects the meaning of armageddon. For if we end, the world ends, and there is no way of knowing otherwise. It is an end of life, an end of existence, and most importantly, and end of self.
And in the face of this ending, the destruction of self, Donnie is given a choice, and the choice is this: to let the world end…or to let the world end.
Few people will be given the chance to learn of their death before it comes. Fewer still will make the choice to roll over in bed, and let the engine fall through the roof.