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Some films aren"t instant classics, yet over time they gain newfound appreciation and cult followings that make them forever iconic. This is certainly the case with Donnie Darko, a film that became much more popular and beloved in the years following its lackluster release. Almost two decades after its release, fans continue to obsess over and debate the smallest details and deeper meaning of the film.
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The film features moments that can be, powerful, thought-provoking, unsettling, or even hilarious. The many memorable quotes from the film serve as the best way to immortalize its best moments.
Updated on June 29th, 2021 by Matthew Rudoy: In the year that the movie turns 20, Donnie Darko continues to be celebrated and analyzed by new and old fans alike. The movie has no shortage of compelling quotes, from seemingly simple lines that take on greater significance than the audience first realized, to lines that are intriguing even beyond the context of the film.
Some of these quotes are in both the theatrical version and director"s cut while some are only said in one version of the film. Regardless, each quote offers unique insight into what makes Donnie Darko a beloved cult classic and why the film continues to resonate with audiences.
Donnie Darko is not like a traditional superhero movie, yet it does contain certain elements of a superhero story. There is the surface level similarity of the protagonist"s name having alliteration like Peter Parker or Bruce Banner.
More significantly, Donnie Darko becomes the story of a teenager who saves his universe and the people he loves. Most of the characters think Donnie is weird at best and highly disturbed at worst, but none of them understand Donnie"s greater purpose, and even he doesn"t understand it until the end of the movie. Director Richard Kelly has even shared in an interview with Fandom how the movie spoke to the wish-fulfillment of superhero stories.
14 "You can"t lump things into two categories. Things aren"t that simple."
Donnie Darko is a movie that celebrates the full spectrum of human emotion in all its beauty and pain. The movie tackles this head-on with Donnie becoming frustrated when his gym teacher forces him and his peers to engage in an exercise where they explain whether a scenario they are given is the product of fear or love.
Donnie is right to scoff at this idea as life cannot be boiled down to everything being rooted in fear or love. There is always more emotion in play and always more to the story. This is true of Patrick Swayze"s character Jim Cunningham who is harboring a dark and disturbing secret about himself, despite being a seemingly charming and virtuous motivational speaker who touts the idea of conquering fear through love.
After reading Watership Down and watching an animated film adaptation of it in his English class, Donnie scoffs at the idea that he should care about the rabbits in the story.
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Drew Barrymore"s English teacher character, Karen Pomeroy, reminds Donnie of the miracle of storytelling. Her line is an important reminder about the power of storytelling and how the best fictional stories are meant to relate to and teach their audience, regardless of how the story might first appear. Her line about deus ex machina also foreshadows the importance of a deus ex machina later on in Donnie"s journey.
12 "I promise that one day everything is going to be better for you."
Before being well-known for her performance in Orange Is The New Black or playing a Westview resident in WandaVision, Jolene Purdy played Cherita Chen in Donnie Darko. Cherita is bullied throughout the film and despite having limited screen time, Purdy helps the audience sympathize deeply with her character.
At one point in the movie, Donnie promises that everything will be better for her one day. This kind of line would feel hollow in most movies but it actually ends up being quite significant. Not only does the line show Donnie being more compassionate and sensitive than his peers, but he lives up to his promise as he ultimately saves Cherita and everyone else.
Many of the adults in Donnie Darko struggle to connect with the children and young adults in the story. This is true of the hypocritical Jim Cunningham, the gym teacher Kitty Farmer, and Principal Cole, but also of characters like Donnie"s well-meaning parents who want to help but just don"t know how to reach him.
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Karen Pomeroy is one of the only adults who are able to effectively communicate and connect with Donnie or any of the other young adults in the story. Despite the gift that she has, Karen is fired from her job for political reasons, which is a commentary on the absurdity of bureaucracy and how the world of education often does a disservice to the children they are supposed to be serving.