Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




Donnie Darko, Deleuze, and the Time-Image


Richard Kelly's cult film Donnie Darko (2001) is a coming-of-age tale about a teenage boy who, after being told by a boy in a rabbit suit named Frank that the world will end, investigates time travel, and sacrifices himself to save his girlfriend, his mother, and the world. I first review the phenomenological ways to regard the film's genre world. Is the world of the film a dream, an hallucination, reality, or merely one reality among multiple universes? Does the character sleep, delude, wake, or imagine? If one reads the film as science fiction, then Donnie dies a hero confronting the world; if as psychosis, then a confused suicide who could not take the world anymore. Second, I examine the cinematic techniques that foreground the conflict between subjective and objective time, not only in the film but in the character's belief system. The way the film plays with time through slow motion character introductions, variable speed interstitial shots, and timing set to music video-like montages, combined with Donnie Darko's perception of wormholes and his struggle with free will and predestination, challenge simple genre classifications and create a resonating philosophical indeterminacy. Third, I employ Gilles Deleuze's conception of the time-image to argue that Donnie Darko the film and Donnie Darko the character liberate subjectivity from both the conventional hero's journey and the pathos of mental illness. Deleuze's time-image demonstrates how certain films blur reality and imagination as well as defy conventional cause-effect relationships, effectively opening up the past and the present to radical ambiguity. The characters in such films, as well as the viewers of this type of cinema, are able to critique conventional reality and create new selves. Donnie Darko is neither a superhero nor a schizophrenic but a critical subject who is in the process of becoming.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "Donnie Darko, Deleuze, and the Time-Image" Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association. Virtual Conference. 13 Nov. 2021.