A problem most people have with Donnie Darko is that it doesn't make any sense. All I took away from my first viewing was that a teen boy killed his imaginary rabbit friend after he committed vehicular manslaughter and then traveled back in time to die.
So, I did what many confused viewers do: I googled my heart out. The internet (thanks, r/movies) kindly explained that if I wanted to comprehend the stream of images that flickered before my eyes for those 2 hours, I had to watch the director's cut and read The Philosophy of Time excerpts and then do even more research online.
After having done that, I can say that I understand more and less. I understand more about time-traveling aliens and the Manipulated Living. What I still don't understand is why Richard Kelly would release a movie that's impossible to understand unless you watch a different version of it and then read a bunch online AND THEN watch the second version a couple more times.
To be clear, I'm not claiming that you, my dear brilliant reader, don't understand this movie or didn't understand it upon your first viewing. I'm claiming that the majority of people who watch this movie without putting in hours of extra work cannot make sense of it. And that's a problem.
I'm forced to wonder: Did Shane Carruth (the director of Primer) and Richard Kelly make a bet?...Who won???
In his class's discussion of Watership Down, Donnie gives a big speech about why he doesn't feel anything for the rabbits in the book. He points out that rabbits aren't aware of death the ways humans are so they don't suffer or deserve sympathy the way humans do. His teacher and fellow students listen to him as though he's saying something important, but all he's done is point out the obvious: rabbits =/= human beings.
Perhaps the concept of anthropomorphic rabbits is too complicated for Donnie, which is weird considering his imaginary friend is a giant anthropomorphized rabbit.
Good thing Ms. Pomeroy didn't include Beatrix Potter on the syllabus.
Speaking of Ms. Pomeroy...
Drew Barrymore's Ms. Pomeroy is a terrible teacher. She tells a student on her first day to sit next to the cutest boy. This is not just the most cringe-inducing thing to ask of an adolescent, it also borders on sexual misconduct. She might as well have pulled an empty beer bottle out of her desk and had the kids play Spin the Bottle for the rest of class.
After that, Pomeroy assigns a short story that inspires students to destroy private property, and she expresses no guilt in encouraging their criminal behavior.
The only certifiably Cool Teacher Move she pulls is she let the kids watch a movie in class.
Donnie's science teacher is named Professor Monnitoff. The title of professor means Monnitoff spent multiple excruciating years in school. Most grad students go through this hell so they can work at an esteemed college. Prof Grand Moff, which is what he should ask students to call him, is seriously slumming it by teaching in a high school, especially at a private religious high school. Religious schools don't have the best reputation for their science curriculums.
Professor Monnitoff and Donnie discuss time travel, as one does with one's overqualified high school science professor.
Time is pre-determined by God, explains Professor Monnitoff, a man with a PhD IN SCIENCE.
Donnie then says that he could alter time if he traveled in "God's channel" (because I guess God has the carpool lane equivalent of time travel, NBD). Instead of shaking his head and chuckling in response to this sixteen year old's thoughts on cruising through time using the Lord's interdimensional shortcuts because WHAT, Professor Monnitoff tells Donnie that their conversation could get him fired.
I do think that if another adult overheard their serious conversation about the best way to TRAVEL THROUGH TIME, they would definitely fire Professor Monnitoff, but not for the reason he thinks.
Donnie's friends are hanging out and discussing how badly they want to bone the cartoon character Smurfette when Donnie ruins their fun by interrupting to explain Smurfette's true origins and sexuality. His knowledge of the Smurfs obliterates his friends' minds, and they announce that Donnie is a mental giant.
If knowing trivia about 80s kids shows qualifies you as a genius, then why hasn't Mensa called me yet?
If Donnie decides to close the time loop, then he changes everything that comes after this decision, including burning down Cunningham's house and revealing his child pornography ring. That means Donnie allows a pedophile to walk free.
Richard Kelly must have realized this plothole because on DonnieDarkoFilm.com, there is a newspaper clipping that reports Cunningham committing suicide on October 12th, ten days after Donnie closed the time loop. While Cunningham taking his own life reflects that he felt shame and regret, his reputation and legacy as a life coach would remain untarnished in the Primary Universe, which doesn't seem like adequate justice for a pedophile who distributed child porn.
These time-traveling aliens are panicking over a mistake they made to cause a Tangent Universe, which interrupts the Primary Universe and leaves the world stuck in a time loop. According to Roberta Sparrow's The Philosophy of Time, the aliens must choose a Living Receiver to correct their mistake and end the time loop. Make sense? No, of course not. Don't worry about it.
The point is: the aliens must choose a Living Receiver (aka a human being) to save all time and existence. And they choose a sixteen year old diagnosed schizophrenic. You could say Donnie was misdiagnosed after he reported seeing aliens' time tunnels. But it's clear he started seeing the therapist and taking medication before he was chosen as the aliens' Living Receiver so he was already suffering from delusions and hallucinations. The aliens chose the worst candidate to reveal their bonkers time travel to: a kid that nobody would believe if he started talking about aliens and time loops.
This is the true mystery at the center of Donnie Darko. Even the director's cut didn't try to answer this question, and there's nothing in The Philosophy of Time about it!