Greek tragedies were often seen as the foundation to literature not only for the Greeks but also on a universal scale as well. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex was one of the more infamous tales because of its provocative and unorthodox nature. The tragedy features a man on a quest to prevent the events of his prophesized life from coming to fruition. The key components of fate, destiny and time can be paralleled to the cult classic film Donnie Darko. In the movie, Donnie suffers from predictions of the future in his own variation of time travel, as a repercussion he has been “chosen” to rectify the past in order to preserve what is to come.
Between the two pieces of text, destiny and fate greatly affect the outcome for both of the tragically flawed characters. In Oedipus Rex, the titular character is ill-fated right from birth after his life was prophesied as being incestuous and macabre. A key component in all tragedies is kismet which connects to the inevitability of certain destinies.
Oedipus was taken away from is biological parents in order to avoid the outcome in which he soon resides with his foster family.
In an ironic twist of fate, he finally gets wind of his prophecy which prompts him to run away and actually cross paths with the king and queen, “it was my fate to defile my mother’s bed, to bring forth to men a human family that people could not bear to look upon, to murder the father who engendered me,” (791-793). Everything was unavoidable, like the Tangent Universe that took place in Donnie Darko; Donnie deviated from his original path but still wound up fulfilling his destiny of self-sacrifice.
There are a myriad of elements that make the very notion of both pieces seem wholly unrealistic but somehow the end result of each leads to heartache and desolation. Time is a fickle and unpredictable aspect that is extremely subjective in addition to being susceptible to outside forces. In Donnie Darko, the very concept of time is so chaotic and is tampered with constantly which as a repercussion an alternate universe is created, the Tangent Universe. It can be proven that as soon as Donnie left his bedroom in the beginning that his cheating of death affected events that were meant to happen making them go askew.
After a series of actions that were brought on by Frank the bunny, he finally learns that it was destined for him to die by the fallen engine. Therefore a predestination paradox was created when Donnie is sent back to October 2nd to wait for his impending demise. In actuality he didn’t disrupt the pattern of events he was only meant to learn from them. In the end, he had a moment of clarity when he watched Gretchen die right in front of his eyes. It was then that he saw a portal to the Primary Universe displaying events that would have happened.
In an unconventional and mind bending way, Donnie is then transported back to October 2nd all the way from October 30th to assist in the way that life was meant to play out. Another factor of time would be time travel and this was explained by Roberta Sparrow, Grandma Death in her book The Philosophy of Time Travel. It was more than a coincidence that Frank told Donnie to look out for time traveling portals considering the fact that Dr. Monnitoff, his science teacher was discussing how it was nearly impossible to do so. When dealing with that kind of travel it brings to light other elements that play a part.
From a theological standpoint, no one has the power to control future except for a god of whatever denomination that a specific person attributes their spirituality to. Tragedy can be found within the essence of time. For Donnie he was unable to escape the future events that his death affected. The film can be compared to The Butterfly Effect in the sense that both main protagonists were the root to so much sorrow and despair. Donnie needed to learn in his Tangent that dying would be the only way to save others from their manipulated and unfortunate end.
The old saying that speaks of sacrificing one life to save billions can be put into effect here just on a smaller scale. Donnie has to suffer the knowledge that his death would be the only way to prevent the cataclysmic incidents like that of Ashton Kutcher’s character Evan Treborn in The Butterfly Effect. He too understood his role in life was apocalyptic as soon as he was conceived. When Donnie ran into Grandma Death she whispered to him that “All things die alone,” (“Donnie Darko”) it can be seen just how tragic and miserable his life was going to be.
After assessing the whole film, it can be realized that she was right because Donnie inevitably died by himself without ever having met Gretchen and without resolving his fight with his mother. Another event can be one of the first encounters with Frank in which ended with “28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds” (“Donnie Darko”) being etched into his arm. He had his very own expiration date and “end of the world” timeframe given to him. The very thought of knowing one’s own time of death is absolutely frightening and panic inducing.
One of the deleted scenes off of the DVD provided more insight into Donnie’s mind and his acceptance of death: A storm is coming, Frank says. A storm that will swallow the children, and I will deliver them from the kingdom of pain. I will deliver the children back to their doorsteps; I’ll send the monsters back to the underground. I’ll send them back to a place where no one else can see them, except for me because I am Donnie Darko (“Donnie Darko”) The poem is also conveying the unfortunate circumstances that he has to partake in which in reality is unfair because no one should have to endure that amount of pain and responsibility.
The bunny in Donnie Darko is one of the more mysterious and downright eerie characters of the film. His true nature and motives are not necessarily clear because even the way that he was manifested is to be questioned. Although it is not confirmed in the movie, it can be said that Donnie suffered from paranoid schizophrenia which was being taken care of through therapy and medication. At one point he stopped taking his pills but as soon as he started again, Frank the bunny appeared. It can be safely assumed that he was a hallucination being brought on by the medicine; as if his inner thoughts were being conveyed subconsciously.
There is no rhyme or reason as to why a bunny was chosen, nor why the man was actually Donnie’s sister’s boyfriend Frank. The way that he is shown is as a terrifying and menacing man in a bunny suit. It can be considered an oxymoron of contradictory because the usual perception of bunnies is that of light and fluffy but Frank was actually dark and frightening. One can infer after watching the movie in its entirety that Frank acted as an unofficial guide for Donnie in his Tangent Universe. He was the main catalyst to Donnie’s understanding and acceptance to how crucial his death is to those around him.
Also as a result to the deeds that Frank had him commit led to other unintentional consequences. If it wasn’t for the bunny telling him to flood his private Catholic school then he would never have propositioned Gretchen into being his girlfriend who is also the last piece that convinces him to die by the engine. When he is told to burn down Jim Cunningham’s house, it is revealed that he is in fact a closeted and avid child pornographer. These events cultivated into the final result of time and how Donnie’s ultimate mission is to rectify the Primary Universe by closing the Tangent one.
Both Oedipus and Donnie suffer from the same “sin”, harmatia which is that of fate. It didn’t matter whether or not Oedipus lived with his biological parents because the prophecy given by the oracle was going to become true, “that it was fate that he should die a victim at the hands of his own son, a son to be born of Laius and me,” (713-714). His life was doomed to be filled with taboo aspects, misery as well as loneliness. One would think that as soon as he discovered his fate that it would disrupt the chain of events but on the contrary, it just kept everything in motion leading up to the meeting with Laius in addition to marrying Jocasta.
Oedipus had an unfair advantage in comparison to the rest because he already knew what was in store for him but it made him mad with determination to prevent it. In respect to Donnie’s world it was a lot more complex due in large part to the unpredictability of his actions and requests provided by Frank. The complexity comes into play as soon as the engine falls into his bedroom in the beginning. One can argue on the fact that all that had happened afterwards did not really exist seeing as how the Tangent was a product of Donnie’s imagination, his paranoid schizophrenia.
Once again free will is not really taken into consideration because even though he was lured away from his bedroom that fateful day, he was only doomed into repeating the events with a more permanent ending. Madness can be seen as another form of their sin but it differed between both characters. Oedipus was not knowledgeable of his part in Laius undoing specifically but the very thought of causing that much destruction was palpable enough for him to want to leave. The insanity made him blind and a little more reckless in a way.
Like stated before, his quarrel with Laius was a stroke of irony and fate just like his marriage to Jocasta. When dealing with destiny it is safe to assume that free will plays its own part as well. It can be assessed that Oedipus was able to leave his foster family on his own free volition but his preordained life was concrete. The fact that Oedipus strongly believed that a loophole was discovered can be chalked up to desperation and the inability to accept the future. It didn’t matter where he was because the tragic character was condemned into taking part of a disastrous story.
Donnie on the other hand was clinically ill, which was intensified when he took his medication. Seeing as how Frank was a product of hallucinations being induced chemically, it is evident that he was not in his right mindset. The bunny can also be revered as a coping method for his own deteriorating life. It is not until the end that we find out that the pills that were being prescribed to him were actually placebos, sugar pills that in actuality had nothing to do with his interactions with Frank.
This whole ordeal begins the questioning of whether or not everything that had happened was a product of Donnie’s imagination or if there is indeed such a thing as time traveling. From a cinematographer and literary point of view, both Oedipus Rex and Donnie Darko had other elements that contributed to their poignancy. Throughout the movie it was a very dark and ominous tone that overpowered the very nature of the story. Seeing as how the story is being told from Donnie’s perspective, everything seems to be intensified and almost dramatized.
When introducing Frank we see him as a horrifying bunny that only appears from dark shadows or in nighttime. Music is also a key component because it adds a sense of foreshadowing because it is nearly impossible not to be able to tell when an event that is crucial is about to be portrayed. Within the Tangent Universe, Frank communicates to Donnie by breaking the Fourth Dimensional Construct which can be likened to “breaking the fourth wall”. Taking into consideration that the film is taking place in an alternate timeline, Frank having the ability to interact directly with him is rather odd.
In a literature when one breaks the “fourth wall” it truly means that the character is breaking the boundary between the audience and the film, more specifically by having Frank and Donnie speak. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, there is more of a sense of menacing foreshadowing that is displayed through the oracle’s predictions and fortune telling. The tone of the tragedy is extraordinarily dark and borderlines on being morbid. Richard Kelly’s highly acclaimed cult classic Donnie Darko and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex both teeter on the line of being tragic in addition to being informative.
The ill-fated characters endure life’s wrath by being destined to die alone. Oedipus has to deal with knowing that at some point in time he will take part of the demise of his father while also marrying his mother which after it comes to fruition he will be left alone. Donnie on the other hand had to experience what it was like to live in a universe that was left highly disoriented because his imminent death did not occur. Themes that are connected to both pieces are that of fate/destiny, time, the inevitability of death and whether or not free will actually exists.
Cite this Donnie Darko vs. Oedipus Rex
Donnie Darko vs. Oedipus Rex. (2017, Mar 28). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/donnie-darko-vs-oedipus-rex/