Rituals in Donnie Darko

Donnie Darkois a movie about a hard-pressed adolescent who is led to believe that merely he can salvage the hereafter from an impending apocalypse, by person who merely he sees that is dressed in a menacing coney costume. From my reading, a cardinal subject in this movie is about forfeit, this ideal links to many of the universe religions’ doctrines.

This paper will be analyzing assorted signifiers of rites seen inDonnie Darkowith theories explained in Nye’sReligion: The Basicss.In the movie, we see illustrations of Malory Nye’s Rituals and Performance theory, Sigmund Freud’s theory affecting Rituals and Repetition, and in conclusion, Arnold new wave Gennep’s theory affecting Rituals and Transformation, in action throughout the movie.

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In order to understand the construct of rites inDonnie Darko,we must foremost cognize what rites mean in this context and what the illustrations are, as interpreted inDonnie Darko.Harmonizing to Nye, “rituals are a affair of making something, executing actions, peculiar types of behavior, and prosecuting in that behavior in certain ways.” ( Nye 2008, 131 ). Although this definition is instead obscure, it does accurately picture what a ritual might be interpreted as. Later on in Nye’sReligion: The Basicss, it is explained that rites frequently include Performance, Repetition, and Transformation – among some other features.

Harmonizing to Sigmund Freud, repeat in rites “is kindred to, and derived from, the actions of mental cases, who have fixed forms of behavior which they repeat once more and again.” Furthermore, his theory assumes that ritual is “demonstrating an unhealthy province of head, as people ( in groups and separately ) find comfort from the force per unit areas of the word in ritualistic/neurotic behaviour.” ( Nye 2008, 143 ) .

A perfect illustration of this from the movie is Donnie’s wont of somnambulating. Sleepwalking can really be classified as a neurotic upset in world, but in footings of the movie, it serves as a critical secret plan device. Donnie invariably sleepwalks in the movie, about every dark, and this is when the audience sees Donnie interacting with Frank ( the figure in the coney costume ) .

It is ill-defined whether the viewing audiences are shown Donnie’s dreams, or if he has time-travelled into a parallel kingdom, but this is when the audience genuinely sees Donnie with a relaxed position and his face with a smile, all while interacting and put to deathing assorted bids from Frank. This besides figuratively fits the thought of happening comfort from the tensenesss of world from diging into neurotic behavior, as illustrated by Freud. Donnie’s alteration from troubled to eased, can besides be interpreted into the Rituals and Transformation theory.

Harmonizing to Arnold new wave Gennep, “ritual actions frequently work in important ways to transform people’s construct of clip, infinite, and society.” ( Nye 2008, 145-146 ) . Donnie’s somnambulating job frequently had him waking up in really unusual topographic points, and with him holding small to no remembrance of how he got at that place. For case, in one scene he woke up in the center of a golf class, and the golf players were every bit puzzled as he was, on how he managed to acquire at that place.

A more outstanding illustration of Rituals and Transformation in Donnie Darko, is Donnie being introduced to hypnosis by his healer. It could be debated whether the fact that Donnie being forced to see his healer could number as a signifier of ritual. However, the province of hypnosis is on its ain, a separate and more outstanding illustration of ritual. Van Gennep’s theory besides includes a three measure strategy, which he believes is the most basic construction for transmutation in ritual. The phases are “separation, liminality, and incorporation.” ( Nye 2008, 146 )

The initial measure – separation – is defined as the phase where “the individual is detached from the functions and duties that have been associated with their lives up until that time.” ( Nye 2008, 146 ) . This separation phase may get down for Donnie upon come ining his therapist’s office prior to hypnosis. It may besides be upon acquiring into his bed, before or while traveling into deep slumber, before somnambulating. We see that Donnie begins to go forth his witting ego in this phase both while being hypnotized and we assume he does so when he sleepwalks.

The 2nd phase – liminality – is described as the measure where “participants are expected to traverse a threshold which marks the boundary between the universe that they are go forthing behind and the societal universe which the rite is fixing them for.” ( Nye 2008, 146 ) . This threshold may either be physical or be marked in more abstract ways. In Donnie’s instance, this threshold may be marked as get downing to acquire hypnotised by his healer, and besides acquiring up from his bed before he begins his frequent sleepwalks. Last, the concluding phase – incorporation – is a measure that “gives an indicant of the new function that the participants are to take on.” ( Nye 2008, 147 ) .

For the instance of hypnosis, this may be the healer teaching Donnie on what to make next or giving him feedback on what she gathered from his hypnosis. As for the somnambulism, it may be the satisfaction he feels, witnessing the things he committed while he was somnambulating. For case, Donnie feels immediate satisfaction after he sees his school flooded, which he committed under the instructions of Frank. The fact that he did these undertakings while in a “ritualized” province besides can integrate into the Rituals and Performance theory.

Donnie falls in an about indistinguishable “ritualized” province of enchantment, both while being hypnotised and while somnambulating. Harmonizing to Nye, “the public presentation of ritual may affect particular types of behavior – a participant may be expected to presume a certain attitude, or speak in a certain manner, or to make certain actions. Much of this behavior may be rather different from what is done in ‘normal’ life ; it may even be the opposite of normal behaviour.” – “In most instances, nevertheless, there is no peculiar book, and alternatively participants are expected to improvize, but in making so they must act ( and execute ) appropriately.” ( Nye 2008, 140 ) .

As explained earlier, Donnie exhibits a really peculiar set of features while ritualized – his overall position and facial look go really relaxed, he speaks clearly in a really slow draw, and he frequently walks with a smile, and he is really obedient – all of those factors wholly contrast him in world. We see that Donnie in this province can be easy manipulated, as the lone clip he would finish undertakings for his healer and for Frank. For case he burned down Cunningham’s house down because Frank told him to while somnambulating, and he admitted to this under hypnosis. Causing his healer to experience that he is unstable and a boundary line schizophrenic.

From my reading, the cardinal message of this movie can be really closely related to ideals of assorted spiritual religions. Donnie acts as a Jesus, who non merely sacrifices his life – by staying in his bed to be crushed by the jet engine towards the decision – to continue the continuum of that kingdom, but besides by seting each of the troubled characters in the movie on the right way to life. Donnie set the lives of Cunningham, Cherita, Kitty, Grandma Death and perchance more, on the right path throughout the film.

For illustration, he managed to do Cunningham to acquire in gaol for paedophilia, and he stopped Cherita in the halls to actuate her from the strong-arming she receives in school. By remaining in his bed in the terminal of the film and acquiring crushed by the jet engine ( that came from the other kingdom ) , Donnie saves the lives of Gretchen and Frank, since their cause of decease was indirectly linked to Donnie. Harmonizing this movie, signifiers of forfeit are justified, if they are performed for the overall improvement of the lives of others.

In decision, Donnie could hold merely been the Jesus of the hereafter that he turned out to be, through take parting in the signifiers of ritual – somnambulism and hypnosis, as seen in Donnie Darko.Donnie’s rites are insistent – they are unhealthy forms of neurotic behavior in which he escapes world. Donnie’s rites involve transmutation – we can see him physically change in his ritualized province, in which he goes through the three phase procedure of separation, liminality, and incorporation. Last, Donnie’s rites involve a grade of public presentation – we see Donnie manipulated into finishing undertakings for his healer and Frank which he would ne’er make in a witting province.


  1. Nye, Malory. 2008. Religion: The Basicss edition. London and New York: Routledge

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