Bright Wall/Dark Room September 2022: Stupid Man Suit: On Donnie Darko by Lindsey Romain | Features

There is also the matter of Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). A subplot involves this character, a motivational speaker who becomes something of a cult figure in Middlesex—a phony tan guy who inspires dance moms with how deftly he minimizes the spectrum of human emotion. He proposes a theory that fear and love are the deepest of these emotions, and that everything in life falls neatly into either bucket with no room for further consideration. Boomer catnip, in other words. 

Jim is a beloved, empathetic figure in the community but is in truth a predator. Under the influence of Frank, Donnie burns Jim’s house and exposes his secret stash of child porn. But his contingency of zealots—including the conservative sore Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), head Sparkle Motion mom and teacher at Middlesex High, who won’t accept Jim’s true nature and instead pledges fealty to his innocence. Not so different from the Trumpian logic we’re forced to endure even now—an omnipresent, insidious reminder that the hell of non-truth is inescapable. Another flavor in the neapolitan scoop of barren hope. 

The house burning isn’t Donnie’s first act of vandalism. Near the start of the film, he breaks into his school, busts a water main, and floods the halls. He then punches an axe into the head of a giant bronze bulldog statue, the school mascot. He scrawls something in spray paint on the cement below.

They made me do it.

A generational creed if there ever was one. 


I made a fire, I’m watching it burn 

I thought of your future 

With one foot in the past now just how long will it last? 

No, no, no, have you no ambitions?

“Head Over Heels” — Tears for Fears 

All I ever wanted was a teacher like Miss Pomeroy. Drew Barrymore lends her earthy spirit to the character—her olive tank tops and floor-length maroon skirts; the way she moves like velvet through school halls. She’s the only one who sees these students as the adults they’ll soon become, and so she treats them as such. She doesn’t coat her words in candy but strips them with poisonous barbs—nothing cruel, but nothing sanctimonious, either. 

Miss Pomeroy is dating Professor Monnitoff (Noah Wyle), the science teacher who helps Donnie understand time travel. Combined, they are a singular, blinking red of truth on the Middlesex ledger. But their mayday is ignored. Nothing can save us. 

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