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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

Donnie Darko vs The Twilight Zone "Ring-a-Ding Girl"

What does Donnie Darko have in common with the Twilight Zone? And it's not just their surrealism.

Donnie Darko movie poster

Donnie Darko is still one of my favourite movies, though maybe not for the same reason it was when I first watched it. It's an amazing movie and if you haven't seen it, dear god stop reading this blog and go watch it. It's been listed as #2 in Empire's 50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time and #63 in Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.

But while a beautiful and complex film, it may not be the truly original work of art some might imagine it to be.

Obviously, there's nothing new under the sun. Everything borrows from everything else, even if it's unconscious on the part of the creators. But I believe that the Twilight Zone episode "Ring-a-Ding Girl" must have informed the plot of Donnie Darko, simply due to some eerie coincidences.

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance... Sorry, I just love the Twilight Zone!


Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko, a troubled but intelligent teenager, is plagued by disturbing visions of a man in a large rabbit suit called Frank. One day, he sleepwalks out of his house just before a jet engine crashes into his bedroom. Donnie is left to wonder if he is living in a parallel universe if he is suffering from a mental illness or if the world is truly going to end.

If you're confused, don't worry. If you watch the whole movie and pay attention, you'll get a hell of a lot more confused.

Another example of a tangential universe from Back to the Future II. Time travellers are a pretty irresponsible bunch

At a basic reading of the movie, Donnie Darko is faced with a choice. At the beginning of the movie, Donnie has moved into a tangential universe, that is, a present which branches off from the original present. It's difficult to explain, but if you look at as a parallel universe, then in the original universe, Donnie was supposed to have died when the engine crashed through the roof of his house. When he doesn't, it sets off a chain of events which causes his girlfriend to be killed in a hit-and-run. To undo this and bring his girlfriend back, he must go back in time and choose not to leave the house. He never meets his girlfriend and although he dies, she survives.

If you're looking for a more complex (and better!) explanation of this fascinating film, check this website out.

Ring-A-Ding Girl

Ring-A-Ding Girl

Movie star Bunny Blake, the Ring-A-Ding Girl, receives a ring from her fans in Howardsville, her hometown. When she looks into the ring, she hears the desperate pleas of her sister, Hildy, to return home.

Hildy, of course, is baffled when Bunny makes a sudden appearance at home in true diva fashion. Despite being back, Bunny is still seeing visions of town residents calling for her help.

Bunny goes to a local TV station and announces that she will be doing a one-woman show in the high school gymnasium at the same time as the picnic. Hildy is furious but eventually agrees under pressure to go to her sister's performance instead of the picnic. As they're about to leave, it begins to rain. Sirens start in the distance. Bunny looks into her ring and sees herself on a jetliner - this is the Bunny who decided not to go back to Howardsville. Breaking news comes in over the radio, reporting an aeroplane crash into the picnic fields. Bunny goes outside in the rain and disappears.

It quickly becomes apparent that Bunny died in the plane crash as her body is discovered on the plane. But this would mean she was both on the plane and in the town at the same time. And because Bunny announced her one-woman show, the majority of the townspeople were in the high school gymnasium and not in the field. Hildy finds Bunny's ring which is now chipped and charred. As though it had been in the plane crash.

If my terrible summary hasn't put you off, I strongly encourage you to go watch. It's about 25 minutes long and is currently up on the Daily Motion here.

What's the point?

On the face of it, all-time travel stories seem pretty similar. But I think there are a couple of key differences which make these movies oddly similar.

The time-travelling artefact

Both Ring-a-ding girl and Donnie Darko share an artefact which, though not the cause of the time travel, is a direct bridge between the two ‘nows’. Bunny’s ring shows her a present where she does not return and a future where she did. And she has to resolve these two worlds in the best possible way.

In Donnie Darko, the jet engine that is supposed to kill him has fallen through a vortex. It's just fallen off a plane which his mother and sister are on. The engine becomes the transient object which exists in both places at once and to resolve Donnie’s journey, he has to let it kill him.


Both Donnie and Bunny are allowed to cheat death in this convenient bout of time travel. Haven’t we all wished for that? And both have to willingly choose to give up their lives to correct it, to save other people. It reminds me of a certain Bioshock game I particularly love... no spoilers.

Time travel is usually a way for everyone to win. It’s the ultimate trump card - everything’s gone to hell? We’ll just pop back and fix it and be home in time tea. It’s usually why it’s seen as a bit of a narrative cop-out. All the pain but with none of the consequences.

Do you agree? Do you disagree?

Have I managed to persuade you to watch either of these or have I put you off for life? Time travel is a fun subject to discuss, if for no other reason than until a time traveller appears on my doorstep and tells me I'm wrong, I'm going to make up whatever I like.

And if you like this sort of compare and contrast, check out The Turn of The Screw vs The Haunting of Hill House!

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