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Scene Dissection: Donnie Darko – “Wacko for a Son” Scene

Donnie Darko is mostly known for its mindscrew elements, which unfortunately overshadows how painfully real the movie is at times. Many of the themes present in the movie (i.e. the illogical belief that the whole world is black and white, abusers posing as moral beacons, the stress caused by political divides in the family, etc.) are just as much of an issue today as they were when the movie was set. The most emotionally resonant moment in the movie for me the “wacko for a son” scene.

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It’s a small scene but it really got to me. Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his mother Rose (Mary McDonnell) are having a little conversation about how she and his father are going to be out of town taking his little sister Samantha and her dance troop (Sparkle Motion!) to appear on Ed McMahon. Donnie ends the conversation by asking her “How’s it feel to have a wacko for a son?” Rose thinks about it for like a second and says “It feels wonderful.”

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My viewing of Donnie Darko last Saturday is my first viewing of it since I started going to therapy and this scene just demolished me this time around. I’ve constantly thought that I was letting my parents down by being a weirdo that needs to go to therapy. I brought it up to them once and they let me know under no terms did they love me any less because of that. Seeing something painful yet enlightening from my own life on screen was powerful.