Donnie Darko is a 2001 film that explores the nature of time, reality and human existence. To expand on the film's multi-layered story, an interactive Flash-based website was created in the lead-up to its release. 19 years later, it's still counting down the days since Donnie's universe ended.
Donnie Darko is a complicated movie. It follows the tale of Donnie, a high school student suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. In the opening moments of the movie, he's woken from a deep sleep by a six-foot-tall rabbit named Frank, who tells him that the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Moments later, his room is destroyed by a jet engine ripped from a passing plane.
It explores the idea of tangential universes and time loops, with the plane being pulled from an alternate reality created in order for Donnie to die so that the events of the film don't happen. The Donnie Darko website, created by marketing firm Hi-ReS! counted down the days since this Tangent Universe collapsed.
While the original domain has long since expired, the website was archived by Donnie Darko fans after its demise and remains online to this day.
As of February 26, the counter has marked 6,696 days since Donnie died, and it's still counting. The date 6,696 days ago was October 26, 2001 — the original release date of the film.
Going deeper into the website, you can find a treasure trove of Donnie Darko lore and trivia, including entire scenes and website clippings that don't take place in the film. For example — the website reveals that Donnie's teacher, who informs him of the potential for alternate realities, is killed in a car accident after the events of the film.
It also contains a confidential government log that confirms the plane engine that landed in Donnie's bedroom and killed him is an alternate reality counterpart to a plane that is still intact and operational at the local airport — a fact which is left vague at the conclusion of the film.
The Donnie Darko website is a curious relic, and one that shows how marketers had begun to experiment with tools like Flash Player in the early 2000s. Hi-ReS! made several similar websites during this time, including for Requiem for a Dream and Minority Report.
Even in those early days of the internet, experience-based marketing was key, and the Donnie Darko website is just one example of how online promotion was starting to become more 'gamified' and experiential.
While the countdown has continued for 19 long years, it may soon end. With support for Flash Player being removed at the end of 2020, it's likely that the Donnie Darko website will no longer be functional. Already, changes to internet coding have meant certain parts of it are corrupted.
This image of Frank the Bunny written in ASCII character code has already caved in on itself, with the letters no longer forming a coherent shape. Previously, it looked more like this:
Adobe Flash Player will be removed entirely by December 31, 2020. Unfortunately, it may mean that we lose internet gems like this one along with it.
Until then, the days will just keep ticking away.