9 Reasons Why 'Life is Strange' is a better 'Donnie Darko' (SPOILERS)

Will Rosenthal ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Contributor
Life is Strange just finished up its episodic series with episode 5 this month, and left its players with a serious impression. For one, its themes and elements resemble that of the cult film Donnie Darko. Both feature a teenage hero, given a warning about the impending end of the world, which is preceded with personal struggles, time travel, and is resolved by the hero’s sacrifice. While the game does not directly borrow plot points or critical parts for its own narrative, Life is Strange is familiar to but ultimately out does Donnie Darko at its own, well, game.
Also, Spoilers! Seriously. But also, it is easier to watch a movie instead of playing 5 episodes of a game. That’s a 10–15 hour commitment.

  1. It Has a Likable Protagonist
(c) Dontnot Entertainment
(c) Dontnot Entertainment
Sure, Donnie might have appeared like a compelling lead 15 years ago, but angst just does not hold up. Max, on the other hand, is not a nihilistic cynic with a devil-may-care attitude. When the player meets her, she is in a very uncomfortable and unfamiliar setting which is unsettling to her. She has few friends and doesn’t fit in, but still wants that human connection. Unlike Donnie, who’s distain for everyone else was borderline comical.

  1. It Doesn’t Step Around its Influences

Not to beat around the bush, both Donnie and Max lend influence from “Catcher in the Rye” for their misplaced teen angst in an authorial educational system. But Life is Strange doesn’t try to hide this fact. From Max’s last name, Caulfield, to the parody poster in her dorm room, “The Winger in the Cow,” the game wears its influences on its sleeve. Donnie Darko, meanwhile, takes Holden, casts J-Haal, and cranks it to eleven.

  1. It Doesn’t Spend Half its Time Explaining the Time Travel

    (c) Dontnot Entertainment
    (c) Dontnot Entertainment

Donnie Darko really wanted to convince the audience that it knew about Theoretical Physics, enough to spend a majority of the film examining the topic. But did they succeed? Tunnels that come out of people’s chests that you can enter? Or was that fate they were talking about? But the plane went through the hole and killed Donnie! Then it was in Donnie’s…hole? By the time Donnie Darko has finished explaining that, they had to cut the other half of the movie out. Life is Strange doesn’t give a front door about explaining itself. How much time does it devote to that? About three lines, at the end of the final episode.

  1. It’s a Metaphor!

The reason Life is Strange doesn’t explain its mechanics is because it understands it should not be taken literally. Time travel through memories, changing outcomes, the storm; it’s all part of a large metaphor about the accepting choice regardless of the unknown outcome. Donnie wants to explain everything in order to convey that it’s smarter than it actually is.

  1. Everything is Explained Properly Without the Need for a Director’s Cut

As mentioned, the crux of the game hangs on those events outside of the supernatural. The serial killer, the Prescott’s rule over the town, and Kate Marsh all take precedence over tearing down the intricacies of ghost deer, photographic time jumps, alternate realities, and so on. When the film truly affects the player emotionally, it’s through the personal connections Max forms with her friends. Therefore, spending a majority of your time with your audience talking about the vignetting Donnie Darko cough cough is unnecessary.

  1. The Consequences Feel Larger than Just a Suburb

    (c) Dontnot Entertainment
    (c) Dontnot Entertainment

This is not just because Max talks about and visits other locations in Life is Strange. Donnie Darko, as a film, feels cramped, focusing on a few places in his town that leave the impression that not only this town, but the scope of his story will be small. The viewer knows the town is in danger and that’s okay, not to sound insensitive, but when it’s weighed against Life is Strange and the implication that the world could be torn apart by Max’s powers is much more engaging and terrifying.

  1. No Frank, but Still a Dead Friend and a Dear

Frank mainly exists to shock the viewer at the tail end of the film. He’s a random character that had no tie to Donnie’s conflict or resolution. Max also has a dead friend and a creepy spirit animal, but Life is Strange splits those two into Chloe “I can’t stop getting shot” Price and Ghost Deer, both of which follow Max both personally and emotionally. Put another way, the player cares when Chloe is shot, not when a stranger in a fur suit is.

(c) Dontnot Entertainment
(c) Dontnot Entertainment
  1. No Cellar Door, Yes Selfie

Still want a word spoken repeatedly by the cast that’s it’s borderline hilarious but don’t want any air or pretension about it? In the words of Victoria Chase, “Go fuck your selfie.”  

  1. Two (actually satisfying) endings

Why is Donnie Darko’s ending so bad? Because nothing is left. Although Donnie made his sacrifice to save the town, the result is a town unaffected by any action over the course of the film. Everything just carries on. Even Donnie’s family nonchalantly accepts Donnie’s death. So what is there for the viewer, who just spent 90 minutes with the film plus whatever the Director’s Cut was? Nothing. The player of Life is Strange can leave with two drastically different endings, both of which leave the player profoundly effected and questioning the implications of their actions.  Mainly because Max’s journey is not finalized by either. There is still a sense that, regardless of choice, Max has altered the state of the world and where these characters will find themselves.

Show More


  1. Point 1. Donnie is a very empathetic character. While he isn’t some shy highschool dork, he is living with a serious mental disorder. Not saying you should like him because he has schizophrenia, but he isn’t some nutjob either. He speaks out against authority when he feels they are leading people astray. Donnie calls the pedophilic Jim Cunningham out on his love-fear bullshit, naming him the anti-christ. Donnie tells the pompous liberal Kitty to shove a book up her ass. That’s pretty damn likable.
    2. Movies and games are two different mediums. Life is Strange was able to leave little nods to its influences because you as the character can walk about and interact with the setting. As the viewer of a movie, you don’t have that freedom to look around the environment and instead are only able to soak up what the director gives you. And besides, a piece of work shoving its influences in the players/viewers face is completely unnecessary.
    3. If you want to view Donnie Darko as a coming of age story, the theatrical release leaves out a ton of the “Philosophy of Time Travel” stuff that is included in the director’s cut.
    4. Again, the theatrical release has what you’re looking for. A movie about personal sacrifice and overcoming your fears of dying alone so that the ones you love can live their lives.
    5. Not even sure what kind of slop you’re trying to sell with this point.
    6. I feel like you’ve got this one completely flipped around. The consequences (in the Sacrifice Arcadia Bay ending) are completely contained to the city. The storm wipes out the city and stops. Done. The next morning Max and Chloe drive off. That couldn’t be farther from the truth in Donnie Darko. Donnie sits on a hill and watches the SKIES OPEN UP IN A HELLISH NIGHTMARE OF BLACKNESS AND TORNADOS. That is truly world ending.
    7. I feel like you know you’re lying with this one. Frank the bunny plays a crucial part in the movie. Frank leads Donnie away from his bedroom the night the jet engine should is supposed to kill him. Frank convinces Donnie to burn down Jim Cunningham’s house, which exposes him as a pedophile. Frank tells Donnie to flood the school so that classes are cancelled meaning Donnie meets Gretchen and walks her home. I just explained Frank without saying the phrases “manipulated dead” or “ensurance trap”, look at me.
    8. The phrase “cellar door” is a plot point not just some hollow attempt by the writers to sound smarter than they are. It leads Donnie to Roberta Sparrow’s house. If you want to compare words objectively though, I’d rather hear “cellar door” a million times than to hear Chloe say “hella” even once.
    9. The endings to both Donnie Darko and Life is Strange are heartbreaking in their own ways. Donnie goes through an entire month, living his life and trying to find love. He tells his therapist that his biggest fear in life is dying alone. He finds Gretchen and falls in love. Then he has to throw it all away and face his fear for the good of everyone. After Donnie’s death you are shown the lives of those he has touched throughout the movie, but you seem them before Donnie has met them. They all look profoundly different from where we see them earlier in the movie. Cunningham crying, Cherita is lying in bed smiling and Frank is sitting on the ground staring off into space.
    Much the same happens to Chloe in Life is Strange, Max must watch her die after spending a whole week with her. Everything is the same as when it started. This ending is very satisfying in the same way that Donnie Darko’s ending is.
    The second Life is Strange ending falls flat, it’s about 30 seconds of Chloe and Max hitting the road away from an Arcadia Bay swallowed by the storm.
    Games aren’t movies. They can’t be put into a list together, one should not be said to be better than the other. I liked Life is Strange a whole lot, my game of the year in fact, so I’m not biased, but bullshitting on the internet isn’t cool dude.

  2. All opinion based, But yeah. I did not like Donnie Darko. It came off pretentious and too try hardish. Plus I found myself annoying I was sitting through it. Oops.
    Life is strange was more engaging and enjoyable imo. But eh, they’re not *exactly the same*

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button