What was the end result for Jim Cunningham (the 'motivational speaker' played by Patrick Swayze) in Donnie Darko?

After Donnie completes his task to revert the time-line to the original 'correct' one (let's call it the 'primary' time-line), many of the things he did during the interim are reversed or negated. E.G. 2 characters who die in the secondary time-line are obviously alive and well once it is changed back to the primary time-line.

Donnie, during the course of the secondary time-line, takes a disliking to Jim and when he finds his wallet lying in the street, he uses the information to burn his house down. It turns out that Jim is a paedophile, and the police discover evidence of this in the ashes of the fire. He is arrested and his life takes a turn for the worse.

Then ..Donnie reverts the time-line..

So does that mean that Jim was never discovered, and is still an active child molester?

  • "So does that mean that Jim was never discovered, and is still an active child molester?" - Most probably yes, at least for now. – Napoleon Wilson Nov 27 '13 at 1:25
  • It is not entirely sure that Jim is still active after the movie. In the last scenes, you can see Jim crying at night, when everyone has "memories" from the parallel universe that just ended with Donnie's death. So Jim may be crying because of his fear to be discovered, or he may develop some remorse for the things he's done. – Majuj Oct 30 '15 at 13:53

Actually, what happened to Jim is irrelevant because -- like many of the events in Donnie Darko -- the whole bit about Donnie heroically revealing Jim as a child molester is a fantasy in Donnie's mind.

As I explained in answer to another question about Donnie Darko, the movie shows the main character Donnie developing schizophrenia. The schizophrenia causes Donnie to believe he is at the center of a time-travel adventure that just might save the universe -- and the movie depicts Donnie's madness as it appears to him -- as if it was reality.

The scenes with Donnie's psychiatrist are the biggest clues to this -- she has some idea of what is going on with him. And another key piece of evidence is that in a deleted scene (availble on the DVD) Donnie has a conversation with his father where Donnie, in a moment of self-awareness, says "Dad, I'm crazy."

  • 2
    "..Donnie heroically revealing Jim as a child molester.." I agree that was the way it was supposed to have been seen. But on a side note, it seemed to me that Donnie had no evidence, no hint, of Jim's activities. He just didn't like him. (But that is a side story, and I accept that it is not entirely to the question.) BTW - thanks for reminding me of that other thread. I had noted your answer and intended to up-vote, but forgot. I guess the back of my mind I was thinking, "yeah, but how often do movie makers sacrifice 'common sense' or 'logic' for 'looks good on screen'." (Often) – Andrew Thompson Nov 29 '13 at 9:57

While one of the theories is schizophrenia, I prefer the Tangent Timeline did exist. The reason for this is they clearly show a scene where others who were part of the Tangent Timeline are waking up with a common dream.

Coming to the question. Jim's house doesn't get burnt in the Primary Universe. Because Donnie is dead.

ref: Donnie Darko Explained

  • Jim Cunningham is shown to be crying because of his realization of what he’s been doing and experiences of the arrest and prosecution in the Tangent Universe.

Cunningham is shown to be repenting for what he's been doing. It is quite likely that he stops his basement activities.

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