There is little doubt that this movie is very much open to interpretation. There are several possible explanations and in most cases plenty of viewers will love it even though they have no idea what happened. To be honest there can't be many people who completely understood the movie the first time they watched it unless they had some inside knowledge.
The real explanation follows "The Philosophy of Time Travel" and you can read it here. When you follow this explanation there doesn't seem to be any holes in the plot. Every scene makes sense, the story is consistent and the whole movie comes together.
Here are some of the alternative theories.
It is implied in the film that Donnie is a schizophrenic and therefore the film is him going through an episode of his illness. This theory is plausible because every single event could be put down to this. Hallucinations and hearing voices is a schizophrenic trait and could easily explain Frank’s appearance. There is a scene with Donnie’s therapist at the end of the film where she admits to giving Donnie placebo’s as medication for his illness. This would suggest that he in fact never was a schizophrenic. For me Richard Kelly put the idea of Donnie being schizophrenic into the movie deliberately as a red herring. It's an easier alternative theory that allows first time viewers to still enjoy the movie.
The whole movie was a dream theory is of course possible but ultimately pointless. When he goes to sleep on October 2nd at the beginning of the movie he dreams this mystical adventure just before he gets smooshed by jet engine.
The obvious hole in this theory is why do the first few minutes of October 2nd happen twice? An easy theory to enjoy maybe for the first watch but why would the director create this amazing magical alternative Universe theory and then just make it all out to be a dream?
This is quite a popular theory. It portrays Frank as a kind of Ghost of Christmas Future character who saves Donnie and then either shows him or allows him to live the next 28 days of his life. At the end Donnie returns back to October 2nd and now has the opportunity to choose his own fate.
So many bad things happened in those 28 days including his girlfriend getting killed and Donnie becoming a killer himself that he decides to stay in bed at the end of the film to sacrifice himself for the good of others. By dying he saves Frank, Gretchen and his mother and sister from a plane crash.
Unfortunately this theory asks more questions than it answers:
- Why is Frank giving Donnie this choice?
- Why does he tell Donnie to Flood the school and burn down Jim Cunningham’s house?
- Why does Frank appear as a dead version and an alive version?
- Why does “The Philosophy Of Time Travel” appear in the story?
- How does the unexplained jet engine figure in the story?
The biggest weakness in this theory is the fact that Donnie is shown or lives out a completely different future from what would normally have happened. Most of the events only happen because we are within a Tangent Universe.
- Frank gets Donnie to flood the school which means Donnie walks Gretchen home.
- Frank gets Donnie to burn down Cunningham's house which leads to the party
- Donnie rips the engine off the plane his mother and sister are on
None of these things would happen in the real world. What's the point in Donnie being shown an alternate future and then given the choice to live or die based on events that wont happen?
There are just too many plot flaws with this theory. It just doesn't work and there are virtually no scenes in the movie to back it up.
here is a theory out there that follows The Philosophy of Time Travel but with one major change. The idea is that every 28 days the Tangent Universe collapses, then loops back round to October 2nd and starts over again. Basically the Tangent Universe is a repeating time-loop that will continue until Donnie is successful in returning the jet engine into the Primary Universe. The film is Donnie's first successful attempt at returning the jet engine and there have been several failed attempts before.
This explanation can be read at www.themoviegoer.com/donnie_darko. One of the reasons this theory is so popular is it usually comes up on the first page of google if search for a Donnie Darko explanation.
I don't think this idea follows The Philosophy Of Time Travel accurately enough. The Tangent Universe only lasts for several weeks before it collapses and destroys the whole Universe. If it looped back round every time then the Universe wouldn't be in danger.
This theory seems to hinge on only a few pieces of the movie. The main basis of this theory is that Donnie wakes up on the mountain laughing at the beginning of the film. He's laughing as if he remembers something from the previous Tangent Universe loop.
Now the major flaw there is Donnie wakes up on the mountain on October 1st yet the Tangent Universe doesn't start until midnight on October 2nd. Why would time loop round to before the start of the Tangent Universe? Another thing is wouldn't you find it a little amusing if you woke up half way up a mountain. Surely that is a better explanation for him laughing.
Another huge flaw in this theory is if it was true the Universe would never be in any danger. Everytime Donnie failed the 28 days would just restart. This goes completely gainst the PoTT and makes the whole thing quite pointless.
Another point in this theory is the characters like Mrs Pomeroy, Grandma Death, Dr. Thurman all seem to have some kind of inside knowledge and a sense of what's going, like they have done this before. Well yes they do but not because they have done this several times before, it's because they are the Manipulated Living. There behaviour may be irrational or bizarre as they are trying to guide the Living Receiver to return the Artifact. They subconsciously behave in the necessary way in order for Donnie to succeed.
I enjoyed this movie as well as a sequel by the name of "S. Darko". I watched both at least 5 times. the more I watched the more I understood. It's a cerebral movie (Donnie Darko). It makes you think. Before the end I knew what was going to happen to Donnie because the tears started to flow. But at that point in the movie every time I watched it, I had water works. Another movie that is cerebral is Jerome Bixby's Man From Earth.
how could anyone hate this movie? kill yourself.
While I enjoyed this movie a lot, I can completely understand viewers' frustration with its lack of clarity.
I was surprised to hear Richard Kelly explain the missing backstory in the director's commentary, and even more surprised to learn that much of this missing backstory can be found only in a book that doesn't exist.
You can look at this supplemental reading requirement as "meta,"and a refreshing new approach to filmmaking, or you can look at it as the sign of bad writing. Either interpretation makes sense, and despite my appreciation of the movie, I actually fall into the latter category.
I came away with the distinct impression that Kelly got lucky with Darko in a way that didn't happen with Southland Tales or the Box. All of these movies make more sense with repeat viewings, but for the latter two, he seems to've spent more time embellishing these dense, opaque plots and less on creating strong characters or a story that resonates with viewers on a personal level.
I feel that Darko satisfies me more the less I know about it, and if Kelly hadn't revealed the story he originally intended to tell, I'd've thought more highly of him as a writer. The "real" story is overly complicated and vaguely ridiculous-- the way bad science fiction tends to be.
The movie as released theatrically, however, holds appeal as a quirky, dark comedic take on teen romance. Very unique, unpredictable and yes, mysterious.
I also like the Schizophrenic explanation but i think it goes further than that. None of the solutions really offer a proper 'complete' solution that is satisfying but i think this fits the themes of the film better. The way i see it is that this film is about being a teenager and existing in a difficult world that is filled with uncertainty, with lots of things that don't really make sense. His existential angst can be seen in the way Donnie questions the existence of God, and decides that he simply can't come to a solution no matter how much he thinks about it. Donnie is therefore trying to make sense of his world, trying to find a meaning to live, a purpose which you could argue he finds at the end. The book 'Philosophy of Time Travel' may exist and there may be a number of inexplicable, surreal events but these are less important than the overall feeling of the film. We are living in a mad world (as we are reminded) that often defies explanation and we have to try and find meaning out of it. As a 'sci fi' time travel film the film is a bit silly and nonsensical, but as a film expressing teenage angst and the search for meaning and worth it is infinitely more powerful. I'm not saying anyone's interpretations are wrong, Kelly leaves it open deliberately, but i'm saying this is the interpretation that for me elevates this to a great film.
Maybe you should retake basic creative writing again or heck even high school literature. Not all stories need a defined Point A to Point B. There's nothing wrong with THAT concept, but there's nothing wrong with a story that has an undefined ending or leaves you open to provocative thought. In the case of this movie it deals heavily with time travel (even if that is not actually the case as the schizophrenia theory proposes) a subject that really has no definition and is a subject that when put into a story leaves a butt load of questions open. The best explanation I ever heard is from doctor who (look up timey wimey ball).
All that said, just because you like your stories spelled out for you doesn't mean that is a standard and universally accepted norm for story telling. In fact the opposite is true, the best stories are the ones that force you to use a fair bit of imagination.
seriously, why all the bad talk for this movie? it's an amazing movie, shut up. if you fail to realize that, obviously you lack a proper brain and taste as well. go watch some shit movie where everything is explained and on the table for your dumb minds.
sorry the bad english btw*
I love the schizophrenia theory , i would loved to see what would happen if donnie was actually having hallucinations after read that book . i believe it that way till the 20 minutes left.
Green- Herring.. this movie is only 11 years old.. it cameo ut in 2001.
I loved this movie and apparently it did rather well looking at this.
2001 — Richard Kelly won with Donnie Darko for "Best Screenplay" at the Sitges film festival and at the San Diego Film Critics Society. Donnie Darko also won the "Audience Award" for Best Feature at the Sweden Fantastic Film Festival. The film was nominated for "Best Film" at the Catalonian International Film Festival and for the "Grand Jury Prize" at the Sundance Film Festival.
2002 — Donnie Darko won the "Special Award" at the Young Filmmakers Showcase at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. The movie also won the "Silver Scream Award" at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival. Kelly was nominated for "Best First Feature" and "Best First Screenplay" with Donnie Darko, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal being nominated for "Best Male Lead," at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film was also nominated for the "Best Breakthrough Film" at the Online Film Critics Society Awards.
2003 — Jake Gyllenhaal won "Best Actor" and Richard Kelly "Best Original Screenplay" for Donnie Darko at the Chlotrudis Awards, where Kelly was also nominated for "Best Director" and "Best Movie".
2005 — Donnie Darko ranked in the top five on My Favourite Film, an Australian poll conducted by the ABC.
2006 — Donnie Darko ranks #9 in FilmFour's 50 Films to See Before You Die.
The best films are the ones that leave you thinking and are clever instead of crap romcoms that you forget you've even watched. This website managed to explain it all to me in less than 20 minutes and I feel like I haven't wasted my time at all. And do you really need to use rude language to prove a point, can you not be civilised? Evidently not. Being an actress myself, the acting in this is incredible, especially on Jake Gyllenhaal's part.