Donnie Darko
Franks Eye

Alternative Explanations

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.


Dr ThurmanIt 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.


Frank in the cloudsThe 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?

Donnie Is Shown the Future

The Ghost Of Christmas FutureThis 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.

The Looping Tangent Universe

Carpathian Ridgehere 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 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.

October 21st 2016 | 16:38:50

Although, having never watched the director's cut, I always assumed the explanation for the film was Donnie being shown the future. Now that I have been introduced to the TU explanation I see that this must be correct.

"Many people ask why the PU is not in danger now there's a duplicate object in it?"

Except there isn't. The PU, must be missing a jet engine from that plane in the first place otherwise it would have never appeared in the TU. The artifact is a result of the creation of the TU, having been ripped from the PU, there is now a duplicate of that object in the TU. At the same time the PU is now without the artifact, so when it is sent back and lands on Donnie at the end of the film, although it is obviously not in its original location, it is still the only occurence of that object in the PU.

This is further given weight by the entry in PoTT with the line "Artifacts returned to the Primary Universe are often linked to religious Iconography, as their appearance on Earth seems to defy logical explanation." Note the key word RETURNED i.e. it was missing when the fabric of the fourth dimension became corrupted and the TU was created.

October 18th 2016 | 12:45:43

If you have a child that suffers from depression then this movie is a must see, just to get a understanding whats occupying their heads...but a key factor i picked up was fear and love..."I dont want to be alone"...not fear of spiders or a dog biting you, but rather being in a room full of people yet you feel all alone...this is the best way i can explain this...and of course he falls in love...

October 18th 2016 | 12:19:40

Deus ex Machina!

This will take several posts to get through.

"Eventually" implies inevitability in this context, not necessarily an unknown. All energy is entangled within the construct of time, none is ever lost or destroyed. The only certainty the PoTT states is destruction upon the Living Receiver's failure. "Time" is merely a categorical experience of what happens to the energy in our lives and has no element of "control" our experience, it is merely the amalgamation of every single present moment. When dreaming for only several minutes one can experience several hours of dreams.

On an atomic scale there is no time, impulses and information can travel instantaneously between distances like charges between entangled electrons. Frank's consciousness upon his death in 28 days is no longer bound by the parameters of time and space. His understanding is different than Donnie's, everyone forgets Frank was alive and real up to the point Donnie kills him. Nobody dies until the "end" of the film when the living Frank runs over living Gretchen, Donnie shoots Frank, and Donnie retreats upon the hill to accept his own fate. Each character's experience of "time" and consequential death are all relative to the inconsistent world around them.

Frank was as alive as Gretchen and Donnie throughout the film, he had to be to show up at the party to go on a beer run and eventually run over Gretchen. Yet all the while Frank has been communicating with Donnie through visions and dreams, shared revelations of their inevitable actions.

His therapist references deus ex machina, or God from the Machine. This discussion is over a lot of peoples' heads ergo the complete lack of reference on this site. All of the Living Receivers are responsible for the deliverance of the universe, together. Each Living Receiver passes experience through consciousness and influence as Roberta did with Donnie, as someone had with Roberta, all the way back through the inception of our natural dimension :"time is usually a stable construct but every now and then the fourth dimension gets corrupted" so every now and then someone is chosen to make things right as the situation warrants. His reward is acceptance, restitution for thing wrongdoings, and salvation for those he cared for most.

All the people of Middlesex are living in illusion enslaved to the psychological ravings of a brainwashing pedophile. All their lives are consumed with artificial stimulation, sanitized, regulated, conditioned with obedience and mediocrity. "They are in great danger." If Donnie had not done what he had AND a black hole had never occurred Patrick Swayze would probably have raped all those little girls and everyone would keep worshipping him like a saint, all sorts of other things could happen from there not to mention other regretful actions and deaths.

It really is a combination of religion and science, which is the spectrum of human understanding. There is no line between the two for me, duality is the greatest illusion. God intervened in Donnie's life to allow him the opportunity to take back all the hours of darkness and pain to replace them with something good. The experience of it all is very scientific with supernatural powers and portals, time-altering consciousness that travel between life and death...I would like to go on but I need to gather my thoughts.

October 12th 2016 | 21:27:19

(for lack of a better place to post this)

The trivia section of this site should definitely include the allegory to Graham Greene's "The Destructors" - the story Ms Pomeroy teaches and which Kitty tries to ban.

In it, a gang breaks into the house of an old man whom they've given the disparaging nickname "Old Misery"to destroy his mansion from the inside out. Upon finding a mattress filled with money, they burn it, and finally complete their destruction of the house when a lorry driver pulls out a support beam. Seeing the destruction, the lorry driver can only laugh.

In class, Donnie says: "They say right when they flood the house and they tear it to shreds that... destruction is a form of creation," so the fact that they burn the money is ironic. They just want to see what happens when they tear the world apart. They want to change things."

The movie exists in a Tangent Universe, a construct detailed by Roberta Sparrow, who has been given the disparaging nickname "Grandma Death". This creates the metaphor of Roberta's TU as Old Misery's house. Just as the gang does to Old Misery's mansion, Donnie causes a flood and sets a fire in the TU, beginning its path to destruction. Like the lorry driver who demolishes the house by pulling out the support beam, Donnie destroys the TU by sending back the artefact, the only thing supporting the TU. Both of them laugh at the destruction they've caused. Donnie's actions were exactly as he described the gang's: he has literally torn a world apart and changed things, embodying the irony of destruction as a form of creation.

October 12th 2016 | 20:41:21

The looping tangent universe is actually more plausible than a linear tangent universe. The strongest evidence in favour of a looping tangent universe is, of course, Frank. Manipulated dead Frank appears at the start of the loop, before his death at the end. The only way to reconcile this is via time travel of dead Frank back to the start of the TU, thus creating a loop.

Your reading of PoTT against the loop was:
"The Tangent Universe only lasts for several weeks before it collapses and destroys the whole Universe."

However, the PoTT can be interpreted differently. The relevant passage is:
"If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable, sustaining itself for no longer than several weeks. Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence."

"Eventually"... Why write "eventually" - a word that implies an unknown, drawn out, extended period of time - immediately after defining a relatively short period? Why not simply use a linking word such as "then", "after which" or "thereupon" ... unless the two are *not* directly related! I suggest Roberta has just defined two different measurements describing a looping tangent universe: the internal duration of the linear time within the loop; and the life span of the looping tangent universe as a whole (ie the number of repetitions). In this way, the PoTT would read:

"If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable, sustaining itself for no longer than several weeks [of internal looping time]. Eventually [after an uncertain number of loops] it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence."

For Donnie’s TU we know the internal time is 28:06:42:12, consistent with the PoTT, but we do not know how many loops have occurred before the one we watch. These loops may be necessary to establish a plan for the manipulated living and dead, including returning dead Frank to the start of the final loop.

August 28th 2016 | 10:02:39

This is my interpretation: Donnie had mental issues (fear and love) from growing up, you know teenage boy in high school! Since this was such an important time for him he decides to live different. He falls in love vandalises and burns someones house! You can clearly see he is rebellious in school and insults his brainwashing teacher and Cuningham! I think that he has a realization after Frank saves him! Frank is very important in my opinion because he symbolizes a friend that can be good or bad, and we see this throughout the movie! The fact that Frank saved him means that now Frank must die for killing his girlfriend! I think that Donnie's girlfriend death has a symbolic double meaning! There are so many double meanings in this movie btw! The fact that she doesn't know who Donnie is at the end means that she never fell in love with him and therefore everything after October 2 didn't happen! the whole point of this film is that we are all meant to die, so if we don't live a full life with all the experiences that Donnie went through, we become mentally ill, hence the giant scary rabbit. As we develop we are bounded by fear and love, but Donnie refused to acknowledge this thats why he was schizophrenic and did not trap himself between fear and love which explains the flooding and vandalism and arson were all ways he filled the void in his life, guided by Frank, whose so important in the middle of all this because he was a friend, but a friend who was not a bully nor a buddy like those other two guys he was drinking with and were with him when he shot Frank! This is all filled with symbolism in my opinion because he shoots Frank after he kills his girlfriend which can mean that Frank stole his love and thats why he shot him, but at the same time Frank woke him up and saved his life and thats why Donnie keeps seeing him throughout the film! The ugly bunny in the mirror is defenetly a symbol of the mind sickness and the fact that Frank was the person under the suit means that he was a great influence and a decisive force which Donnie saw as a reflection of himself! The time travel thing is so artificially detached from the double meanings and symbolisms in my opinion it is not important at all! That mentally ill old woman that keeps checking her mail is an alternate future reflection of what would happen if Donnie never experiences the aftermath of October 2! Meaning that he would end up in a house alone waiting for someone to contact him and gets nothing in return! I swear I have so much more to say but i realize that everyone has their own interpretations! Sorry this was so long...

Michael Hansen
August 27th 2016 | 17:45:20

I believe Donnie Darko chose to travel back in time to October 2nd to kill himself to save his girlfriend and to stop the 28 days from happening.

August 26th 2016 | 19:17:39

on October 2nd Donnie was waken up by Frank _a manipulated dead_ and how Frank could be there if he wasn't killed by Donnie in the (TU) that means at the moment Frank saved Frank from the engine he was already a manipulated dead because Donnie shot him before that , IT'S A FUCKIN LOOP

August 26th 2016 | 19:10:16

what explains grandma death checking her mail box again and again like she is in a loop

August 18th 2016 | 23:30:36

It could be that it was in fact Elizabeth Donnie's younger sister that was was schizophrenic and made up that she had a brother called donnie . Or that it was his older sisters boyfriend had a alter ego called donnie . Donnie wasn't real

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Professor Monnitoff - Manipulated Living
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