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.

May 27th 2016 | 10:59:10

it was all a DREAM!!

May 18th 2016 | 12:59:55

In the last sentence: "There behaviour may be irrational or bizarre as they are trying to guide the Living Receiver to return the Artifact.", you probably meant: "Their behaviour may be irrational..." (misspelling of "Their").

April 20th 2016 | 21:04:30

I always leaned more to the loop theory or the future theory. It just seemed more of plausible option that gave a reason for his death, because otherwise it would be like "than why did he die?". I also haven't seen the movie in like 5 years so I don't really remember much of it.

April 15th 2016 | 15:24:04

Do you think that Donnie was just imagining the doctor telling him to stop taking his meds and they are placebos?

We never actually see her say it. She's facing the wall then all of a sudden she turns around and starts talking to him.

April 1st 2016 | 9:46:22

The book is wrong. Grandma Thought there was only the one universe and one detour universe doomed to implode, but that's all she needed to know in order to wright the book and get her message across to Donnie. But there are actually infinite parallel universes. Donnie can't break the turbine off and send it through the wormhole, if he's been dead for a month. That's a paradox. HOWEVER It does make sense to kill the past you of a parallel universe. This Tangent Universe isn't tangent at all. It's completely separate. In fact, it's not even in danger of being destroyed. From what I can tell, the parallel Donnie is charged by god to kill this first Donnie who somehow deviated from gods plan and escaped death. And I'm not talking about the jet. I mean later in life, he somehow escapes a predestined or fate in general. Possibly through the use of his powers. So, this other Donnie is given power, and messages, and a tear in space-time to kill his alternate self in the past. However, this power that was given to him by god is what allows him to escape god's fate later in life. And so a third parallel Donnie is given the means to kill the second's past self. And so on infinitely. Too many people are blindly following the rules set forth by the lady's book. Assuming she's right about absolutely everything. But she's only human, and humans make mistakes. God makes mistakes (just read the old testament for convincing on that point). And this is one mistake that God will have to relive forever... And guess what? My computer just performed a completely unscheduled reset without warning. Just because god's mad that I know he's imperfect. Well, just like Eddie Darko said, I told a bullshitter, "fuck you" by retyping this whole thing because I love you all more than him.

March 30th 2016 | 16:16:50

The film's rubbish anyway.


March 23rd 2016 | 11:23:44

every time donnie begins to see the rabbit after the he didn't need the medicine, they caused him allucinations!

January 20th 2016 | 21:05:10

The PU universe isnt technically in danger. PoTT states that a local black hole is created in PU. PoTT states that HUMANITY is in danger. A black hole appears in earths place.

Jack Ince
November 2nd 2015 | 10:22:34

Really? I personally prefer his teacher, Kenneth. He's such a hottie

Calum Wallace
November 2nd 2015 | 10:18:31

thx u 2, does anyone think the actor who played Jim Cunningham would message me? he's soooooo attractive

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Eddie Darko - Manipulated Living
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