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.

February 14th 2017 | 23:09:28

I haven't read the comments so I apologize to whomever said it first, but knowing what I do now about the film, the idea of Donnie being manipulated suggests (and I'm probably not saying this right but) that he really was schizophrenic but never accepted it. I can't imagine anyone with mental illness wants to really believe they are and especially don't want to believe they need their medicine to function. The psychiatrist admitting Donnie was only receiving placebos might have been exactly what Donnie had wanted to hear: that either he was never schizophrenic to begin with or that he was in control of himself the whole or whatever fantasy such a person might concoct. I don't know...

February 7th 2017 | 19:31:24


Patrick Hausenfleck
January 26th 2017 | 21:43:16

Earliest clue in film that your being taken along on Donnie's delusional dream look closely at the visablevend of the crane lifted plane engine, a few moments later you'll see that the image on the end of the end becomes a colorful swirl like one would see depicted in a barber shop pole or carnival saltwater taffy, adolescent imagery.

Patrick Hausenfleck
January 26th 2017 | 20:39:11

While it's wonderous to believe in a time portal etc,. Donnie is merely having a meticulously fantasy filled dream....from his disdain towards Patrick Swayze's character(hence leading to the incrimination of his character) to his not wanting to be alone( the creation of his female love interest) . And if in fact you are not CONVINCED yet........may I direct you to revisit two scenes in the movie that help to back- up my conclusion...The man who appears in a bright Orange jogging suit when Donnie and his girl are out for a walk ,appears again out in front of the Halloween party house dressed the same and swinging a flashlight back and fourth. It is also of note that the plane engine doesn't make contact with Donnie's bed....."It has been stated that if one actually sees oneself get killed in a dream, one will actually most likely be dead" :)......we can rest assured that our friend Donnie Darko will awake and continue his delusional way of life, and hopefully find that love interest that might help him get a decent grasp on Reality.

Patrick Hausenfleck
January 26th 2017 | 7:52:24

.....#4...The movie theater is actually showing "The Evil Dead" as a Double Feature along with " The Last Temptation of Christ"....These type of occurances could only happen in a dream.

Patrick Hausenfleck
January 26th 2017 | 7:47:03

I quickly came up with 3 factors in the movie which actually may prove that it was all a dream and that Donnie is more than likely still alive and kicking.....until he heads off on another adventure in Dream Land......#1...the old lady repeating her visits to the mailbox... #2...Frank takes a bullet to the eye( the bullet stays lodged in his eyeball)...& #3...the children wave as does the mother at each other( which in real life would be unlikely because you neither know her nor is it appropriate under the distraut circumstance).

Patrick Hausenfleck
January 26th 2017 | 7:12:54

Without reading much more into it, I believe that Donnie simply experienced a combination Dream/Premonition......When he finally awoke...he felt the realization of having been only Dreaming,and is humored and goes back to rest.....when in Reality there was a fact hidden amongst all that "Alice in Wonderland" like activity...... He was indeed going to be smashed by a plane engine.

December 28th 2016 | 13:14:23

In answer to your question matt, The artifact just appeared. The PoTT even says that artifacts and tangent universes just appear, however it was meant to appear in the primary but didn't which is why the TU appeared in the first place. Donnie returns the artifact to where it was meant to be there by restoring balance to the timeline.

December 25th 2016 | 17:42:09

One thing I don't really get is the artifact doesn't "exist" on Oct 2nd in the TU so technically it doesn't exist Oct 2 in either universe. So it does exist on the 30th when he sends it back to the 2nd. So why doesn't it signify the start of another TU when he sends it back to Oct 2 since it doesn't truly exist there yet either? Wouldn't it be a duplicate again eventually when it is created? It doesn't exist until later that month closer to the 30th. I'm aware the artifact is not the cause of the TU but it is evidence of its existence. I'm confused. Lol

December 23rd 2016 | 0:46:39

Mark B. Kevin Spacey's character in the movie "American Beauty" is named Lester Burnham. That being said, all of your comments before you mistook this character's name have been negated as you are now considered an unreliable source of information.

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Eddie Darko - Manipulated Living
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