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.

Tony G
September 24th 2015 | 20:03:28

I believe that there is a tangent loop not only because he wakes up on the mountain top in the beginning, but because Frank says something like "It is the name of my father… and his father before me.". MD Frank had to have been around through another tangent universe because Donnie kills him, but he wouldn't of killed him if frank didn't save his life in the beginning. I believe that there is at least two different Franks one in the beginning to wake him up and then the other he kills.

September 18th 2015 | 18:36:35

I think they got themselves into a big contradiction regarding time travel, which the physics teacher actually touched upon.

Donnie at the end of the movie makes the Engine or the Artifact go back in time killing himself, thus closing the Tangent Universe. But I think Donnie would have to go back in time as well to continue the whole process, ie a quantum state or multiverse. Donnie is effectively both alive and dead at the same time, like Schrodinger Cat, creating a new universe where he is in fact dead. And another universe where he is alive, ie he travels back in time or decides to avoid the engine.

The single universe doesn't make sense because it would create a paradox. How could Donnie be dead and alive at the same exact time in order to fulfill his obligation? If Donnie was in a single universe he would effectively meet himself, and arguably become a Manipulated Dead, since he dies within the Tangent Universe. Which is sort of the whole paradox of destiny, etc. wouldn't Donnie know everything that would happen?

Chi Man
August 23rd 2015 | 0:32:31

Did Gretchen wave to Donnie's mother twice? one, when he died, the other when he lived. This was the following day, after the jet engine fell into Donnie's bedroom. Hence, she had a deja vu, perhaps? the other person in the family, who acknowledged his girlfriend, was Donnie's sister at the Halloween party. It seems no one in the family, except the sister later on, knew he had a girlfriend.

Annie G
August 15th 2015 | 23:02:43

Wait a minute... so Donnie wasn't schizophrenic?

Evie jones
August 10th 2015 | 22:28:35

@stephenli I think the when donnie tells the theacher she's not taking every thing into account he means the circumstances are not given. What if ling ling( or who ever found the wallet) was pour and had no money, there for they would have to steel to live that wouldn't be an act of fear it would be an act of desperation. Or if ling ling picked up the wallet to find out where the owner lived to burn their house down( like donnie ) I think this scene is put in to show how smart donnie is and that he doesn't like things dumbed down . It shows his intelligence wich might make the theory of him understanding tangent universes more plausible . also I have a question , when donnie floods the school he writes on the ground : they made me do it . Who's they he because frank is a he .

stephen li
August 8th 2015 | 1:29:16

I was very interested with Jim Cunningham's 'Love' and 'Fear', seen in one straight direct route. Donnie believed that other things were not taken to account. I just wonder if the midpoint could well be the 'power of now'. 'Fear' is pointed/played on 4 factors (all conditional): past, future, mind and physical. The midpoint to these are: now, spirit/energy (unconditional). These points straight to 'Love'. I hope this makes sense. Donnie certainly journeyed from 'fear' to begin with, then ended with 'love' at the end of the film.

stephen li
August 8th 2015 | 1:27:14

I was very interested with Jim Cunningham's 'Love' and 'Fear', seen in one straight direct route. Donnie believed that other things were not taken to account. I just wonder if the midpoint could well be the 'power of now'. 'Fear' is pointed/played on 4 factors (all conditional): past, future, mind and physical. The midpoint to these are: now, spirit/energy (unconditional). These points straight to 'Love'. I hope this makes sense. Donnie certainly journeyed from 'fear' to begin with, then ended with 'love' at the end of the film.

August 3rd 2015 | 13:52:13

Unfortunately the film's main idea does not make any sense. Applying simple logic to the events, there are 2 huge issues. The problem with timetrael films is that since we don't really understand timetravel, it's impossibly hard to make a movie where timetravel isn't majorly flawed. (Off the top of my head Interstellar, Butterfly Effect , Looper and Predestination(this one was just hilariously terrible) suffer from the same issues.)
So the 2 illogical things.
1) What triggers the event "loophole"? If Frank didn't wake Donnie he would have died and none of the events of the film would happen. That's exactly what happens in the end. And if he wakes him up, then the film unravels Donnie kills Frank and he can go wake him up again etc etc. You know loophole. Not to mention that there has to be a trigger. How did Frank die the first time? It's all a result of him waking Donnie right? Frank tells Donnie what to do (flooding>axe>gf> fire> bike ride>car accident>shooting) So yeah, who shot Frank the first time?
2) The whole purpose of the movie is wrong. It could have been a movie about rediscovering yourself, getting to know yourself better, realising the mistakes and faults in the society etc. One of those philosophical movies.(WHOA) Since it's a timetravel story emphasizing on selfsacrifice it's not exactly hitting the point. Few of the reasons i decided to watch it were the mostly positive reviews (majority of which claimed how scientificly correct it was) and my friends recommendations saying how much of a deeper meaning it had. (I obviously disagree with both).
So simplest way to fix the plot and make it work. Rename Tangent to Parallel. Donnie 1 is dreaming what Donnie 2 lived, (Iit's less of a paradox tho still quite riiculous) There you have a somewhat acceptable time/dimension travelling/connecting.

July 25th 2015 | 18:47:48

@Ringo Seed
took the words right outta my mouth.

Now go suck a fuck!

Ringo Seed
July 12th 2015 | 20:24:49

Donnie Darko to me is the savior that was chosen by god to keep his master plan going, the movie was his journey figuring this out. There are a lot of key points that suggest this to me, eg: When Dr Thurman says "Is the search for god absurd" English Teacher "Deus Ex Machina" then being able to see the future . At the end where he resurrects Grechen he purges her of sin and erases all memory of him from her , he performs many miracles during the movie, travels through portals, speeds up time, can see gods predestined paths, and many others. At the end many debate that there is no reason for him to die but he has chosen to, because he figures out gods master plan and accepts it. That goes back to the Dr Monnitoff scene where he says "If we were able to see our destinies, manifest themselves visually, then we would be given a choice to betray our destinies, the mere fact that this choice exist would make all preformed destinies come to an end" Donnie responds "Not if you travel within God's channel". It's one of the best movies to me because Donnie is a student not bound by religion or science so he can subscribe to both god and science through time travel philosophy, he fights for what is right and asks the real questions in life to later figure them out. At the end when he returns to PU he looks at the twister and says "I'm going home", this scene is actually beautiful to me because in between the twister and the cloud there's a beautiful light, it's like heaven. To me there's little chance he's talking about going home to his family in suburbia, which also bypasses the fear of being alone since he knows when he dies he will go back to heaven, his home . That's how I have taken the movie I'm agnostic like the character and is in search for some answers no one really knows, I'm not religious, not a scientist, just a normal guy. The first time I saw the movie I had little knowledge of what was going on, watching it again at a older age made the story richer. With that being said, see you fuck asses.

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Professor Monnitoff - Manipulated Living
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