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.
We did not understand the movie so in order to join to the discussions we need to watch it again... :)
"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."
How do you know this? The tangent universe isn't created by the artifact, nor does the split occur exactly when the artifact appears - the artifact is merely a sign that time has become unstable. The tangent universe lasts for about 28 days, and then it restarts. It can only restart so many times however before it becomes unstable and collapses. If they aren't in a cycle, why did he bother killing frank? It was insurance to make sure that if he messes up again, frank will be there to help him. He killed frank in the last cycle as well, but something went wrong and he was not able to send the engine back. If they aren't in a loop, the entire first scene of the movie is also completely pointless.
So my theory is a combination of schizophrenia and of Donnie being shown the future. Schizophrenia usually emerges when the subject is in their late teens or early twenties (about how old Donnie is). So, I believe that over the next four weeks, Donnie's schizophrenia is going to finally come to a boiling point. The meds will stop working (if he wasn't already taking placebos) and he will proceed to flood the school, burn down Swayze's house, etc., etc. Frank comes to him (sent by God, perhaps) and allows him the chance to watch and experience what will happen if he leaves the house and survives the piece of the plane crashing through his room. This explains the hole in the "Ghost of Christmas Future" idea that says these bad things would never have happened. They would have happened, if Donnie is a schizophrenic, because he's, well, crazy. After Donnie sees all this and realizes that Gretchen will die, Frank will die, Patrick Swayze's life will be destroyed, Donnie's teacher will lose her job, and Donnie's family will likely have to deal with the heartache of his crimes, IF he chooses to live. If he dies, his family will have to deal with his death, but Gretchen will live, Swayze will become disgusted with himself and commit suicide, his teacher will keep her job, and Frank will live. I believe that Grandma Death is what pushed Donnie over the top and made him decide to die. I think Grandma Death was once given the same choice and chose to live instead, making her life sorrowful and full of pain. In her schizophrenia, she decided that the horrible visions and things that had happened to her were a result of some kind of time traveling, and, as a result, she wrote PoTT.
Hey every 1....... though the confusion over the movie still persists, after all the discussions. Here's something that would put an end on all that (from the directors cut)
1. Remember when Gretchen says "what if you could go back in time, and take all those hours of pain and darkness and replace them with something better "
2. Donnie was destined to die and couldn't have escaped that, the above dialogue clearly states that is the only option i..e, if the engine falls over Donnie none of this has ever happened.
3. Each of manipulated livings were helping him to figure this out to him,
a) Dr. Monitoff talks about the God's channel where Donnie was asking for changing the pre-defined course and he refuses to answer and says "he will lose his JOB"--- his job was to bring the balance Back in PU(only possible if Donnie dies). According to him the one who knows the events that are going to take place can change the course as they have choice and that was not possible. So, Donnie had to die.
b) Mrs. Farmer asking to put situations on LOVE-FEAR LINE. Here Donnie disagrees and at last it was this thing only , when he had a Dilema of LOVE (Gretchen) and FEAR (Gretchen dying) which leads him to uncover the whole situation. And he discovered though life is complicated but the two emotions that he needed to focus on was LOVE n FEAR that will bring back balance.
I'm pretty sure Donnie is a schizophrenic regardless of what happens or in either universe. All the misplaced laughing that seems inappropriate at the time is because it is and this is a major sign of schizophrenia. Also he mentions burning down something before the movie begins and that he's had problems for a while. And if the therapist was giving him placebo pills then it wouldn't stop the schizophrenia and he'd keep having problems like he was. The alternate universe with frank seems exactly like a schizophrenic's universe although then the end of the movie is confusing. I think the main theory with the artifact is generally right, but he is suffering from schizophrenia as well.
I think Donnie HAS to die in the PU because, just like the Manipulated Dead, his superhuman powers originate from him being dead in one universe but alive in the other. Frank and Gretchen die in the TU, but not in the PU, so they have the most profound Manipulated Actions. Donnie ALONE dies in the PU but not the TU, which grants him the powers of the Living Receiver: (seeing the future, telekinesis, superhuman strength to plant axe in bronze statue and crack waterpipe). If he didn't "allow" himself to die, he wouldn't have the powers in the TU to telekinetically send the engine through the wormhole-of-impending-doom. You have to remember that all of this is predicated on the "concept" that the 4th dimension (time) gets "broken" or f's up. Cause-then-Effect goes completely out the window. Of course, none of this will make 100% sense because it is Sci-Fi after all :P
Though, this means Roberta Sparrow couldn't have been a Living Receiver in the past, because she's still alive...or is she?? Is she like Frank's Bunny/Reverse-Ghost or is it because this is the TU, not the PU and ex-Living Receivers can continue to exist in TUs. Though she could' be a HIGHLY-manipulated ex-Manipulated Dead and therefore has an extreme amount of residual memories...or maybe she was a physicist/theorist of some sort before becoming a Manipulated Dead and that gave her special insight...or something :P
I have seen this frank(rabbit) character represented as some sort of demonic entity in occultic works. But what really caught my attention is the guy with Frank when Gretchen is killed. He is dressed as a clown.
At the start of the film Donnie's mother is reading steven kings "IT".
IT is a demonic entity that is always shown as a clown, clown mask represents IT can use any person as a host.
As another person commented I think Frank is more significant in this story but we're going to need some inside information to unravel this further. If anyone can add to the spiritual significance of Frank, please do.
I think people are overthinking things.
Donnie Darko is, IMO, a movie about how people live life doing that same old stuff over and over, like in a looping universe. When someone breaks out of that loop, we estrange and ridicule them, until they MAKE us see things for what they are. Only then can the loop be broken.
The death of Darko is a metaphor to how difficult it is to remain being yourself, when everybody hates you for it. People crave acceptance and love, and so in order to truly change the world, that craving needs to "die".
Only then can the old world truly end.
Has anyone wondered if the psychiatrist was giving him placebos (which she stated had water in them) to increase his powers, since by the PoTT, water is the intermediary between universes?
Regarding his death, the time of creation of the TU debunks this theory that his death has meaning. it seems to me he has made peace with himself and god and is ready to die, rather than needing to die. And thanks someone named frank, I now plan to watch two more movies.
stupid author...I hope you just worded it wrong 'cause that makes 0 sense...if he was taking placebos and still hallucinating, then he is obviously schizophrenic. There is hever a part in the film where things are "normal"??