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.

July 12th 2016 | 0:11:18

I like to think when Donnie wakes on the mountain he has already been crushed by the jet engine and killed. the next month is him experiencing meaningful aspects of life such as love, maturity, and accepting death. He is guided through this purgatory like trip by things that are familiar to him such as friends and teachers and of course frank, the manipulated dead who ultimately is conceived through Donnie's first hand actions. Donnie is a skeptic who eventually throughout this trip develops a deep belief and trust in some higher power, this is why the rules of this so called "tangent universe" are presented in a scientific way so he can wrap his head around what is happening. The last thing Donnie experiences is his full accepting of his fate at the epicenter of this world mixed with an excitement for whats next a.k.a afterlife. Donnie Darko is a metaphysical movie about the relativity of time's role in the events following death and one boys journey to understand the entire scope of life and death. schizophrenia is a red herring and the science found in the philosophy of time travel act purely as an introduction and guide for both Donnie and the viewer.

I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.

end of the world is synonymous with Donnie's death

June 22nd 2016 | 10:50:40

Who els has a big crush on donnie๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

June 22nd 2016 | 4:50:04

Or what if its a finale destination type of belief,he messed everything up by not dieing,but that wouldeave the question of why did frank save him to begin with

June 19th 2016 | 21:18:08

hey hi, idk i just watched the movie and im freaking out trying to understan everything and while looking up stuff i just realized that Graham Green, the author they read about in the school WAS BORN IN OCTOBER 2ND, THE SAME DAY IT ALL STARTS. idk if it has anything to do, but i just thought it was kind a strange coincidence

June 19th 2016 | 10:50:50

It is said that the easiest explanation is the best. Remember Occam? You all do just the opposite thing. What if Donnie is a schizo having schizo paranoid allucinations? In fact, as he is not taking his meds this is more than possible. He is in bed, the accident happens and in the last seconds before his death he has the last super allucination... the whole movie reflects that last seconds. No scifi here. Anyway you can go with the paralele or tangent universes, time travel, superpowers etc and turn it all into a scifi movie. But if it were just scifi, no meds schizo and allucinations would be needed to make the film because it could all be explained through paradoxes time travel and superpowers.

Annie 17
June 7th 2016 | 15:32:04

What if the worm hole thing Donne created to transport the engine back in time from the TU to the PU (before the TU is destroyed) is what caused the rip in time that created the TU in the first place???!

-"destruction is a form of creation"

[bare in mind that I don't really know what I'm talking about this movie confuses the shite out of me lol, ๐Ÿ˜†but it's so GOOD]

Any thoughts anybody????????????????????????????????

June 6th 2016 | 20:15:35

I'm kinda thinking the hole idea of the movie was based on the last theory. It answers all of the questions. I really enjoyed the movie it is now my go to movie on a Friday night XD

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.

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Karen Pomeroy - Manipulated Living
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