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.
I love this movie:) This movie is amazing.
I don't think thats true, I think the first theory is the best one I've ever read. It is said that corruptions and tangent universes are Incredibly Rare in the Philosophy of Time Travel. So to say that Donnie has to fix Tangents and Artifacts one after the other again and again and again, goes against what is said in the PoTT that Artifacts/Corruptions/TU's are incredibly rare events.
Smurfs are the only true meaning in this movie
take the chance of the The Looping Tangent Universe but with the difference that in the previous TU he succeeds to remove the dublicate artificials and save the universe. this explains also the first scene. he woke up just after a succesfull mission and laughs as he did in the final scene but in the first scene he wasnt killed by the artificial. that means he was the LR in many others TU doing his job succesfully thats why was chosen as the LR in the TU that we are shown. unfortunately after this TU he dies so for the next TU someone else must be chosen to save the universe.
First of all, this was a superb movie.
I think the first theory of PoTT is the best explanation, but of course there are other theories out there that sound profound. Director did a great job making this movie. This is what an entertaining movie should be. There are many people that are confused and don't understand this movie, and thats not our problem, thats their simple minded consciousness and processing. The people that do have some what of a grasp of this movie tend to analyze things in perspective of what we perceive to be the main themes of the movie including: time, dreams, science, religion and God. Dreams have a special meaning to me and to some people. In dreams, it seems like a parallel universe, you could be anyone or anything. You see people you don't recognize and yet you know you have some significant relation with them. You recollect places you don't remember being there, you understand the current situation you are in but in real life it is never like that.
A theory I had was that the world ends and Donnie is alone with Gretchen's dead body and Frank. Therefore, everyone else gets pushed back in time to when donnie is first crushed by the jet engine. So in conclusion, Donnie is not a time traveler, everyone else is.
The movie makes people aware that the universe is a conscious entity.
We are all connected. Every single atom in the universe has a connection to every other atom. A conscious universe. Electrons never have the same energy value as another electron. All of them are constantly changing. Call it the mind of God. Whatever suits you. We are all in this together. Never alone.
So what about in the end about where they are all standing waiting for the mourge people to bring Donnie out and the sister looks older? Why Is That??
The fact the we are all here, tells me that the director did an amazing job in the making of this film.
Its great that he makes you use your imagination in interpreting it. Those who would prefere a clean cut ending, just don't care you use their minds. Exelant movie.