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.

April 7th 2014 | 17:26:27

Personally, I think the whole pseudo-scientific approach to the movie is absolutely pubescent. Perhaps Kelly is being pubescent himself in the movie.
I think, however, that the movie deals simply with the fact of accepting one's death, and there are clear dialogues in the movie that can easily back what I'm saying. Donnie creates a story where he is no longer alone and he finds purpose to life, an explanation to it, and even the proof of an existing deity, and ultimately, of a mastermind with a masterplan handling the wheel of life.
Donnie creates this story to cope with the holes in his own life, and one he does, he symbolically accepts his death, and dies, as we see, going back to what is the real, only fact of the movie, the jet engine crushing him in his bed.
As for lame technicisms from people uncapable of abstract thinking, I respond to them with this: get a life.

April 1st 2014 | 1:22:21

I noticed that no one seemed to mention it thus far, but I think it's of significance.. the part when Donnie's fam has to stay in a hotel just after the engine falls into his room.. and the parents are laying on the bed. So the dad goes:

"You remember Frankie Fielder from high school? He died.. on his way to prom. They say he was doomed. What if they're saying that about Donnie, our Donnie. He dodged a bullet.. someone's watching over him."

I'm not entirely sure, but perhaps this relates to the part in the movie theatre when Donnie asks Frankie to take off his mask and firsts asks what happened to his eye and smiles knowingly when Frank doesnt reply. Donnie then asks

"Why do they call you frank?" and frank replies "It was the name of my father.. and his father before me." then smiles.

Just thought maybe this couldve been meant as a hint explaining where Frank came from, perhaps showing how Donnie had a similar fate ?

Not entirely sure but that was the 2 cents I had to add to the convo. lol

March 14th 2014 | 10:37:25

What if grandma death is the current living receiver and Donnie is just one of the manipulated dead...

March 13th 2014 | 12:59:48

Where can I find english subtitles to Richard Kelly`s commentary for director`s cut? I`d be appreciated for any help. Thank you.

March 12th 2014 | 7:52:31

"they made me do it" nuff said.

February 23rd 2014 | 18:00:31

I love this movie:) This movie is amazing.

February 22nd 2014 | 11:36:16


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.

February 20th 2014 | 9:35:55

Smurfs are the only true meaning in this movie

February 19th 2014 | 13:52:33


February 18th 2014 | 5:15:00

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.

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Cherita Chan - Manipulated Living
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