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.

December 28th 2016 | 13:14:23

In answer to your question matt, The artifact just appeared. The PoTT even says that artifacts and tangent universes just appear, however it was meant to appear in the primary but didn't which is why the TU appeared in the first place. Donnie returns the artifact to where it was meant to be there by restoring balance to the timeline.

December 25th 2016 | 17:42:09

One thing I don't really get is the artifact doesn't "exist" on Oct 2nd in the TU so technically it doesn't exist Oct 2 in either universe. So it does exist on the 30th when he sends it back to the 2nd. So why doesn't it signify the start of another TU when he sends it back to Oct 2 since it doesn't truly exist there yet either? Wouldn't it be a duplicate again eventually when it is created? It doesn't exist until later that month closer to the 30th. I'm aware the artifact is not the cause of the TU but it is evidence of its existence. I'm confused. Lol

December 23rd 2016 | 0:46:39

Mark B. Kevin Spacey's character in the movie "American Beauty" is named Lester Burnham. That being said, all of your comments before you mistook this character's name have been negated as you are now considered an unreliable source of information.

December 12th 2016 | 17:33:38

Dicks and balls

Mark B
December 7th 2016 | 16:08:56

I think everyone here is missing the biggest clue in the movie. The movie's in the double feature are "the Evil Dead" and "the Last Temptation of Christ"(SPOILER ALERTS FOR LAST TEMPTATION) . To me the plots of Donnie Darko and Last Temptation of Christ ,are very similar. In the LTOC, Jesus at the moment of death and/or the moment that directly precedes death has a vision of what his Life would have been like to be a normal man and he decides he does not want to die and decides that he wants to live that life. And he is let off the crucifix(great movie btw). This is basically the whole movie, all of his temptations catch up to him at that moment and all of his natural desires as a man are displayed in a very long dream sequence , in the end of the movie they zoom in on Christ's face and he is still on the cross, and he realizes, accepts and craves his station in life, and is at peace with his death on the cross. Oliver Stone clearly points out it was just a hallucination or dream. Now with Donnie Darko, same plot-line. What I believe happens , is that Donnie Dies at the beginning of the movie, he is not a super hero, he is not a time traveler, there are no wormholes. This is laughable to me. He is a troubled teenager THAT's IT! He is the twilight of dying and death ,and his whole life is flashing in front of his eyes, Time is not linear here nor is logic.

What the movie depicts is Donnie's demented struggle of how life would have been different if he would have acted on his impulses. The Roberta Sparrow book is rubbish, but it is important because Donnie still needs a construct to understand the extra time given to him (in his mind) and what is happening to him (in his transcendent minute of dying). All of the people in the movie,especially Frank, are caricatures of themselves in Donnie's dream, and are just props for Donnie to act out his alternative self. That's why they act so bizarre.

In the end Donnie is laughingly maniacally or happily because he realized the events didn't happen, and life would have sucked more if he would have acted on his impulses. And death isn't so bad considering living his tormented life, and truly believes from his journey that he must die to truly move on to something more wondrous. And he accept his fate of death peacefully....... As a side note it reminds me of Kevin Spacey's character (also coincidentally named Frank) in the film "American Beauty" (SPOILER ALERT AGAIN). Frank, the narrator of the film, gets shot in the head, and is killed instantly, but as the narrator he goes on to say how that moment before you die goes on forever, and ever. There is just something very appealing to filmmakers that make them explore that transcendental moment before dying.

Dead Donnie
December 1st 2016 | 2:46:12

What if the engine kills donnie at the beginningnifvthe movie. For the whole movie after the engine crashing on the house Donnie is in a state of purgatory or limbo. He is outside of reality where the forces of good (love) and evil (fear/destruction) are fighting over his soul for 28days. At the end love triumphs. Donnie sacrifices himself for his loved ones and finds peace.

Dead Donnie
December 1st 2016 | 2:45:14

The first time I watched this movie I thought about Donnie suffering from a schizophrenic break from reality where he is hearing and seeing things that are not real vs an actual TU where all these things (Frank) are actually happening to him. After a recent second watching years later I thought of a third option where Donnie actually dies in the beginning of the movie.

November 11th 2016 | 4:53:36

During a conversation between Eddie Darko and Rose, they discuss how a character named Frankie Fiedler who died in high school, and during the conversation between Frank and Donnie in the movie theater, Frank says he is named after his father. I found this really interesting and wonder if it's possible that bunny Frank is Fiedler's son and is sent as an omen to worn Donnie who would also be dying young. The fact that Frank gives Donnie the opportunity to live in the TU and experience life again can also tie into the fact that Frank is a rabbit, since they symbolize rebirth in Christianity.

October 30th 2016 | 3:37:10

The movie is all about mental issues:
- Eddie Darko being extremely condescending
- Kitty Farmer living life through her daughter
- Jim Cunningham being idolized by several people like an example to be followed
- Gretchen using intimacy to cover up her emotions
- Cherita being completely outcast and feeling inferior
- The Principal's blind following the norm
- Donnie's repressed sexual desires, and overestimation of sex, saying it is the meaning of life
Each one of the characters has at least one issue, but Donnie is really the only one seen as an abnormal.

October 21st 2016 | 16:38:50

Although, having never watched the director's cut, I always assumed the explanation for the film was Donnie being shown the future. Now that I have been introduced to the TU explanation I see that this must be correct.

"Many people ask why the PU is not in danger now there's a duplicate object in it?"

Except there isn't. The PU, must be missing a jet engine from that plane in the first place otherwise it would have never appeared in the TU. The artifact is a result of the creation of the TU, having been ripped from the PU, there is now a duplicate of that object in the TU. At the same time the PU is now without the artifact, so when it is sent back and lands on Donnie at the end of the film, although it is obviously not in its original location, it is still the only occurence of that object in the PU.

This is further given weight by the entry in PoTT with the line "Artifacts returned to the Primary Universe are often linked to religious Iconography, as their appearance on Earth seems to defy logical explanation." Note the key word RETURNED i.e. it was missing when the fabric of the fourth dimension became corrupted and the TU was created.

Post Comment


Cherita Chan - Manipulated Living
You need to upgrade your Flash Player