Donnie Darko
Franks Eye

Movie Explanation

Firstly this explanation is written assuming that you've seen the film. There are spoilers throughout so it could ruin the enjoyable experience of watching it for the first time.

The film has been carefully made so that there are multiple explanations to what happens. With the release of the director's cut some of the ambiguity has been taken away and the director's true version of the story becomes clearer. The explanation heavily revolves around the book Donnie gets from his teacher, "The Philosophy of Time Travel" written by Roberta Sparrow (Grandma Death). The book is a fictional one but some of the pages were in the film's web site and included into the director's cut version of the movie. You can read those pages here.

PU = Primary Universe (The Universe we exist in now)
TU = Tangent Universe (The parallel Universe that most of the film is set in)
PoTT = Philosophy of Time Travel

Tangent Universe

The PoTT states that time is usually a stable construct but every now and then the fourth dimension gets corrupted. When this happens it creates a TU which is highly unstable and will only last a few weeks before it collapses in upon itself. There is a danger that when the TU collapses it could cause a black hole capable of destroying the PU as well.

This is what happens in the movie, there is a corruption in time and at midnight on October 2nd a TU is created. The next 28 days are now set in this alternate reality. Shortly after the TU starts Frank wakes Donnie up and lures him out of the house. A few minutes later a huge jet engine falls though the rip in time and lands in Donnie's bedroom.

It is important to remember that the TU is NOT created by the jet engine or Frank waking up Donnie. We are already within the TU when both those events occur. Unfortunately we never find out what caused the TU to begin, it's just an unexplained phenomenon.

The Artifact

The ArtifactAccording to the PoTT when a TU is created an Artifact will also spontaneously appear. The Artifact is the first sign of evidence that a TU has been created and are always made from metal. In this case the Artifact is a giant jet engine.

Where the Artifact originally comes from is never disclosed. It was most likely created as the TU was being formed. The TU is an exact copy of the PU with one of everything copied into it. During the copying process there was a glitch and two jet engines were formed. The second engine has nowhere to go as it already exists so it's just dumped where the TU began, over Donnie's house.

The Artifact makes the TU unstable; it can't handle having the anomaly of a duplicate object within it. In order for the TU to unravel without forming a black hole it must once again be an exact copy of the PU. By removing one of the duplicate jet engines it will balance out the Universe allowing the TU to collapse safely. The only way to remove the Artifact is to send it through a portal into the PU.

The Living Receiver

The Living ReceiverWhen a TU occurs with an Artifact then a Living Receiver is also chosen. This person is chosen seemingly at random and in this case Donnie is the chosen one. As Donnie was at the epicentre of the TU this is most likely why he was selected. The Living Receiver's mission is to guide the Artifact out of the TU.

This person is usually blessed with some supernatural powers during their time in the TU to help them with their quest. Some of these include increased strength, mind control, the ability to conjure fire and water and telekinesis.

  • He uses strength to bury the axe into the school water pipe and solid bronze mascot.
  • He uses fire to burn Jim Cunningham's house down
  • He floods the school and constructs a time portal from water.
  • He uses telekinesis to rip the jet engine off the plane to send it through the time portal.

Donnie is not aware of his responsibilities at first though and he doesn't even know he is within a TU. As his journey continues he slowly starts to realise what is going on and what he must do.

Manipulated Dead


Anyone connected to the Living Receiver who dies in the TU becomes Manipulated Dead. These people are very powerful and have the ability to move through time and talk to the Living Receiver through a Fourth Dimensional Construct. They also have some knowledge of the impending disaster and help guide the chosen one.

Frank is killed in the TU and therefore becomes one of the Manipulated Dead. He travels back in time and helps Donnie with his quest to return the Artifact. The first thing he must do is save Donnie by waking him up before he gets squashed by the jet engine. He is like a reverse ghost who appears before he was killed. Gretchen is also Manipulated Dead but she doesn't appear to Donnie in the same way as it might be to confusing for him.

Manipulated Living

Mrs Pomery and DonnieAll the people connected to the Living Receiver are the Manipulated Living and these people will subconsciously help guide the Living receiver. They will behave in the exact perfect way necessary to push Donnie toward his eventual destiny. Nearly every event in the film has a specific purpose designed to aid Donnie to save the Universe.

There is a driving force behind the Manipulated's behaviour... although we never find out what it is for sure. God is one of the most popular ideas mooted, the film does use religion at many points. The story uses lots of religious symbols and often points to the idea that you follow God's channel to decide your own fate. This guiding force is moving all the Manipulated characters around like pieces on a chessboard, making a sequence of events that will lead to Donnie's success. The Universe is in grave danger and this guiding force has stepped in to help save it.

The Ensurance Trap

Dead FrankThe PoTT states that all the Manipulated are trying to lure the Living Receiver into a trap so has no choice but to send the Artifact out of the TU into the PU. The PoTT calls this the Ensurance Trap (old English) . This is effectively the role all the Manipulated play, they are trying to save themselves by guiding Donnie to complete his mission. If Donnie fails they die as well.

Frank tells Donnie to flood the school which in turn leads to Donnie walking Gretchen home and him then asking her to be his girlfriend. This event is not just coincidence; it's specifically put in place as part of the trap.

Gretchen plays a crucial role in the trap, remember Donnie only meets and falls in love with her within the TU. He is given someone to love then she dies. He's so upset at Frank for killing Gretchen he shoots him dead. This has now created Manipulated Dead Frank, the person guiding him to do these things. He must create Manipulated Dead Frank in order to be saved himself in the beginning.

The manipulated have now successfully set the trap. Donnie was saved from death and is now in a desperate situation. His girlfriend is dead and he's a killer on the run. He knows what his purpose is now and only has one way out even though it will ultimately end his own life. Sending the engine through a portal will erase the last 28 days from history and time will return to October 2nd... back to when Gretchen was still alive.

The End of the Film


At the end of the film we see a vortex appear over Donnie's house. It's the beginning of the TU collapse and is centred over where it began. Donnie is aware of what he must do now so he drives up the mountain for a better vantage point. The plane with the same jet engine has been manipulated to fly overhead at this exact time. Donnie rips the engine off using telekinesis, constructs a time portal from water and guides the engine through it.

We now see parts of the last 28 days rewinding as the TU starts to unravel. The TU has collapsed safely and the PU that was on pause starts back up from when it stopped. We are now back in reality on October 2nd, the last 28 days never happened. Donnie wakes up in his bed laughing after dreaming some of the events within the TU. He then goes back to sleep seemingly content with life now. The experience has seemingly brought him closer to God and he is no longer afraid to die. The jet engine Donnie sent through the time portal now falls into his bedroom killing him.


Gretchen WavingEven though the last 28 days never actually happened some of the Manipulated will be haunted in their dreams by their experiences within the TU.

There are bits of evidence to prove this. Frank touching his eye in the final montage and Gretchen waving to Donnie's mum proves that some of the characters have some knowledge of what happened within the lost world.

We see Jim Cunningham crying in the montage as he wakes up... clearly disgusted with himself. Ten days later he clears out his child pornography dungeon and shoots himself on the 14th hole of the golf course... his dirty secret is never revealed.

Final Remarks

Many people assume Donnie has to die otherwise the TU would start over again. From a scientific point of view Donnie's death is not relevant at all , the corruption is already fixed before he dies and if he got up and avoided death then nothing would change. The PoTT tells us of previous Receiver's who died after the Artifact was returned but we only hear about them because their death defies logic. Any Receiver's who escaped death would go completely unnoticed.

It's almost certain Roberta Sparrow was a Living Receiver in a previous TU and that is how she came to write the PoTT. She survived her experience proving that the Receiver doesn't always have to die.

This film does blend science and religion together so his death may emphasise him as a saviour and his belief in God. In death Donnie's role as the Living Receiver seems even greater than before.

Other common questions concern the Artifact Donnie sends through the portal at the end of the movie. Many people ask why the PU is not in danger now it has a duplicate object with it. It seems to be the case that the issue of duplicate objects is only a concern once the Universe they're within starts going through the collapsing process. The PU is a stable linear time-line that never goes through a collapsing process so is therefore never in any danger from duplicate objects.

As stated above the Arrtifact is not the cause of the TU, it's just a by-product of it. This is why there is no danger of another TU starting up once Donnie sends his Artifact through the portal at the end of the movie.

  • You can read more about some of the contentious parts of the movie by clicking here
  • You can compare with some of the alternative explanations by clicking here

May 26th 2014 | 12:11:19

mad mad world...

May 26th 2014 | 2:56:17

Just saw the movie. After watching it , I was a little lost, but after looking for answers on this forum, I completely understand. Cool movie. Really makes you think about what is possible is the little nutshell we live in.

May 25th 2014 | 23:01:02

One thing though, if the artifact is the jet engine at the beginning which destroys their house, then why would sending the original version of the engine save the Primrary universe? Surely the engine which crashed through the house would need to be sent back. Unless donnie in fact created the artifact when he saved the primary universe? But that doesn't make sense because that would mean donnie had to save the world from a tangent universe he created in order to save the world? Somewhat a mind lowing paradox.

Or have I missed something?

May 25th 2014 | 1:13:28

The real question though, who was the creepy fat guy in a track suit?

May 24th 2014 | 6:44:35

So what's the point with Frank?!?!?!?????

May 23rd 2014 | 4:36:51

i decided to avoid this movie for 13 years because of numerous complexities emerging from the ones who had seen it yet could not explain what made it so fascinating. whereas so many claim this movie enables you to think and draw many conclusions, my first viewing exposed only answers. intriguing parallelism to my existence and successfully connected virgin circuitry in my neural network at the appropiate time. my vision of wormhole vortex blackhole eco coexistence was displayed brilliantly and pray this is simple coincidence rather tan uneventfyl foreshadowing of a more gruesome outcome

hemant kuma
May 22nd 2014 | 16:19:48

you guys are forgetting two important events also , which will support the theory that all characters were doing there part to make donnie to those things
1. the physics teacher end the conversation with donnie and say that he can lose his job if he continued the conversation, i guess the TU characters can only give hints to donnie but cant exactly tell him what to do ,
2. the english teacher , drew barrymore even lost her job, when she tried to change the book, she tried to cross the line by saying that this book will be available outside the school...
if you agree mail me with your comments at

May 20th 2014 | 20:21:12

I'm sorry if I'm a little late, and/or if this has already been answered numerous times, but the engine that Donnie sent back in the end was the right one. You understand the meaning of the word 'duplicate', right? that means that there are two of the same engines in the one TU. Now, as this site's explanation states, Donnie somehow, being the Living Reciever, has supernatural powers. Seeing as this includes things as powerful as telekinesis, I would assume that Donnie knew exactly which plane engine was one of the duplicate artifacts.

May 17th 2014 | 10:07:42

Somehow,a reflection of who I am:') DONNIE <3

May 17th 2014 | 8:09:00

I finally decided to watch this film, and after all the hype... i must say it's really grasping at straws (granted I haven't seen the directors cut, so it's fair to assume my opinion could be changed).

The "explanation" presented states:

"The Artifact makes the TU unstable; it can't handle having the anomaly of a duplicate object within it. In order for the TU to unravel without forming a black hole it must once again be an exact copy of the PU. By removing one of the duplicate jet engines it will balance out the Universe allowing the TU to collapse safely. The only way to remove the Artifact is to send it through a portal into the PU."

How are we to accept that sending this artifact to the PU is the solution? The existence of this object will still be an physical anomaly (paradox) that reality (PU) cannot accept and would theorhetically render the ongoing "PU" unstable ...even if the engine wasn't the cause of the "initial" TU, once sent to the PU it would present the danger of unravelling the universe, thus resulting in a never ending series of TUs.

May 17th 2014 | 7:21:38

The song "Mad World" led me here. Never seen the movie, but did some research asbout it. Seems kinda cool....

Truth of Fiction
May 16th 2014 | 4:49:34

In response to josh,
Donnie's point is still proven fact. The 2-point spectrum is still bs. Donnie's death didnt just come from his love for Gretchen, nor did he fear death itself. You're point is invalid because he feared of dying alone, while Donnie was in the TU he fulfilled his ambitions to not die alone. Yes he loved Gretchen, however he did not die for her since he had a chance to live in the ending. He simply saved Gretchen because he loved her and died because he felt fulfillment. You cannot simply ignore every other emotion, some actions/emotions you can't divide into a 2-point spectrum. For instance. If you had a choice to choose between saving your best friend or the lives of 2,000 other people you do not know. If you pick either to save you are both killing and saving.. The 2-point spectrum is flawed, even more than that it's just bs to feed people into giving them false authority and confidence in order to make sense of the world. It's completely pathetic and naive to think the complexity of human emotion and thought can be explain through something as simple as a single fucking line

Random #2
May 15th 2014 | 23:34:26

28 days...6 hours... 42 minutes...12 seconds

Random #2
May 15th 2014 | 23:34:25

28 days...6 hours... 42 minutes...12 seconds

May 15th 2014 | 23:25:36


May 15th 2014 | 18:47:38

The whole fear-love spectrum that he is taught in school is interesting to me. He ultimately sacrifices himself because he loves Gretchen and feels he must save her. In the class Donnie tells the teacher that life is much more complicated than a simple two dimensional spectrum like this, but in the end it seems like his final act was based on rejecting his fear of death for love. Am I just speculating?

May 15th 2014 | 11:01:53

this just blew my mind

May 15th 2014 | 1:49:37

so I am not the only one lol..

May 13th 2014 | 23:47:18

If the jet engine was an artefact sent when the TU was created, how does it still appear at the end and kill Donnie in the PU?

May 13th 2014 | 11:07:04

anyone wanna speak via this comment post? ill check everyday.

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Jim Cunningham - Manipulated Living
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