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

from iran
April 26th 2014 | 8:13:19

hi there
thanks for the movie and was of those that came in my little list of the best experiences!

one Big can a writer write this sort of screenplay that confuses the others while he himself is in the center of all the viewers experiences of one movie!?

Anandhu Murali
April 25th 2014 | 9:18:31

Very nice movie, but it was quite difficult to understand the story at the beginning, then it all settles at the end, explaining what had happened over,
thank you.

April 25th 2014 | 7:32:55

Having JUST NOW watched this movie...I am absolutely blown away. This had me wanting the whole time. It's 2:30AM and I have a 5 page paper to write by 8AM...thanks for the thriller.

Awesome movie!

Karen Lenegan
April 23rd 2014 | 11:24:31

I watched the film a number of times, trying my dambdest to unravel exactly what the film was about? Meaning & no matter how hard I tried, I really couldn't, believing that there was a massive hole in the movie, which needed filling, so that I could understand it. But there wasn't.
It was a most enjoyable film that really had me on the edge of my seat all the way through.
It was extremely exciting and very well acted & Jake Gylenhaal was brilliant. It is a shame that films as unique and very different as 'Donnie Darko' very rarely come along as this is my type of film, I LOVED IT!
Karen Lenegan.

G m
April 22nd 2014 | 23:58:50

So frank in the TU can go through the God's path to save Donnie in first place. That s because it is the cause of itself, according to what Phoenix said down below.

So if the TU is created and ONLY OCCURS ONE TIME, in theory there is no 'manipulated dead' yet to save Donnie . But, they still appear.
Which means it is already written that they are going to dye, so it is all deterministic. God, i suppose, will always save the PU; better to say he has already written that it will never be destroyed ( the manipulated dead will see to that) until he writes otherwise.

So he can control what happens in our dimension, even when it gets corrupted, but he cannot prevent the forth dimension to get corrupted itself.
What would be the point of having written a story, and erase it to start it again, if you could have written it right in first place. Someone may have spilled coffee on your sheets ( forth dimension corruption) so you have to clean it up (TU) and start again( continue with the paused PU)
So part of what this story is trying to tell us is that god is not omnipotent?

Sorry if i misspelled something, but i m Spanish speaking.

April 22nd 2014 | 20:00:08

Wow... I saw all these things in the movie, and some I got,
but I'd never would have understood the movie on a level like this without this explanation.
Thanks! You're a genius!

(Great movie btw)

April 22nd 2014 | 5:48:59

continuation of mullholand drive!!!both gud movies but u never understand y they made these movies

April 22nd 2014 | 4:13:05

Now THAT'S some explanation.

I can't imagine how someone could completely understand the events in the movie without this site and explanation. Somethings aren't even mentioned, there's no way.

Thanks a lot!

April 21st 2014 | 8:06:20

why did i see this movie and why yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

April 20th 2014 | 22:16:25

And yeah, I don't know if the poster below me is refering to this comment or the movie but I have to agree if he is talking about the movie. In the end I think the story was just pseudo-intellectual.

I don't think it's to complicated, I don't understand how someone can't think off multiple dimensions or time dilation when it is basically mentioned in the film.

I liked it but I didn't like the story I think.

April 20th 2014 | 22:05:36

I don't understand. This is quite a bad explanation to the movie. How can Donnie kill Frank when it is Frank who has guided him to kill him. Without him guiding him he wouldn't have killed him to be able to go back into time to guide him.

keith tink
April 20th 2014 | 20:00:50

Absolute nonsense, good film though, an good music

April 20th 2014 | 14:32:45

Haha thanks for the explanation, the only thing i dont understand is how he used "telekinesis" ..?

April 20th 2014 | 5:21:08

i just think its great that people are still talking about this movie! i remember watching this movie back 2001 or 2002 and everyone i told about it had either never heard of it orthought it was stupid. i absolutely love this movie!

April 19th 2014 | 22:19:40

jlj, frank saves donnie at the beginning of the TU because at the end of the TU, when he dies and becomes a manipulated dead, he can travel back to time and save him. It is like an event which is the cause of it self to occur. It is travelling within the God's path, it is Deus Ex Machina.

April 18th 2014 | 19:14:30

"the hardest to get" movie ever :/

April 18th 2014 | 16:37:05

I must say this is a terrific movie, its fascinating and it makes you think a lot, it would have been cute though if donnie had chosen to stay alive in the end. I really liked the relationship between him and Gretchen. I personally think this is a great movie and would happily watch it again :)

April 16th 2014 | 20:49:31

Excellent explanation. Cleared the few remaining questions I had about the movie. Those who still have questions, need to re-read and fully understand the given explanation. Thank you.

April 16th 2014 | 19:50:29

Where do you get the information that Jim Cunningham "later he clears out his child pornography dungeon and shoots himself on the 14th hole of the golf course..."

April 16th 2014 | 18:46:33

Hi, I have a question. How did Donnie know that he is returning the exact copy of the engine? It could have been just some random jet engine. And why does the jet engine fall on Donnie in the end since it is just an artifact created in tangent universe and not primary? That doesnt make sense...

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Cherita Chan - Manipulated Living
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