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
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.
According 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
When 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.
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.
All 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
The 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.
Even 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.
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
Also I don't think the movie is religious. It does ask about "the search for god", but still I don't think it is religious.
I just got an idea by reading it. Since Gretchen is a manipulated dead, but doesn't show herself to Donnie she is somehow controlling herself in the TU? This is just an idea and I'm not sure if I believe in in myself, but
-it's kind of strange that she isn't scared by the teachers comment "sit next to the boy you think is the cutest", instead she chooses donnie by looking at his back for a second,
-then she chooses to "go with him" after one conversation. Probably the first conversation she had with him
Manipulating dead Gretchen knows that they need each other, she know what takes for Donnie to succeed
At the same time it's unlikely, because she is not a living reciever.
One question; where did you get the God from? I could see no gods in the movie. After Danny wakes up at the end, he laughs not because he is "brought closer to God." He laughs because he knows he is finally free. He stays in his bed knowing, what would NOT happen thanks to it.
I think you've been watching a movie too much...
I don't get the film at all just seems like too much hard work to figure out what it means I seems like everyone kust analyses what they think it means so Iu doesn't really have its own story its stupid
Donnie has seen the light and realizes that there is a sinnerster force at work corrupting the world he lives in and the people around him are brainwashed, unaware of the wrongs of there daily actions. He knows the fate of mankind is doomed and this makes him sad and withdrawn from society. In time he see's that it is all for the best and accepts his destiny.
According to the Final remarks above, the author(Grandma Death) is also a Living Receiver who lived long enough in the TU to learn of the different outcomes. Grandma death is the only other character as Donnie not shown in the PU after time is reset to October 2. This raises question to the final remarks of this article on whether she died or not in her experience in the PU, thus making the readers or viewers believe that Living receivers have no option but die.
I wish I could have Analed roberto sparrow
Wake up.....I've been watching you
My brother tells me I remind him of Donnie. Haha
Donnie is actually Elvis Presley and Frank is the Buddy Holly. It all makes sense now doesn't it
Isn't there a metaphorical way to look at the movie as well? because all the explainations ive read online have been rediculously literal. I actually just watched it for the first time last night, but my boyfriend (who's and english major) has seen it like hundreds. He described it to me as a big big metaphor for depression. and that in the begining of the movie, when he's riding down the mountain takes place after he died at the end, and symbolized god giving him a second chance at life.
You contradict yourself in this 'explination' so many times.
Donnie would love to chat to the original writer,he has something that to my understanding not many know or even understand. That s if even his self understands. I have not seen the movie but if you know what im talking about then you will know what im talking about. I'ts really beautiful and quite out there i should say and there is so much more to look forward too! i wont mention to much more. Enjoy.
Donnie sleepwalking the night before is just another one of the deliberate red herrings put in the movie. It helps justify why he was out supposedly sleepwalking the night Frank wakes him.
His dad wakes up earlier that night and gets ups and goes downstairs to watch TV... this indicates the sleeping disorder is something that runs in the family.
what i dont get is, why hes sleepwalking before the night hes taken outside and talks with frank. is it because its showing franks influence on him getting stronger or something?
Few day ago I experienced what is in the movie and everyone can do the same.
Here is how to do :
- Drink some alcohol
- Smoke a bit of weed (for the THC)
- Wait 30 min
- Take in a bong at the same time : weed + Salvia x60 (concentrated 60 times). You have to use a jet lighter to light the bong to release the psychotropic. (The quantity needed vary). Keep the smoke as long as you can in your lungs.
After 15 to 30 seconds you should fall unconscious and experience one or multiple parallel universe in a very short time (3-10 mins) with the feeling of having lived it for years. After that you will be living consciously in an alternate reality for one hour that will slowly getting back to "normal" (actually after this experience you cannot be sure that this reality is the one that you came from).
I think that all pieces of art that we like (movies like Donnie Darko) are made by people that experienced drugs. In order to properly understand them you have to take some.
Have fun !
my the TU was trying to score a TD, but threw and IC, lol sorry
Reminds me of this dream I keep having about St. Michael, and I started researching information about this so called angel and I realize a lot religions have a St. Michael character, but the thing that freak me out Is was born in my grandmother's house next St. Michaels graveyard, my parents' house was on the same street as St. Michael school, and my initial back words are stm, and when I moved out of my parents house st.micahel shut down and built a new school by my apartment wtf, I didn't realize any of this until weeks ago, when I started having fuck up dreams, my parents don't know shit about religion and neither did I until I started having these dreams, I studied so may religions the last few months, they all share so much in common, i hope it just dreams, i dont know how i came across this but i must watch the movie again.