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

Frank

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

Timestorm

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.

Dreams

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

Comments
gWBKXW
April 1st 2014 | 15:58:31

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Bryce
April 1st 2014 | 6:42:37

First time I watched this movie was tonight and it was fantastic.

One question though: Why does the engine fall through a second time? I get why he has to send it through the time portal, but if he only sends the jet engine back and, in turn, collapses the TU; why does the engine fall through again? Wouldn't this create another TU since the jet already exists in the original universe too? It just seems Like this would repeat itself if the engine again returns to the universe it already exists in.

I think it makes the movie a little deeper and more emotional when Donnie dies; but is it necessary? Just a thought :)


Claire Rhino
March 31st 2014 | 11:32:16

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Kkk
March 24th 2014 | 20:50:21

Maybe donni darko is just having one amazing psychotic episode and making connections between everything to invent a conspiracy theory!


b.macqueen
March 24th 2014 | 3:49:34

More wrong than right. Nothing is random. The engine falls from the plane on halloween. Then it falls through a warp in time, which is visible near the end of the film, and lands 28 days earlier in donnies room. This is the event which sets off the plot of the movie. The first time this happens donnie is not in his room. The appearance of the engine on october second starts a new or alternate reality, as the engine was only on a plane and the weren't two of them the first time around. Now this isn't dangerous, having the same object in two places at the same time, but if the alternate or new reality reaches the morning of october 30 the engine will fall from the plain as it did the first time and fall through the same time warp. Then there would start a new timeline with three of the same engine, except two of the engines would be in the same place at the same time. Which is bad. So bad that it space-time would collapse. The end of the world. So now, remember the alternate reality cant get to the point where the engine falls through. Donnie is the one who can stop this from happening. So the first time through the alternate reality donnie is shown how and convinced to go back in time to change things. He goes back in time, before the deadline written on his arm at the golf course, thinking he will be able to stop that engine from falling for the second time through the time warp. This is where the movie begins. That is why he is smiling in the very first scene. He went back in time not through a time warp, but back along his own path, like he was able to rewind time and do it over. There arent two of him like the engine. When a person wakes from a dream they can remember it. And when time goes back the reality of the happenings of a previous timeline become just a dream. The memories go away and it becomes as if it never happened. Donnie remembered everything from his dream, knew that it wasn't a dream, and knew what he had to do. Donnie smiles. But donnie forgot something. He forgot that people forget their dreams. We see donnie forget his dream as he rides his bike home, rubbing his tired eyes. By the time he gets home he has forgotten it all and goes about his life. He doesnt do what he needed to do. So now he must be guided to do it right this time. This is what we see. All the stange happenings of the movie are conspiring to convince donnie of what he needs to do. He does realize at the last minute that he wont remember, or maybe he remembers that he wont remember this reality and will have only a few moments to do anything to prevent that engine from falling. There was only one way. Stay in bed. Get hit by the engine when it falls from the first reality. Die. Then, as we see in the last scene, his parents wont sign any fucking waiver of liability. They dont agree to be quiet. They want answers. The plane with the engine is grounded due to investigation. That engine doesnt fly over the time warp at just the wrong time. Time doesnt go back anymore and disaster is averted. Donnie stays dead, but he knew in his last moments that gretchen would live, that he wouldn't have to kill frank, that he wasn't crazy, that he wasn't dying alone. Donnie laughs out of happiness. Other people rememer their dream to. The ones who were deeply affected by the past timeline. But they will forget it too. All that is left of donnies life in the alternate reality and what he had done is deja-vu. Which is why kretchen and donnies mom wave at each other and why its the last thing we see.


b.macqueen
March 24th 2014 | 2:32:48

More wrong than right. Nothing is random. The engine falls from the plane on halloween. Then it falls through a warp in time, which is visible near the end of the film, and lands 28 days earlier in donnies room. This is the event which sets off the plot of the movie. The first time this happens donnie is not in his room. The appearance of the engine on october second starts a new or alternate reality, as the engine was only on a plane and the weren't two of them the first time around. Now this isn't dangerous, having the same object in two places at the same time, but if the alternate or new reality reaches the morning of october 30 the engine will fall from the plain as it did the first time and fall through the same time warp. Then there would start a new timeline with three of the same engine, except two of the engines would be in the same place at the same time. Which is bad. So bad that it space-time would collapse. The end of the world. So now, remember the alternate relity


b.macqueen
March 24th 2014 | 2:32:34

More wrong than right. Nothing is random. The engine falls from the plane on halloween. Then it falls through a warp in time, which is visible near the end of the film, and lands 28 days earlier in donnies room. This is the event which sets off the plot of the movie. The first time this happens donnie is not in his room. The appearance of the engine on october second starts a new or alternate reality, as the engine was only on a plane and the weren't two of them the first time around. Now this isn't dangerous, having the same object in two places at the same time, but if the alternate or new reality reaches the morning of october 30 the engine will fall from the plain as it did the first time and fall through the same time warp. Then there would start a new timeline with three of the same engine, except two of the engines would be in the same place at the same time. Which is bad. So bad that it space-time would collapse. The end of the world. So now, remember the alternate relity


b.macqueen
March 24th 2014 | 2:32:26

More wrong than right. Nothing is random. The engine falls from the plane on halloween. Then it falls through a warp in time, which is visible near the end of the film, and lands 28 days earlier in donnies room. This is the event which sets off the plot of the movie. The first time this happens donnie is not in his room. The appearance of the engine on october second starts a new or alternate reality, as the engine was only on a plane and the weren't two of them the first time around. Now this isn't dangerous, having the same object in two places at the same time, but if the alternate or new reality reaches the morning of october 30 the engine will fall from the plain as it did the first time and fall through the same time warp. Then there would start a new timeline with three of the same engine, except two of the engines would be in the same place at the same time. Which is bad. So bad that it space-time would collapse. The end of the world. So now, remember the alternate relity


Stubs
March 23rd 2014 | 15:26:27

Just watched this movie for the first time and had to search for the true meaning of it all. Very interesting theory explained here and makes a lot of sense now.

Did anyone notice near the end just after Gretchen is killed and Roberta Sparrow tells Donnie the storm is coming and he must hurry she is holding what looks like a letter in her hand? Maybe the letter that she has been constantly checking the letter box for? I reckon Roberta Sparrow could have once been a Living Receiver in a previous Tangent Universe but she failed to complete her mission so she was trapped until the next one occurred. This is why she wrote the book to help the next Living Receiver (Donnie) complete their mission. Just a thought.......


Kevin H
March 22nd 2014 | 23:35:16

There's an idea that he's seeing what would happen if he lived, and so he decides to kill himself so all the bad things don't happen. This can't be true because if he lived in the PU things would be much different because he wouldn't have super powers and there wouldn't be any manipulated living/dead.


Adam
March 21st 2014 | 19:53:03

What happens to the plane
That the engine was ripped off of? Wouldn't it crash? I'm a little confused there


mel
March 21st 2014 | 6:59:33

I saw the movie and didn't really understand it but know it all makes sense..... i realize this movie is a masterpiece!!!!


elizabeth
March 20th 2014 | 22:52:42

Squirted to this


Califfa
March 20th 2014 | 0:47:39

It would be so great if someone really get the theme of the movie. cuz everyone is only explaning the movie. i think it would be greater if we take a really close up to roberta sparrow's book and the other one....... well but maybe thats only happening in TU.


eelmoto
March 19th 2014 | 11:46:48

I love this movie. It is much like arguments my high school friends and I used to have about other universes. We used to call ours a "shoe box universe". The darkness of space and time were merely the closed box and it could all end at any time when the box is opened in another universe.

I have also been thinking, while watching the movie again, how the Malaysian Airlines plane has just vanished. Maybe it is the artifact in another TU...maybe we are in the TU right now. It's been missing from 11 days now...only 17 days to go until it all comes apart. Who is our living receiver?


Rowan
March 18th 2014 | 22:20:17

I just watched this movie. This movie is the whole truth about mankind.
Goosebumbs on my skin when i heard 'Mad World' at the end of the movie. People have to listen to their dreams. Sometimes they don't.

Donnie wants to time travel, this dream about Frank gave him this change, he is living in the future moment in this dream. When he awakes he laughs. Like that is going to happen.
He thinks : This is not going to happen, so i will sleep further now. THAT is the moment he dreamt about, to make a choice.
Because of his thoughts, he forgets to listen to Frank his warning when he makes a sound.
Now the artefact (motor of the airplane) is on the right place. With or without him under it. It was his choice, to listen or not. Frank could have been his saviour.

I love this movie. Humans can actualy look into the future. No nonsense. We know how it works, if we listen to our dreams.


T Dawg
March 18th 2014 | 14:28:56

When does Jim Cunningham kill himself on the 14th hole? Is that in the director's cut?

I was wondering about that because in the Netflix version everything seems "solved" except a child pornographer ends up staying on the loose instead of getting arrested.


Linus
March 16th 2014 | 15:09:11

That explanation sounds all well and good. But perhaps he simply built a time machine. He told his psychiatrist he knew how- and he is brilliant. To save his love, he went back in time: he stayed in his room, sacrificing himself in knowing that if he died, the events to unfold that would lead to Greychen's death would not happen.


Mari
March 16th 2014 | 0:38:05

I just watched this old movie for the first time!Thanks to all of you for the explanations! Now that I understand, I give it 5 Big Stars!! I couldn't grasp most of this movie, but now I see........how dumb I am LOL " Back to the Future" was more my speed LOL I actually love time travel/parallel universe movies.


Kevin H
March 15th 2014 | 11:06:27

I have a theory about Grandma Death. It may be possible that 44 years before the movie occurs, in October of 1944, she was not a surviving living receiver but instead actually had a very vivid and detailed prevision overnight of everything that would happen to Donnie in the future. Now I'm not sure if she actually wrote the notes at the end of her book herself, or if that was just a separate extra intended to help the viewer. But, my theory could explain how she included all of the Manipulated Living, Dead, etc at the end of her book.

She was a nun, so she likely saw it as a message from God. After her vision she wrote the book as a guide for Donnie. Then she moved from Alexandria to Middlesex just to teach science at the school that Donnie would eventually go to so she could leave her book there, in the science room, where Donnie would go for his teacher to hand the book to him.

Then she would just check her mail every day because she knew that Donnie would send her the letter, she must not be sure WHEN it would arrive so she has to check every day, and she had to get the letter as soon as it arrived or the universe would be destroyed. That's why she said "I hope that you will find me before it is too late". She even says that everything in the book is "foretold", meaning it will happen, and she hopes it's merely a work of fiction, she hopes that her vision was just a dream and nothing more.

If she was a living receiver survivor, that wouldn't explain how she seemed to have prophetic knowledge of the events of the movie. It just makes more sense to me that she had a prevision of everything that would happen. Plus I don't think the living receiver even can survive based on how the book mentions weapons as examples of artifacts.

I'd like to end this with a question: How does Donnie use his "mind control" power?


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Frank - Manipulated Dead
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