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

February 18th 2014 | 6:42:45

Roberta Sparrow seems to know exactly where and when to stand in the road twice in the film. Any chance she could be a driving force

February 18th 2014 | 2:19:57

the only film i can watch over and over again even if its 3am and i need to sleep, fuckin perfect

February 16th 2014 | 21:23:31

The real question is if Roberta sparrow wasn't alive then would the TU really happen and if it did how would Gretchen and Frank then be killed

Steve S.
February 15th 2014 | 23:09:17

Saw the movie for the first time and was very intrigued. Very powerful message and mind opening. With that being said will probably end up watching it again this week ah

February 15th 2014 | 9:03:16

In my previous comment I was meant to say that I have been watching this awesome movie for over ten years. I wish I was young enough now to be studying this piece of cinematic art in college or university.

February 15th 2014 | 8:51:48

The beauty of this cult classic is that it is open for individual depiction by the viewer. I have been watching this awesome movie and have got a different message from it at different stages of my life. The thought that went into writing the script, producing the film, setting the scenes, choosing the cast and the sound track is as clever as any hidden messages you choose to take from the understanding of the chain of events. Bravo.

February 15th 2014 | 8:15:41

I'm tryin' to tell ya, "Ooo!"

February 15th 2014 | 1:39:42

I found one problem with this theory. There is a paradox located in Manipulated Dead Frank saving Donnie in the TU. Living Frank only dies when Donnie is guided by MD Frank and Gretchen dies. With this theory in mind, it is an impossibility for MD Frank to guide Donnie the first time he enters the TU because Frank has not yet died. Donnie would theoretically have to had gone through the entire process that leads to the killing of Living Frank without the help of MD Frank. Am I mistaken? Or does the fact that MD can time travel make everything I've just said irrelevant? I assume just because a MD can time travel doesn't mean they can do so in theoretical scenarios as well...

February 15th 2014 | 1:23:25

i have watched this movie so many times and everything now makes some sense. However i feel like sehrish has something to do with play of all this. Anyone have any thoughts?

February 14th 2014 | 9:25:46

I 2nd the mountain of dicks. Mountain of motherfuckin dicks with this movie AND ALL THIS

February 14th 2014 | 1:28:54

i now understand whats going on , i thought it was time travel witch made it jibberish . lol

February 12th 2014 | 23:22:48

I watched this for the first time on Monday night, watched it again on Tuesday and now I'm about to click the Play button, yet again. This film has been on my mind for three days, I have been googling for answers and this is the best one I can find, still a few loop holes but hey, the mystery is the beauty of it. What an absolutely breathtaking movie, I usually don't know what to say when people ask my favourite movie, but I do now.

February 12th 2014 | 22:25:28

There's something I'm unsure of, the jet engine isn't a copy of the exact plane the mother and daughter are on (seeing as they aren't on a plane in the PU) sooo is that what makes the TU unstable? Because it already exists elsewhere?

February 12th 2014 | 2:03:36

I'm learning about this in my year ten english class, and I have to admit, the movie was pretty good. However, it is confusing.

Sherree Wells
February 10th 2014 | 3:43:16

Awesome movie. A mind bender for sure. The explanation was pretty logical, I think. Only seen the movie once , now armed with a better idea of what's happening, I'm going to watch it again, and again if I have to. I had to watch the Matrix three times before I could get a good grasp on the plot.

February 9th 2014 | 18:50:05

Trinidad to add to Muffpowder, the jet engine was needed specifically from mom and sisters plane because that was the artifact that was sent originally... there was mention from the dad in conversation with donnie where there was a "Matching Serial Number", to me this means that the FAA realized the engine found was duplicate (already) existed in the primary universe, probably causing instability in the universe.

February 9th 2014 | 14:38:21

Awesome explanation. Thanks.
Just one correction;
POTT clearly states that the corruption of the fabric of the fourth dimension(time) thus the formation of TU is extremely rare whereas in the explanation it is said every now and then.

The Juan and Only
February 8th 2014 | 2:32:31

Watched this film so many times now and my brain is still fucked, but I do like this explanation as it does clear some things up

February 8th 2014 | 0:51:17

Lägg ägg

February 7th 2014 | 5:38:12

I dont get it

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Cherita Chan - Manipulated Living
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