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
@TheOne I admire your openmindedness but i still do not understand the fact of why people refuse to mix the two. i know i didn't understand it but that was because they are almost two different things. one is faith and one is fact. and also @Erik i also do not understand the importance of "cellar door".
The only thing I am left confused about is the importance the english teacher places on the words "cellar door". It is only referenced once more in the film when Donnie and his girlfriend enter Grandma Death's basement.
Great movie. Can't say it deserves cult status. Yet i can see why it has
a cult following. Great cast. Under rated cast. One scene that isn't fiction really stands out. Its the clip where Dukakis lectures George Bush about the moral hazard associated with dealing drugs with Manuel Noriega.
@TheOne That was the biggest load of bullshit I have ever read.
@TheOne watch this movie Believers
it about life and science
@TheOne so our Dreams are acutually memories, we had in the past.
Good Posts "TheOne"
Far to many people instantly associate God as an old man with a big grey beard because that is the physical and metaphysical image they were programmed to think.
For me the idea of a God doesn't have any of those restrictions. If there was a supreme force then we as mere humans would have no idea how and what form it would take and what decisions it would have any influence over.
This film entertains the very realistic idea that God is not a scripture from some old text book designed to control humans... it would be an unknown super massive force where anything is possible.
@theone- You seem like a brilliant person. The majority of people are so quick to put religion down and believe the scientific "facts", which are pretty much opinions backed up by equations that man has made. We cant travel the speed of light or even find a cure for cancer but we supposedly know how the universe was created... I dont buy it but I am no scientist.
All that I know is that I have seen things that science cannot explain, things that I will remember vividly for the rest of my life, things that I suppressed when I was young and are now bombarding my brain with thoughts, fears, and questions. The thought of my past experiences bring a very eerie chill up my spine and through my eyes, every time.
I am very much afraid to open up and search deeper into my memories and the feelings that I have, because of what I may see.
Also just to mention,there is a list of sort of people in this world.
1.average person(no understanding of thinking truly outside the box,they are self imprisoned)
2.the person who accidently,(actually not accidently but im not getting into that.)opens into the spiritual realm,but doesnt know it.
3.the person who has been opened up,but thinks it was due to evil(magick,spells etc..)who has special abilities but uses in wrong way which in turn mess up alot of things,which can also lead to suicide.
4.the people who made it thru the number 2 person(which usually is hospitalized and is considered schitzo,and makes it thru whats called the hell stage.(usually these people at one point almost commited suicide only to live through it and find their way.)
once you truly find your way,you stay on that Island of positivity and This universe and life are amazing.
an example:im not going to say what the rapper Jay-Z is(and no hes not satanic.he believes in Jesus.
but in the song"niggas in paris" he says Im liable to go Michael take your pick.Jackson,Tyson..Jordan game six
think about what i wrote,then his quotes
Jackson(you can choose death or suicide,cause things that you hear or see isnt what you have been programmed to understand,and if you tell anyone,they think your crazy.even though you know what you have saw and heard.
Tyson-crazy....same thing but you dont commit suicide,you tell so many people(so called normal imprisoned people)that your own blessings and abilities end up putting you in hospital or getting diagnosed with paranoid schitzo.(one of the main reasons rule number 1 is to not speak about it)
Our people are on a higher level than 99% of people.
Jordan Game six-Michael jordan hit the game shot to win the championship,if you make it through the other michaels and you figure it out,you get the national treasure of life,cause you came through in the clutch,you refused to lose,you refused to die,you kept it to yourself until you figured it all out..
The reason that he doesnt want to talk about God,is that in actual science,Dr.are "taught"to believe in only Darwinism and "told to keep secret"about the truth.There is GOD and Im not saying that from religious stand point,Enlightened Ones who know the truth,have only one rule,which im kinda breaking.To keep the ultimate secret quiet.Which is science and God.Once you have both truly mastered,this life becomes a canvas that you paint your own future and its filled with positivity and love.As for fear,fear in belief prevent the average being to mantain,normalcy,for ifwe told you the truth it would be like a Motivational speaker going into a place or business thats been failing,and he(motivator)tells them how to succeed at that same place,well ego's etc..will have alot of them if not majority hating on the guy.Its the natural instinct.What happens is if you enter the spirit world,or quantum world unless you know how to block out or defeat evil(evil revearsed is live btw ;))then the blessings aka powers you have now can bring more negativity to those around you,and the world.The only reason im writing this,is because I put God and science together,you will say Im wrong or crazy.For if i thought u would actually believe it,I wouldnt write it.Hope you find your way,and Wake Up. Hope to see you in the stars,when you find (it) you will see me give a wink and say"Glad to have you back"
love Always 1
that was amazing and a wonderful movie
definitely going to my collection
Okay, I think that part in the explanation about God is kind of absurd and arrogant to think that considering the events. I believe it's actually Donnie's search for God's existence that leads him not get out of bed in the end. He doesn't have to be a martyr. He could have easily jumped out bed and saved himself. My view is that he wanted to die and perhaps part of his laughing was from his excitement to finally KNOW.
For instance, when Donnie is talking to Prof. Monnitoff in the second half of the film, he mentions God and the paths, but Monnitoff ends the discussion abruptly saying he could lose his job. Now in my opinion, this was Monnitoff stopping himself from telling Donnie his own view on God, which was most likely that God does not exist. This also stops him from influencing Donnie with his own religious views, so Donnie is sort of torn at that moment. But he knew what Monnitoff was going to say.
So to me, he's trying to explain the recent events and his powers through the only way he knows as a teenager born and bred in a religious society: God. But his intellect leads him to doubt and question what society has told him to be true.
And then in the classroom scene when discussing the rabbit movie, I think he's angry about not knowing, saying: "And if you're cute and you're horny, then you're probably happy, in that you don't know who you are and why you're even alive." I think he wishes he could be ignorant like the rabbits and not have to worry about things like God's existence and the meaning of life.
Also, you have to consider what happens at his last session with Dr. Thurman. Donnie dodges the question about believing in God. Afterward, Dr. Thurman explains how he is an Agnostic and he nods his head and says goodbye. The line "I won't be able to figure out what this is all about" sticks out to me during the hypnosis as well. I believe he's looking for an answer to life.
So like I said, his death is the only thing that can give him that ultimate knowledge he's been searching for throughout his life.
That's the long and short of my opinion on the religious aspect.
I still don't understand why we always have to bring God into stuff. I believe it is strictly science. NO religion.
This movie actually gave a new horizon to the meaning of life..Like it can be that our dreams are actually something that happened to us in the TU..This topic is amazing..You can think over it again and again and always come up with new conclusions..contradicting ones sometimes..Destiny,Time and God ..Great movie...
Wow. I havent seen something so mind-boggling and hard to understand since Inception. Still amazing movie.
This has helped but it is mentioned in the movie that he might be an agnostic so how does religion and science mix?
I got MOST of it but didn catch the telekenisis at the end.... The clouds were tearing and thats wat i thot happend to the plane, not donnies mind cuz he was just laughing there.... So that part cleared a lot up.... I think i understand now...
The firs time I saw this movie I fell asleep in the middle of it and woke up and the end and understood half of it cause I've been big into quantum physics for a long time I thought everyone was just a religious nut job and frank was an ultimate observer being able to travel any where through time not just throughout the 28 days I didn't get to see the part where he was shot then I watched the whole movie and was completely jacked up... You have given me new material to consider.. Thank you lol
This helped me so much! Thank you a lottt for this website!