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

December 17th 2013 | 12:47:21

can you totally rule out the loop theory? donnie hitting frank in the eye in the mirror, ( he knows he is going to shoot frank in the eye? ), donnie asking frank wt happened to your eye? then he laughs as if he knows the answer

December 17th 2013 | 3:11:09

I just wanted to see Jen Malone. But I dig the reptilian fellows rant.

December 16th 2013 | 4:17:04

Donnie... But isn't the object already in the PU? Or did the TU start before the jet engine fell on his house? And if it did, then how did it start? Just out of nowhere?

It doesn't matter
December 16th 2013 | 4:12:15

I tried to watch this movie when I was high as shit once but it didn't work cause I literally had no clue what was going on so I decided to try and watch it again but I'm still extremely confused. I liked the movie. I really did. But I just don't understand the point of it. If he dies from the giant jet engine at the end of the movie, I don't understand why he couldn't have just died the "first time" the jet engine fell on his house. Before reading this explanation, I thought the movie was just trying to tell us that you shouldn't mess with your fate (if you really have one) because then it will just ruin other things like two other peoples lives but obviously it's a lot more complicated then that.

mollie lives
December 14th 2013 | 0:25:13

"I bomb the russian" that escalated...

December 13th 2013 | 12:47:53

I've wondered about the idea of someone being "chosen".
Donnie and sparrow both seemed intelligent but also a lil nuts. Maybe that's kinda needed to make them "believe" they have the power to do things. It's almost like everything that happens is for Donnie to have the confidence to know he can do what he has to at the end.
What sane person could easily be led to believe he can warp time telekenises ect.
I have the thought that maybe a TU was going to happen, and that somehow "something" chose for that to take place near him- not random.
That darko and sparrow were chosen as the best possible candidates.
Think matrix, neo has to be forced to believe he can do things.

December 13th 2013 | 9:03:22

We've got a classic chicken or the egg scenario here, how did Frank become manipulated dead in the first place? Frank only died in the TU because of how he affected Donnie, but the first run through Frank isn't dead so he can't time travel, thus starting the cycle.

December 13th 2013 | 0:10:54

kelli jo... if he dies in the first place then he (as the living receiver) cannot deliver the duplicate object back to the PU... If he doesn't deliver it back to the PU then the TU will collapse into a black hole due to the presence of a duplicate object so of course Donnie must live!!! He didn't even need to die in the end; pointless death...more of a dramatic statement. don't insult the film without understanding it first. its great.

December 12th 2013 | 19:14:25

awh man i love/hate life right now. such a good movie.

cocktease-raygun fucker
December 12th 2013 | 16:14:22

i love everyone

December 11th 2013 | 9:08:27

No kelli. He has to survive in order to get the tangent universe back to the original universe. He chose to die at the end of the movie. It wasn't necessary at all. Something happened that creates the TU, and Donnie is the only one who can reset back to the primary universe. That is why he has to be alive white in the tangent universe. But once he gets back to the primary universe, he can avoid death, but he chose not to.

Kelli Jo
December 10th 2013 | 20:10:58

Here's the one thing I have trouble understanding. The jet engine crashes through Donnie's bedroom regardless of if it's the TU or PU. So why did Frank wake up Donnie to begin with? If all Donnie had to do was die, he would have in the very beginning of the film without any involvement or work on anyone else's part. Not to say I don't love the movie, I do. That one thing has always bothered me though.

): !
December 9th 2013 | 16:53:58

The rabbit creeped the fuck out of me!

December 8th 2013 | 4:43:42

It all came down to one explanation: paradox

December 8th 2013 | 0:58:11

I was like what the heck. Kinda weird but it kept me interested

December 7th 2013 | 10:29:11

I didn't know about the duplicate object, but it all makes perfect sense. Also Donnie was chosen because he was at the center of where the actual universe and the tangent universe collided causing the multiple plane engines from two different dimensions to be in the same area. It's as if they were creating a rift, but Donnie Darko patched the rift.

December 7th 2013 | 9:53:53

Awesome Movie!!!

Southpark fan
December 7th 2013 | 3:13:12

"My head hurts"...Butters

December 7th 2013 | 2:08:33

Hey thanx, I never would have had any idea what the movie was about as my attention was not sufficiently captured. I am sort of surprised they would make a movie that takes so much figuring out or requires such close attention when you consider the rest of what's out there. It really makes it an anomaly and must have been a huge risk for the movie makers. It was obviously a very ambitious project and not a bad movie but if I have to think that much I want college credits for it? Maybe now I'll watch it again.

December 6th 2013 | 3:57:34

"Donnie Darko" is really about the phenomenon of Reptilian Possession...Frank The Bunny is the Reptilian, who possesses Donnie through "The All-Seeing Eye". The 'Eye' projects the Reptilian into the human host - which is why you see Frank inside the Eye in a quick flash a couple of times. Frank's glowing right eye is known as 'One Eye Symbolism' - referring to The All-Seeing Eye. Donnie becomes a criminal anarchist because of the Reptilian inside him. Reptilians always try to propagandize humans to reject the concept of 'Universal Love' - which is why the proponent of the concept is depicted as a child-molester and bad guy. Donnie cold-bloodedly executes the human Frank - another important moment of Reptilian propaganda...Reptilians always try to get humans to judge, condemn and execute each other. When Donnie expresses apathy for the rabbits in "Watership Down", he is speaking as a Reptilian expressing apathy for the human race - who are considered too dumb to be important to the Reptilians. All Hollywood actors, writers and directors are hosts for the Digital Reptilian - who is called number 6.
Hollywood's goal is to propagandize humans to reject Universal Love - the key to human evolutionary potential. I'm johnellizz and I'm the ultimate Reptilian Investigator on YouTube who makes the HOLLYWOOD REPTOIDZ channel.

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Donnie Darko - Living Receiver
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