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
So as Donnie started to figure what he was supposed to do, did He know that he was going to die once he returned the jet engine?
And Frank is Elizabeth's boyfriend isn't he?? At the Halloween party she asked a couple of people if they knew where "Frank" was.
So clear now! I like the idea of this movie <3
Yes the beginning of the movie is set in the PU.
At the beginning of the movie (when Donnie wakes up in the middle of the street and go home) we are in the PU? Please answer me! :)
Read me: In reverse of your questioning, the little boy at the end waves, because he doesn't know that Gretchen waved at Mrs Darko first, a gesture of their subconscious recollection of each other from the TU. He just sees Mrs Darko wave and returns in kind.
It's not important that Donnie saves to TU, it's important that he saves the PU. By porting the engine back into the PU, he prevents the TU from collapsing at the end of its cycle and forming a black hole which would destroy the PU, because of the double copy of the engine being in the same instance makes the TU unstable. Hence, why the warning of the world ending at Halloween. If he is unable to remove the second copy, the black hole would appear.
PU doesn't have both engines, it just has the second one ported from the end of the movie. The engine (the artifact) in the PU would never have existed without the spontaneous creation of the TU. The TU has made two copies, the original one that fell on the house and the second that is powering the jet at the end. Because there are two, in order for the black hole to be averted, the PU must be made to parallel the TU, so the engine replica must be sent back into the PU to stabilize the TU when it closes.
I don't understand this explanation. It says that the artifact is not the cause of the TU but it cannot be within the TU or it will be the cause of a blackhole. Donnie's quest is to remove the jet engine from the TU and return it to the PU? Does the PU not obide by the same rules as it now has a 28 day old engine and a current engine within the same timeline.
Why does it matter so much that Donnie saved the TU? Now that he has saved the TU from being destroyed he has now killed himself in the PU.
Who is to say that the end of the movie is the PU. Maybe he decided not to listen to Frank and stayed in bed. I always thought that everything created a TU as every decision has multiple outcomes.
Gretchen waved at the mother as if she knew her from the 'dream' of being in the TU. The little kid waved as well afterwards. He wasn't shown in the entire movie. Maybe they were both showing their condolinces to her loss.
yeah this is all really interesting but how do i turn that music off? itd be fine if it just played on a continuous loop but it cuts out and its annoying.
I just wanna sincerly thank dan the magic mushroom man.... i havnt laughed so hard in my whole life lmfao
Too many components of this film lack logic or deny a proper cause and effect relationship for the sake of convenient storytelling.
- How was tangent universe created? Why is the epicenter of this "parallel"(opposite of tangent, which is defined as perpendicular) located over Donnie's bedroom instead being congruent to the existing universe?
- How are manipulated dead created during the initial timeline, before the living receiver has had their guidance? Manipulated Dead Frank would never exist because he is a requirement for his own creation; a conundrum and logical fallacy that contradicts the physics of reality.
- What purpose did the burning of Jim Cunningham's house serve in respect to correcting the TU? This plot element seems only to be purely thematic.
-Why was said Artifact created? Was the initial turbine from the (quite conveniently for the story) mothers plane? Is so, then this item suffers the same fallacy as Frank's ghost. If not, and it is initially a separate turbine that was identical in construction, then why would Donnie need to sacrifice himself with the other? Actually...
-Why does Donnie need to sacrifice himself at all? If the wormhole is his own construction, than he can opt to have the exit portal located somewhere other than his house.
-If Donnie had resolved the Tangent Universe, than why would another Turbine , or Artifact, spontaneously drop when the Primary Universe resumes? Wouldn't this indicate a Tangent Universe? Why didn't two turbines fall on his house this time? If there was only ever a single turbine, from the mother's jet, than how did it complete the wormhole at the start of the film, before Donnie's prescribed intervention?
This website is a great resource to Donnie Darko explanations. Donnie Darko is a great metaphysical movie. In a way, we can view Donnie Darko as one of the best psychic movies.
For the most part, Donnie is receiving information ahead of his actual death. Would the website owner here like to write a Donnie Darko movie explanation on MovieExplanations.com, the film ending at FilmEnding.com and a twist ending at TwistEndings.com? Let us know.
You can link back to your Donnie Darko website. There is quality analysis on this website. Great work!
I believe TimeTravelMovies.com will eventually venture into time travel. Look at H.G. Wells theories about time travel. TheArtOfAstralProjection.com is a good website about astral projection, the foundation to time travel.
The one thing I'm still confused about is that Frank is one of the manipulated death because he dies in the TU. That makes sense, except he only died as the result of his own manipulation. I get that it could be a time paradox, but it would seem that any one could have died and then manipulated Donnie into killing them. Even if the path in which Donnie realized his destiny was unique and the only way, the same exact thing could have happened if the guy in the clown suit was killed instead
I personally feel that he is repeating the 28 days before choosing to die to save those he loves. When he wakes up in the morning on the roadside he smiles to himself, because I think he knows he has cheated death by time travelling back but as a residual memory or feeling like the others have in the PU at the end of the film. Its his mother being on the plane and his girlfriend that are the ensurance trap in that instance that makes him choose between his own death (Last Temptation of Christ) rather than the others (Evil Dead).
you looked every thing very deeply . thanks
brilliant movie. you looked it every deeply..thanks
Does anyone know any sites that go deeper into timetravel and the TU's
why there is no chapter 11 in the pott
This is an amazing description! Watching the movie again, I'm getting a better understanding of it. Very very good movie, my personal favorite.