Even though the main explanation is consistent and ties the whole movie together there are still a few parts of the movie that are not explained and have to rely on theory. Here are some of those questions with possible explanations and some common mistakes people make.
What Creates The Tangent Universe
Why exactly does a Tangent Universe (TU) occur? Are they a natural phenomenon or are they artificially created. There is one theory that scientists in the future build a machine that somehow causes a rip in time back in the past. Another theory is it could have been caused by Alien involvement.
Quite a common thought is Frank saving Donnie in the beginning is the cause of the TU. Donnie was meant to die and by surviving he altered things which caused the corruption. This is not true though, we are already within the TU when Frank wakes Donnie up. Frank's special powers only work within the TU so he would only be able to wake Donnie after the TU had started.
The same goes for the Artifact not being the cause of the corruption. The jet engine appears several minutes after the TU had started. The Philosophy of Time Travel states that the Artifact is the first sign of evidence that a TU has occurred.
The First Jet Engine
One major question is where does the jet engine in the beginning of the movie come from originally? If it came from the future where exactly and what day did it come from?
A common answer to this question is it's the same engine Donnie sends through the portal from the plane his mother and sister were on. The engine travels through time and lands on Donnie's house. It's exactly the same event as the end of the film only the first time round Donnie survives.
This is extremely unlikely though as the portals are just a gateway between the two Universes. The first engine lands in the Tangent Universe (TU) so if it came through a portal it would have to come from the Primary Universe (PU). The engine Donnie rips of the plane at the end is from the TU and travels through a portal into the PU so there is no way it can be the same event repeating.
If it did come from a future point in the PU once the corruption is fixed by Donnie that future event won't happen now so we will never find out exactly how it occurred.
Another theory is the Tangent Universe is a copy of the Primary Universe but as it's being formed there is a glitch or copying error. This error produces a duplicate engine that is then dumped into Donnie's bedroom. This anomaly makes the TU even more unstable and it must be sent into the PU.
Roberta Sparrow: The Philosophy Of Time Travel
Roberta Sparrow writes the book "The Philosophy Of Time Travel" which helps guide Donnie but how exactly did she know all this information? There are a few plausible explanations for this. It seems like she had a similar experience herself so either she was a Living Receiver or one of the Manipulated Dead in a previous Tangent Universe.
Both options would in theory give her all the information required. If she was a Living Receiver she would obviously have known what to do and the Manipulated Dead have a large understanding of what is happening within a Tangent Universe. It's possible she may have somehow retained some of the information from her experience once the Primary Universe started up again.
Does Donnie Have To Die
This subject is one of the most debated parts of the movie. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking Donnie waking up and cheating death in the beginning is what caused the Tangent Universe (TU) to occur. The assumption is then once the Primary Universe is restored Donnie stays in bed otherwise he risks causing another TU to start and the whole cycle will repeat. This theory is not correct though, Donnie and Frank have nothing to do with the creation of the TU.
We hear about other Living Receivers in The Philosophy of Time Travel who were killed by the Artifact they returned. If we include Donnie then it seems the Living Receiver always dies once the Primary Universe is restored. The question is what would happen if Donnie got out of bed again and survived? The moment we see Donnie laughing in bed at the end the Primary Universe is already restored. If Donnie got out of bed and dodged the second engine after that then in theory nothing would change as the corruption is already fixed.
Another important point is whether Donnie chooses to die. The Donnie we see in bed at the end is not the same Donnie from the last 28 days. How much knowledge he has of what happened in the TU is very questionable and it’s quite unlikely he knows he is about to die.
The question of destiny plays quite a big part here, Donnie was meant to die but Frank saved him. It’s possible he was chosen as the Living Receiver because his life is now expendable; he is going to die anyway. Once back in the real world it's Donnie's destiny to die.
I think that if Donnie had stayed alive then he would have fallen for Gretchen all over again and somehow lead to her death. I think that's the reason he chose to die, in order to save her. just a thought...
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I have just finished watching Donnie Darko for about the 10th time. And I would like to express the amazing connections and some insights I made throughout the movie (I know it is long but it is worth the read):
1. When the movie first starts, Donnie wakes up on a mountain and looks to where the portal at the end of the movie opens up (did he have a dream about the following events, or some idea of what is about to happen?), and then when Donnie is biking home a red Trans Am with loud exhaust passes Donnie which I believe is Frank's car.
2. In the beginning of the film when Donnie's mother walks into his room while he is reading and asks him why he stopped taking his meds, if you look to the left you can see a drawing of an eye. And that makes me wonder if that has any connection to what happens to Frank's eye (Donnie shoots him in the eye). And it makes me wonder that if what is about to happen to Donnie has happened before.
3. When Drew Barrymore is first seen in the classroom in the movie, there is a quote on the chalkboard from the last paragraph of “The Destructors” and it reads “One moment the house had stood there with such quiet dignity between the bomb-sites like a man in a top-hat, and then BANG CRASH there wasn't anything left, not anything.” That is important, because it makes me think about the artifact (the jet engine) crashing into Donnie's bedroom, allowing the TU to take place. (I'm not saying the jet engine caused the TU, I am saying the jet engine and the TU play hand-in-hand).
4. When Drew Barrymore asks Donnie to elaborate on the book they were assigned to read, Donnie says “Destruction is a form of creation” and that it is ironic. They just want to see what happens when they tear the world apart, that they want to change things. It makes me think that Donnie lets himself be killed in the end of the movie because he wants to change things, he is destructing himself to create something new or even something better.
5. Another thing I discovered is when Donnie, his father, his friend, and his friend's dad (the doctor) are watching a football game, and that vessel / spear that comes out of Donnie's father… it shows me that every movement, every action, is predetermined because it is streaming out ahead of him, leading him to the fridge. And it also leads Donnie to the gun in his father's closet. And that gun is used to shoot Frank. And when Donnie is talking to his science teacher about time travel and the spear/vessel, his teacher says that if we were able to see our path or channel, then you have a choice on how it ends. And that is what Donnie is able to do, Donnie has a choice… And he chooses to save the world (returning the duplicate jet engine to the portal) and he chooses to let himself die. Maybe thinking that there's something better on the other side, therefore basically saying that he no longer doubts God. Because maybe he discovered that being able to choose his own destiny is proof to him that all of what happened to him was an act of God.
6. Something that I noticed which may or may not even be a connection, but when Jim Cunningham is speaking at the school he says that teenagers that are living in fear surrender to “ Drugs, Alcohol, and pre-marital Sex “ and that he knows someone whose life was destroyed by that and his name happens to be Frank. Now Donnie smokes that weed cigarette, drinks alcohol while shooting that gun with his two friends, and then has pre-marital sex with Gretchen. And after all that happens… Donnie ends Frank's life. Either that is just irony or a connection. Either way, I found it interesting.
7. As Donnie is walking Gretchen home after he tells her the school is flooded, Donnie tells Gretchen he was in jail once for burning down an abandoned house as they are walking outside of Jim Cunningham's house. Ironic & foreshadowing! Also, he tells Gretchen to check her bag because Seth Rogen and his friend likes to steal things, and later on Donnie's father explains that kids used to break in to Roberta Sparrow's house all the time to steal her Gems, which she collects, which explains why Seth Rogen and his friend are seen there at the end of the movie.
8. RANDOM FACT: The movie takes place in 1988. Frank tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days, 06 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. If you add these numbers, the sum is 88. According to the television reporter, the fire at Jim Cunningham's house was extinguished "sometime after 8:00 last night." And in the movie Back To The Future, the DeLorean had to reach a speed of 88mph to travel in time.
9. I find it ironic that Jim Cunningham's initials are “ J.C “ (… Jesus Christ) but Donnie calls him the antichrist. I also find it ironic that the last line in the movie is “All units should be back on base frequency.”
10. While Donnie's mother and father are laying in bed at the Holiday Inn Hotel after the jet engine crashes in Donnie's room… if you block out what they are talking about (someone who died on the way to prom), you hear a news broadcaster talking about the jet engine belonging to a commercial 747 flight. But if you listen to what his mother and father are talking about… a kid dies on his way to prom and says that he is doomed… and the father admits that he also said that about Donnie.
Donnie let himself die just to make himself immortal in the manipulated minds. If he were alive then people would have thought their dream to be a mere coincidence and Donnie would have continue to live his petty life, which of course he shouldn't have wanted after his experience in the TU. Although i have no explanations of Frank's double role in the TU.
Yes, Frank was the one in the bunny suit.
While the original explanation is the correct one I should point out that one reason Frank may have chosen Donnie is because Donnie shoots him in the eye. Perhaps he just wants Donnie to suffer.
the movie never says what time and day the jet engine crashes so donnie cheating death could be the only difference, not following a pre determined path and another pre determined path being chosen for him like in the gun finding sean could be the way that the universe rights itself the father being downstairs when it happened both times lends itself to the idea that the jet engine fell at the same time making both universes in a time continuums inception point one universe just had to be reset with time travel.
maybe donnie was picked because he was depressed and in therapy in the first place, so he already knew how to cope with people perceiving him as weird and the universe figured him best fit to be the chosen one.
Great movie, mind blowing. I have one more unanswered question.
How come Frank was able to guide and lead Darko to kill him? In order to instruct Dannie, Frank had to became the manipulated dead first. How did that happen? Like we see in the movie? That would make a loop (Frank get killed by Donnie, come back in time and then instruct Donnie to kill the living Frank). When that this loop start?
I see 2 explanations:
1. When the TU occures it moves (somehow) time 28days forward till the moment when Donnie shoots Frank. Then the manipulated dead Frank comes back in time (but he can't revert it before the TU accured).
2. Within the 28days of TU Frank died. For some reason, probably some accident. Then he was chosen the manipulated dead and granted the powers. He then came back in time (as a ghost, the other Frank was alive there) and then happens what we see in the movie. Frank (that living one) had to be killed, otherwise it's contradicting the occurence of his ghost - a glitch similar to the doubled jet engine.
Interesting that when Frank (that dead one) takes off his mask he has the eye wound just like the one made by Donnie. So if one like my 2nd explanation better, we'd have to assume that the Frank died the first time very similar way or maybe that was nth time after which Frank saw that Donnie won't manage to send the artifact back and therefore he had to rewind the time again.