Donnie Darko explained

I’m a bit late watching this movie, but here it is (if you haven’t watched this sci-fi movie you’ll have no idea of what I’m talking about).

The movie can only be understood through the online material. Here’s a starting point:

Like life, and much of Wolfe’s work, Donnie Darko can only be seen forward, but only understood looking backwards.

That said, the semi-official FAQ doesn’t really explain everything, and about those parts that don’t make sense it simply states: “this is open to interpretation”. Nope. It’s open to interpretation because you didn’t get it. Heh.

The real explanation comes from here.

This is my own paraphrase. EVERYTHING makes sense, is consistent, explained and never forced. There isn’t anything ambiguous.

First thing: the real theme of the movie is the demonstration of the existence of god. Which is the element that ties together all the plot threads.

Postulate: the space-time is an entity trying to preserve itself the same as all organisms do. It can happen that the system has a crisis, and the entity has means to counter and solve this crisis, the same way an human body develops antibodies and can heal wounds. Trying to preserve itself.

The space/time anomaly in the movie, generating the Tangent Timeline, is not caused by someone, or the random actions of someone, or weird super-powers. It is not due to something related to the characters in the movie. It is simply a natural phenomenon, like the fall of a meteorite. So the characters in the movies aren’t “special” by any means. They are simply caught in the anomaly. This is important.

Now. The anomaly is a danger for the integrity of the space/time entity. In the same way it happens to a human body if it doesn’t heal, if the anomaly persists for too long, the space/time sort of “collapses”. So the situation needs to be fixed within a set maximum time-frame.

The anomaly has also an epicenter. All those who are caught near the anomaly become the “antibodies” of the system. This means that ALL characters in the movie are “zombies”, lead by a greater will (space/time). If you could “interview” antibodies they wouldn’t say who they are, what is their function and so on. Because they operate unknowingly, unconsciously. They are simply manipulated. Unaware. They have illusion of life and conscience, but they can’t choose or really live.

This creates two groups. From a side, everyone in the village, the manipulated, zombie ones. From the other, our hero, Donnie Darko.

There’s one main difference. The manipulated ones have no real “conscience”, as they are manipulated, and have no special powers. While Donnie Darko has special powers (that allow him to fix the time anomaly and “save the world”) but also has the freedom of choice. This means that the manipulated ones, being just puppets, are lead by an all-knowing hand. So an hand who knows how to fix things. While Donnie Darko has conscience, but no knowledge.

So. Manipulated ones, who know how, but don’t have the power to. And Donnie Darko, who has the power to, but doesn’t know how.

The WHOLE movie is about (subject) the manipulated ones trying to induce Donnie Darko to do his task. A tutorial. They will try to make Donnie Darko do it. Force to do it. Induce.

Most of the plot in the movie is pure, awesome Deus ex machina revealed. Making all sort of things happen just to induce Donnie to do something.

For example: why the old crazy woman goes every day to check her letter box? Common answer: because she knows something, so she goes to check if a letter about that something arrives.

Nope. That woman is a zombie like everyone else. She checks the letter box to induce another character to say “someone should write her”, to then induce Donnie Darko to do it. This letter being sent would then, at the end of the movie, induce the old woman to find the letter, and start to read it in the middle of the road. Who consequently induces a car to arrive, dodge the woman in the middle of the road and kill Donnie’s own girl.

Why Donnie’s girl dies? To induce, once again, to make him do his task. Death and life of zombies don’t matter. What matters is simply persuade Donnie. Push him to “do the right thing”. That is: using his powers to fix the anomaly and save the world (so preserving the time/space self-preserving entity).

This introduces the theme of god. Donnie can see the future movement of people (the translucent tentacle coming out the chest). So he speaks with his teacher. Meaning: if I can see the future, then it means things are already determined before they happen. So this means that there is god, as someone who makes those choices and sets the plan. BUT. If, I, Donnie Darko can see where they will go, so having the power to *change* it, then who am I? What happens if I don’t do what they tell me (save the world)?

Teacher reply: I cannot answer because… (stupid reason). Of course he cannot. This is a scene about Donnie Darko (god’s tool) asking god (a manipulated one) what happens if he doesn’t do what the god asked him to do. Of course god can’t answer that. Taboo.

So, again, the movie is about Donnie Darko’s internal conflict: do I do it, or not? Do I fulfill my role or not?

In the scenes with the psychologist, Donnie says he:
1- Knows there’s time limit, so that things aren’t going to last. Something is going to happen (end of the world).
2- He doesn’t want to die alone.

He knows that when the time is come (the maximum time limit of the Tangent Universe), he will be alone. Him and his vision/tutorial (Frank/god). He will be alone because he knows that the he will have to make the choice alone. To do his task or not.

Added element. Everything that happens in the Tangent Universe isn’t in any way “normal”. It’s simply the realization of Donnie’s own wishes. He finds a girl, fucks her, is handsome, is intelligent, has success with everyone, kicks various asses. He’s basically badass all around, a winner.

NOT because Donnie’s really badass. But because that’s his own wish. He’s got powers. He has the power to realize all he wants. So he actually LOVES this Tangent, unstable Universe. Because everything is great for him.

This also explains a part that is rarely understood. There’s a point where Frank tells him (before he teaches him how to do his task, by opening a wormhole in the movie theatre):
Donnie: “Why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?”
Frank: “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”

Now, it makes sense asking someone *why* he’s wearing a bunny suit. Because there’s a choice, so a reason. While it doesn’t make sense to ask someone *why* he wears a man suit. Because it’s not a choice. You are born with it.

What Frank implies there is: nope, Donnie. You’re not just a man. You’re past that. You’ve got powers. You can be whatever you want. Why are you still sitting here, pretending to have a normal life (wearing a man suit)?

That’s the transition. Frank is “teaching” Donnie who he really is (god’s tool to do a task, with super-powers and all). In fact shortly after he teaches Donnie how to use his power to fix the anomaly.

Donnie has the choice. To recognize god and complete the task. Or still cling to his pretty but ephemeral life. Denying god.

Why does Donnie Darko die at the end of the movie?

To begin with, he has the choice to live. He could complete the task and still live. The task doesn’t require Donnie’s death. It only requires Donnie to “give back” his pretty ideal life, as that Tangent Universe would be “sealed”, solving the anomaly (god, aka the space/time entity, would cheer at this point).

So why he decides to die? It’s quite simple. As written above, he’s scared to die alone. He’s scared to follow Frank/god’s order and give up at least part of his life. But when he finally accepts the task, he also accepts the existence of god. He seconds the greater will, so he *affirms* it. By doing so, he’s not alone anymore.

He basically passed the test. Accepted god. Hence he transcends his own being. By doing what he does he didn’t *have to* die. But he’s so “past it” that his mortal body, girlfriend, family and EVERYTHING he cared about, are now pretty useless. He’s beyond. He recognized god and doesn’t need anymore a mortal life and body. Stopped to care about the ephemeral stuff of everyday’s life.

OR. He’s betrayed. Used as a tool, induced to believe he’s transcended. Induced to kill himself after his task was complete. Either you believe in god, rewarding people who comply. Or you believe in the space/time entity who operates to simply preserve itself. Kinda selfishly. And once the tool is used, it is tossed away and killed. Making the tool believe that he’s got a much better life.

Either you believe in god as a generous entity. Or you believe in god as a manipulative one. Or just a living entity preserving and caring for itself. Discarding parts of itself, as a process, same as we shed cells during our own life cycle.

The movie obviously stops there. It doesn’t show what happens if the anomaly isn’t fixed (it’s just the space/time entity making people believe that things would go very wrong if the anomaly wasn’t fixed. But maybe only selfishly). It doesn’t show what happens to Donnie’s “life” past death.

Quite a wonderful movie-idea. One of the most ambitious ever.

Problem is, the movie doesn’t provide the tools to understand itself. You have to read stuff online, read the “solution”. I think it would have been much better if these arguments were also real themes *IN* the movie. Instead of outside of it.

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102 thoughts on “Donnie Darko explained

  1. I disagree with this explanation.

    first of all i think Donnie had to die by the engine to save the universe. i am citing the other two occurrences mentioned in the movie. the man dying by a sword and a Mayan dying by a spear.
    The point is both men are dead. there is no story that a random object just “appeared” but in both instances the men were killed.

    Also, it sounds like you are implying frank is god. God is His own character. frank cannot be god because frank was a human “granted” 4th dimensional abilities. this may make him a godlike figure but not god himself. I don’t know if you were implying that but there you go.

    God is not the space/time entity either. When Donnie is talking to his teacher about time travel Donnie asks if wormholes could appear in nature and the teacher replies “that is highly unlikely you’re talking about an act of god”. The fact of the matter is God created the tangent universe. So using the writer of this page’s metaphor about the human body – if god were space/time then why would he harm himself. that would be like a human giving himself a deadly disease and trying to get people to fix it. Its illogical.

    God is his own character, the one who put the entire 28 days in to motion.

    So that begs the question why did god create the tangent universe? well we have to look at Donnie. Donnie himself does not believe in god yet he does not rule god out as a possibility. Donnie is an agnostic. God created the tangent universe for Donnie. Why? So that Donnie would see that god exists and he would not have to die alone. So as Donny’s final act he sat in bed laughing because he knows that the second that jet engine crashes through the roof of his bedroom he will be united with god and the primary universe will be saved.

  2. i enjoyed the the movie, totally not what i expected. i thought it was going to be about a killer rabit but, instead it was a well written movie that left you wanting more. to qoute tupac “when it comes to sex tease me, i dont like it in the sack easy”
    i love movies and the fact that this movie tied in time travel and a demonic looking bunny is awesome. ive been online looking for answers and like your explanation the most. already bidding on a frank the bunny costume for this halloween. im going to scare the shit out my room mates!!!! ps mad world…lovin it

  3. why didnt frank just freak out 1 of the pilots on the airplane and just let the butterfly effect happen… cuzz that wouldda changed the position on the airplane somewhat cuzz the pilot would b in a different state of mind which would change the speed he wanted 2 travel, and all that.. plz comment if this makes sense and dont say nething about my spelling considering that im 7yrs old, and if u think this isnt relevant at all plz explain

  4. You’re wrong in saying that pre-determination is evidence of the existance of a god:

    If one takes the parallel universes view, then in every universe whatever happens was always going to happen (for that universe). This is because every possible possibility is taken, and so then for one universe there is only one possible set of actions, as everything affects everything else in a chain reaction, resulting in only one possible outcome – hence pre-determination.

  5. I’m surprised there is this much debate after the Director’s Cut was released with the writer/director comments.

    I think that with Darko as the “Living Receiver,” he had to die.

    Secondly, I believe the main debate should be who pulling the strings. Was it “God” in some traditional sense of an almighty being or “The God in the Machine” as some sort of technology (future, etc.)? The numbers that he sees with his eyes closed and the Deus Ex Machina” suggest that it could have been technologically based. A secondary debate “could” be, did Darko have any free will or was he basically screwed from the moment the wormhole opened? I believe he was always screwed because Frank was the one who got him out of bed and kept him from being killed. He did this because the god had a plan for Darko. God needed Darko to live for 28 days in the Tangent Universe. If I’m wrong, then how would Frank have ever been there to get Darko out of bed?

    I also think that the bottom line is that this is a movie, written by one person. It’s a product of his imagination and should be viewed as nothing more than that. It’s a great movie, but calm the hell down, because it’s just a work of fiction.

  6. hey, this is the guy who did the post you’re responding to.

    I dont know about anyone else but im not yelling or getting worked up im just looking for answers about the movie and seeing what other people think about my ideas.

    i think your point about it being a movie written by one guy is a good point. this guy obviously wrote this movie so it would make people think about it but he probably plan for the kind of thought people put in to it and the places they took it. i posted my previous ideas a while ago and after thinking about it awhile i think that its not supposed to make complete sense because if it did then people would stop talking about it altogether.

    i still think my opinion is right and i think im entitled to it. although im surprised that nobody on this website has brought up the loop theory i saw on imdb. i personally dont agree with it but since its on a respected website like imdb (in the faq’s) i thought more people would be writing about it.

  7. First of all, I REALLY enjoyed looking at everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and if I watch this film a few more times, I may adopt and adapt some of them to fix my own theory about it.:)

    However, there is one key thing to me that I haven’t seen mentioned:
    The scene when Donnie walks Gretchen home,
    Gretchen: Donnie Darko? What the hell kind of name is that? It’s like some sort of superhero or something
    Donnie: What makes you think I’m not?

    Does that suggest that he knew he would have to die to ‘save the world’ well in advance before he actually did? This then shows incorrectness in the idea that he has the power, but not the knowledge, as it may be suggested he has both, quite early in the film.

    Also, the scene in the cinema, where Frank takes the mask off and we notice his lack of a right eye:
    Donnie: What happened to your eye?
    Frank: I’m so sorry.

    He then doesn’t answer the question.
    If I recall correctly from watching, when Frank gets out of the car in one of the later scenes, his right eye is normal. Then [according to Wikipedia], Donnie shoots Frank in his RIGHT EYE for killing Gretchen. This would support the idea that Frank is from the future [Donnie: Where did you come from? Frank: Do you believe in time travel?] as he is apologizing to Donnie in advance for later killing her.

    Could this be a factor for Donnie’s maniacal laughter before he dies? He quickly scans all of what Frank ever said and finds it amusing. However, some of the other points about this part are very plausible (Schizophrenia, Belief in God, and that the events were a dream [which I liked the idea of and commented] and found the dream amusing.)

    I am open to any criticism, but if you are to put down my ideas, remember that they are just ideas compiled from others’ comments and my own. Also, I would like to point out that I finished watching it for the first time almost exactly an hour ago.:)
    Much love.<3

  8. When I first saw the movie it confused me like hell. I usually like movies with twisted story lines like saw or sixth sense because I analyse the story line so much and figure out all these alternative endings. but donnie darko confused the shit out of me. i felt stupid watching the movie. i’m guessing most people had that reaction. the movie’s something that needs multiple viewings. it’s an acquired taste. I watched it twice over and read all these blogs and stories about it, trying to understand. now I’ve always thought of myself as well versed in literature and theoretical physics and that I have a brain capable of understanding the complex nature of the human body (I’m a medical student) but the truth about donnie darko is that it does have many interpretations. And you can read as many of them as you want but only the interpretation you come up with will suffice for you. I’ve learnt a great deal about the various ideas people have about the story. but my personality is that of someone who believe’s in the inherent nature of humans to follow hope and good will overcoming bad destiny. i have my own interpretation of dd, and it’s a mix of many other people’s. there are parts of it that still confuse me and there are parts of it I will be revising and wanting to look at from a different angle until the day I die. But I see donnie as a hero. I like the interpretation of the space-time dilemma that created the time-loop as a means to cut off the time loop created. it kinda reminds me of the time travellers wife. the story will always continue in time, repeating itself over. there will be many donnie darkos in many tangent universes. but his existence in that loop brought him happiness even thought it brought others pain. i’m a weird sort of atheist. i’m the type that ignores the idea that god might exist by telling myself that i’ll never know. hence making myself a religious atheist (i can see the paradox). but if we want to be purely logical here, space-time does not have to be a manipulation of god’s. the death of donnie darko could be the catalyst of the time loop continum. before the accident and the tangent universe donnie is a normal kid, albeit his mad tendencies. he isn’t a super hero but he has free will and knowledge of space and time that he may manipulate. but his death happens so suddenly that his mind redeems the right to hallucinate a tangent universe in which he can become a super hero and justify his inevitable death. to him, this is the creation of his perfect world. this is why he dies laughing because he believes his schitzophrenia to be his understanding that his life existed as the memories he created in his tangent universe, even if they didn’t exist in real time. it’s ironic. that he’s a hero but no one will ever know. because if they know, he is not a hero. his destiny is to die alone. he is a living creature because he has the free will to chose not to die but he does. his dying justifies him knowing about his death. when you understand how time flows in this loop and how easy it would have been for donnie to give up those memories and continuing living without having died you can begin to truly appreciate his sacrifice.

  9. i think that donnie darko is a paranoid schizophrenic teenage boy, that is simple enough. “God” i highly doubt is a man in a bunny suit, if so i will be disappointed. i am going to go ahead and say that i believe this movie was made to make people question. it was created to be “open for interpertation.” i personally believe that donnie was schizophrenic, and he had a dream of some sorts a prediction, i dont think there was a tangent universe outside of his delusional dreams, in his deliusions he meets a girl, he loses his virginity, he discovers things about the world others fail to notice. then as in all things tragedy occurs, his girlfriend dies and its time for the world to end. i believe the artifact doesnt fall through the “wormhole” twice rather, it falls through once in donnies dream showing us him living, then it falls through in reality showing us his death. donnie darko is a great movie with a lot of intense, bizarre happenings, but it gives us an oppurtunity to question eachother, provoking our ideas, and that is what makes it a great movie. not many people could throw together a schizophrenic, a child pornographer, and a giant rabbit, and still manage to make something worthwhile. my only question, who that kid in the bunny suit? i dont understand that.
    and my only complaint, why do patrick swayze and seth rogen have to be the assholes. :(

  10. Seriously, you guys remind me of my hippie-dippie friend Leslie. She’s done a lot of acid and mushrooms. It’s a work of fiction. It can “mean” so much, but it’s FICTION. There’s no need to super analyze this work, because it doesn’t mean anything. Time travel, parallel dimensions, magical chest tubes, all that stuff was manipulated in the name of fiction. The one thing that is real in this movie, the one REAL thing that can put a non-fictional spin on this movie is schizoprenia.

  11. What we’re trying to do here is analyze our own conclusions about a movie we see as being great because of its complexity, and its openness to many interpretations.
    What does Hobbes mean when he says that a sovereign is necessary? What does Nietzsche mean when he says that Christian dogma is a weakness perpetuating paradigm? What does Kant mean when he says that respect for personal autonomy is paramount? Who cares, right? It’s all fiction. Ergo there is nothing to learn from it.

    Go watch Fast and Furious again, and be satisfied with an plot you never have to analyze.

  12. this is the best explanation i’ve read on the net so far, and i agree with almost all of it. great piece of writing!
    what is bothering me is, why doesn’t donnie recognize frank? he must know him–frank is his sister’s boyfriend, they went to the same school (although frank is gretchen’s age), he was at the halloween party, however briefly…for some reason, this bugs me. he would have to know him, wouldn’t he? and when donnie’s psychiatrist asks his parents if they have heard of a “frank”, they say no…do they not know who their daughter’s boyfriend is, even though she is on the phone telling him that the reason she skipped college for the semester was partly for him?? i know there must be some easy answer to this, and maybe it doesn’t even matter…but it just bothers me. like, if seth was the bunny…would it make a difference?
    i’m rambling…HELP ME!!! lol…
    again, excellent interpretation…i’m with ya…

  13. I personally believe that the majority of the movie is actually a dream. If you remember, Donnie doesn’t hallucinate this “Frank” until right before the jet engine–or whatever it is–falls through his room. I believe also that the Director meant to use the hallucination of Frank and all of the schizophrenic events to rationalize his own death. Donnie probably also rationalizes the meaning of life, finding love, and “setting things straight” in a flash before his death. As for the jet engine, the incident in which “no one knew where the jet engine came from” may have further been a rationalization of Donnie.

  14. I have seen this movie about 6 times and still after reading as many threads, blogs and bits and bobs it still does not really help.
    Every explaination I have seen that sounds plausible seems to contradict both itself and all the other’s.
    It is my firm belief that this film was intended for no other reason than to cause confusion and discussion.
    I like to believe that Donnie has been given a second chance at life. The reason Donnie can see the future is because he has already lived it. Donnie had the chance to change what he did but didn’t. For what reason i dont know, however I think he is laughing before he dies because he lived his life and chose not to change it he was content and accepted his death.
    Killing Frank is the reason Donnie was given a chance, Perhaps there is an underlying theme of religion in that god has sent Fank back to give Donnie the chance, I dont know. I just cant accept all this uuber complicated physics stuff. However thought provoking the fiilm it is not constructed in such a way that only uuber intelligent physics majors can understand it. No one can.
    In my opinion the whole movie contrdicts itself. Like what’s been said before, how did Donnie not recosnise frank. It’s not possible. Frank makes reference that he may have travelled back in time “do you believe in time travel?”. Frank died before Donnie (Donnie killed him) all these things happened before Donnie died. How could Donnie not remember the person he killed.

    Thats just my take on it,

    I just read it back to myelf…. Almost as hard to understand as the movie.

    Anyway top move

  15. this is all a lead to the new movie (S.darko) because donnie is merly dreamy the end of the world and he cant bare it so he stays in his bedroom and gets kiiled witch leavs his little sister sarha to face the end of the world in the new movie

  16. Same person as above, I just realised myself that the issue of beauty ties into the public school critic. It can be noted in the scene with ‘sparkle motion’ and Cherita Chen’s dance that Cherita is ostracised due to her appearances as being asian and fat. The only people that realise this problem are the english teacher and Donnie

  17. no the plane wont crash again in the restored primary universe because it was donnie who returned the artifact (being the jet engine) to his room in the tangent universe. Also, one could argue that the plane crashed because of the stormy hurricane like vortexes that were created as the universe was collapsing. Therefore, no donnie = no world collapsing = no plane crash

    Its a confusing movie and not many people get it, so dont stress too much if you still dont understand :)

    peace out

  18. I think that the beauty of the film actually comes from the fact that there are endless possible interpretations and countless different theories all perfectly valid and reasonable. Therefore, to box it in by saying that this explanation is pretty6 much the only factual one is a falicy – how can any critic or viewer possibly decide the film’s meaning, when the writer/director himself hasnt even decided on one? To quote the film itself, “It’s absurd”.

    While I did find this explanation intriguing to read and find it quite plausible, I disagree with labeling this explanation as the “correct” one, when the purpose of the movie is to provoke the viewer to have their own thoughts and to make up their own mind about the film. It’s all about combating apathy and prompting people to think for themselves, rather than just be handed all the answers on a silver platter, as most movies do nowadays.

    I love this movie because of its open-ended nature, and I think that it goes without needing an explanation. However not all people feel the same way, and many probably don’t understand this point of view, which is possibly the root of all the misunderstandings and dissatisfaction which some apathetic people tend to feel towards this movie. However this is just my opinion.

    Having said all this I found this “explanation”, or as I would prefer to call it “theory”, very interesting to read.

  19. I have one BIG problem:

    What will happen after Donnie’s death in Primary Universe?
    Will airplane crash next time (30 Oct)?
    I know that Universe Corruption is a random accident but I have no proof
    that It will not appear once more time. Then will be needed another
    Living Receiver?

  20. I would also like to find out about Frank – not the bunny –
    It can’t be a new boyfriend that no one knows about if she skipped College for him

  21. If donnie was smart how he should of ended it :
    after sending the plane engine back, sprint the fuck outa his room and not get squished, meet and fly off to cancun with his new girlfriend where he screws the shit outa her for about a month so they miss halloween, that way he’s alive, she’s alive, he doesn’t send another plane engine back yet again to restart the loop, and the dumbass will get some tail.

  22. I think a theme that has been highly disregarded is the concept of beauty. Gretchen and Donnie are always mentionning beautiful memories, places etc. I can’t really figure out how it ties in.

    Also, I read an interview with the director and he stated that, when questionned what it was about, ‘it is basically a critic on the public school system’. With this ties in science vs. God with doc. Monitov, love vs.
    Fear with kitty, loss on individuality with Donnie, etc. etc.

  23. But I think you are wrong in saying Donnie didn’t have to die. He did have to die because if he didnt then Franks plan wouldnt work.
    What I ultimately dont understand is where did the first engine come from? I think that is the main flaw…And the second time around is the engine also from an unknown plane? And how does Frank detach the engine from the plane? its all so confusing…

  24. Love everyone’s comments! Here’s mine.

    Why did nearly everyone wake up frightened at the end except for the “big boned” eastern girl?
    This kinda tells me it was NOT all a schizoid fantasy/dream… Something did happen and everyone affected by it, felt it.
    There was a wormhole that connected two points in time. A plane narrowly misses the one end of the wormhole (future) but not entirely. It’s engine gets sucked through the wormhole and exits the other end (past).
    One plane, one engine. one freakishly random accident. The plane crashed anyway.

    My initial thought was why Frank the rabbit did not save everything by just letting Donnie die the first time round. Of course then we wouldn’t have had a movie to watch. :D
    The post on February 11, 2010 answered this and gave the last piece to my personal view of the puzzle.
    Donnie would have originally died “by-falling-engine” without knowing God, so he was given the chance to learn by talking to his teacher about time travel etc. basically, as was said, losing his fear of death/dying alone.

    I kinda tend to draw comparisons with the movie “butterfly effect” in the reasoning behind Donnie deciding to die in the end. He realized his death would save the lives of the ones he love. His Girl wouldn’t get run over by Frank, his mom and sister wouldn’t be on the plane that crashes due to a loss of engine cuz they would still be mourning his death and not gone on tour with Sparkle Motion, etc.
    In the end he accepted and understood “God’s master plan”… as was said here earlier.
    Perhaps Donny was laughing at the end simply because he was happy that he successfully went back in time.

    As I hope you can see, most of what has been said here by others before me, is incorporated into my interpretation. I wrote too much already without quoting all of your comments.


  25. Ok firstly, are any of the people’s interpretations here based on statements the director or writer has made? I would trust them more than random peoples.

    Secondly, my question is, if Frank was just making Donnie do all these bad things and manipulating his future in the Tangent Universe to show him why he needed to die/make the choice to die, why not just let him die in the first place? And if the explanation to this is going to be that the jet engine coming back in time created an anomaly, the jet engine still goes back in time in the Universe Donnie eventually decides on. Therefore, exactly the same things happen up until Donnie dies or doesn’t die. So just let him die Frank and save him the trouble of a whole load of shit and us the trouble of trying to understand this movie.


  26. Basically, it all comes down to the creation and the destruction of the Tangent universes (TU). See, DD is meant to save the universe my sending the artifact back from the TU to the PU (primary universe). It is implied in the movie, when DD wakes up on the road at the beginning of the movie, when he looks at the sky and laughs, and when the class is reading the story “the destructors” (when DD gives his explanation that destruction brings creation, and that they just wanted to see what would happen when they tore the world apart, that he had undergone the experience of the TU before, but had failed to (Or by free will chose not to) send the artifact back to the PU, thus resetting the time loop. This would also explain why Frank is there to help DD, even though the Frank of that TU is still alive, he was killed in the previous TU. That is why DD implies he is a super hero, because he has figured out in previous TU’s of his 4th dimensional powers, and although he might not consciously remember them, he subconsciously knows he does.. This also explains Why Mrs.Sparrow walks back and forth to and from her mailbox each day, awaiting the letter she has received from DD in TU’s past

  27. Becuase Frank/God wanted Darko (the hero/ carrier) to believe in him and understand that he was not alone. God cant just kill a person. He didn’t want Darko to die, as explained in earlier comments and articles. Darko chose to die because he had nothing to live for. He knew he was hurting the ones he loved so therefor, killed himself to protect them.

  28. This movie has a couple plot holes in it. First, if the engine from the jet causes the tangent universe, then the first thing that would happen is Donnie would be killed. Frank the bunny can’t wake him up and save him because he and Donnie would never have met, and Donnie wouldn’t have shot him because he’s dead. The only reason that Frank the bunny communicates with Donnie is supposedly because when Donnie shot him in the tangent universe, this made him a ‘manipulated dead’ and gave him this ability. This never happens because Donnie never makes it out of bed because of the jet engince crushing him almost immediatly after creating the tangent universe. Donnie just keeps getting owned by the jet engine. This cycle would loop untill the end of the world. Till the Tangent and primary universe collapse. Secondly, the jet engine, at one point in this film, exist in two places in the tangent universe. Taken by the people who came to get it in the beginning and on the plane at the end. So, he either sends the wrong one back, which wouldn’t fix the problem, or the same on exists twice in the tangent universe for at least a minute. Not a terrible movie, but also not the work of genius either. Those two plot holes really hurt the movie as far as it making sense.

  29. Remember the era the film is set in, with all the kids rebelling against the conservative nature of society.

    Donnie’s sister was in fact a rebel, with a leather jacket and boyfriend with a badass Stingray. She also swore at the table at mealtimes in front of her parents and younger sister. Remember the era this was set in, and therefore the context of much different from modern-day dining table antics.

    She was a rebel who had a cool boyfriend and hit it from her parents, to make it that much sweeter.

  30. Many of these questions can be answered if, as some have already said if you do two things:
    1) Read The Philosophy of Time Travel (TPOTT)
    2) Watch the directors cut

    TPOTT tells us that “The Artifact is a metallic object which signals the formation of a Tangent Universe, and appear under mysterious and inexplicable circumstances.” This should be proof that the jet engine crash did cause the tangent universe and set the countdown. TPOTT also says that the manipulated living (or zombies as the op put it) are the close friends and relatives of the living receiver (Donnie). The manipulated living “are prone to irrational, bizarre, and often violent behavior. This is the unfortunate result of their task, which is to assist the Living Receiver in returning the Artifact to the Primary Universe. ….The Manipulated Living will do anything to save themselves from Oblivion.”

    The psychiatrist is one of these manipulated living. It could be that her labeling Donnie as schizophrenic is simply her way of saving herself from oblivion. Perhaps Donnie isn’t schizophrenic at all because Frank is actually reaching out to him through the fourth dimensional construct (time) because a tangent universe was created. This may sound crazy but is actually happening as we see from consistencies with what Donnie is going through and what is already mentioned in the text that Roberta Sparrow wrote years before. TPOTT also mentions that the living receiver (Donnie) is blessed with increased strength, telekinesis, mind control, and the ability to conjure fire and water. Examples of these are seen in the movie. The axe in the solid bronze statue (strength) after he busts the main pipe in school (water). Burning down the pedophile’s house (fire).
    Sorry, didn’t mean to drag on but I love this movie…







  32. This could or could not be a dumb question, but what happens to Donnies other bodies when he goes back to the past. I see at the end of the movie him in a body bag, but what happened to the other Donnie at the golf corse passed out.

  33. I understand most of the chain of reactions that leads Donnie to “do his task”, like flooding the school and burning down that guys house- but why did it all have to lead to his girlfriend dying? Is it just that that is what motivated him to travel back in time?

  34. Im really not sure how to explain this movie, but right before I saw that Donnie dies in the end, here was what I thought was going to happen (and in my personal opinion it wouldve been better). I thought that, in the end, the engine would fall through the roof, and Donnie would be at the golf course just like the first time, and everything would start all over again.

    if this had happened, the movie would have made more sense because October 30 really would have been the end of the world. well, not so much the world as the end of time. but anyway, if everything had just repeated at the end, the world would have been stuck in an endless looping of those 28 days, never passing October 30, 1988, thus making that day the end of the world because (as a result of the wormhole) time would never progress past that day.

    like I said, I’m not sure exactly what was meant by the actual ending, but I think the ending I explained would have fit better, had no holes, and tied everything together in a really cool way.

    what do y’all think?

  35. Well you have to think. It’s a freakin’ movie. There is always a different way to end it. But would there have been any postive feed-back from a psychological drama that ended with a sex scene?

  36. tbh, i think everyone is thinking too hard about the film. i believe that its a mind playing film, and in whichever way your mind has been played, is the explanation to it. YOUR magination is the explanation, and ONLY you can figure the film out.There is no ‘why’ or ‘how’ only what YOU think.

  37. i don’t know if someone asked this because there are so many comments, so i’ll ask anyway:
    I understand pretty much everything except what happens at the end. why were the bully guys there? Why did the car come? Why is Frank an average teenager? Who is this Frank? Obviously, he lost his eye because Donnie Darko shot it out, so doesnt that mean, that Frank is just a random person that Darko killed coming back to do this random shit?
    i’m so lost

  38. I don’t see why some people want to cling to the idea that “It was all a dream…whew.”, guess it’s nice and “simple”.

    First of all it’s such a hackneyed old trope that it’s an inside joke with writers of all stripes on the level of starting a piece with “It was a dark and stormy night…”.

    Second dialogue and events in the film itself repeatedly refer to time travel so it seems fairly obvious that the films creators had a theme a bit more developed than “boy it was all just a dream.” Even the films website refers to the time travel theme for goodness sake.

    The reason there’s so much confusion about what the hell is going on is because there’s not much explicit exposition or setting up of the premise of “time travel” or the meaning of self determination and free will. It’s all pretty subtle, like the old lady and her letter, etc.

    People who are concerned with things like why did the engine fall out of the sky in the first place? or what were those guys with the knives doing there?. Well the answer to that is incredibly easy: plot device. Yes, I said it, plot device. Every event or placement of a plot driving object doesn’t need a drawn out explanation for being there. Otherwise the author could get stuck with infinite regression of reasons why things happen. The plot needs to move along, the writer wants to eat dinner in 15 minutes and he needs to get the protagonist out in the middle of the street so his girlfriend can get run over. Period.

    And why Donnie doesn’t recognize Frank, maybe I need to watch it a few more times, but the reason stated before seems plausible. Maybe she never let anyone know about her boyfriend?

  39. what is the importance of the incidence where donnie’s english teacher writes the phrase ‘cellar door’ and then donnie reading it?what is the importance of this phrase?

  40. I think you’d find ten different answers to your questions. But I’ll give it a go…

    1. Everything is predestined. The Tangent Universe is set up in a way that provides the inevitable outcome that we see toward the end of the film. The bullies were there to force Gretchen out into the road, which leads Frank to hit her with his car as he swerves to avoid Roberta Sparrow – who is standing in the middle of the road reading the letter Donnie sent her.

    That then allows Donnie to shoot and kill Frank.

    2. At the Halloween party, Donnie notices on the dry erase board that ‘Frank’ has gone to get some beer. It’s implied that Frank was returning from the store when he hits Gretchen.

    3. Frank is an average teenager.

    4. As stated, Frank is a teenager who just happens to be at the Halloween party and one Donnie ends up shooting. I think, though maybe I’m wrong, Frank might even be Samantha’s (Donnie’s sister) boyfriend.

    5. Frank is not an average person. He became one of the manipulated dead when Donnie shot him in the Tangent Universe. As explained in Sparrow’s book:

    The Manipulated Dead are more powerful than the Living Receiver. If a person dies within the Tangent Universe, they are able to contact the Living Receiver through the Fourth Dimensional Construct

    Frank contacts Donnie through the Fourth Dimensional Construct and helps lead him through this quest.

    The entire process is a system. Everything is connected in a way that leads to the end result. It’s kind of a larger aspect of those tunnels that jet out of everyone’s chest. Donnie can see where they lead and thus predict the course of action someone will take because it’s already predetermined.

    What you’re seeing in the Tangent Universe is already predetermined by a set of extreme coincidences that fall one by one when Frank saves Donnie’s life.

    Remember, Frank gets Donnie to leave his room before the jet engine crashes through. This saves his life, allowing him to fulfill his destiny of saving the universe.

    Frank uses Donnie to set in motion events that will lead to that end conclusion.

    A) He tells Donnie to flood the school, which cancels classes and gives him the opportunity to meet up with Gretchen. At that point, they become extremely close and Donnie, for the first time, really begins to experience true love.

    B) Frank tells Donnie to burn down Cunningham’s house. This leads the firefighters to find the secret child-porn room. Cunningham is arrested and Kitty Farmer decides she can’t accompany the children to their dance recital in California. Instead, she asks Donnie’s mom to do so and she reluctantly agrees.

    C) Donnie decides to throw a Halloween party to celebrate his sister’s acceptance into Harvard. This leads the real Frank to go get beer and the events I outlined at the beginning unfold – you know, Frank hitting Gretchen because Frank swerved to avoid Ms. Sparrow, who was in the middle of the road reading the letter Donnie had sent her.

    In the end, Donnie returns to the hillside that we originally see at the very beginning of the movie. At this point, he’s looking out toward his house and we see that large, black cloud forming over the area. Using his telekinesis, Donnie is allowed to rip off the jet engine from the plane his mother and sister are on and navigate it toward the wormhole. There, we return back to early October, where Donnie has successfully closed off the Tangent Universe.

    It goes back to that moment between Donnie and Gretchen when she asks him what his name is. She tells him it sounds like that of a superhero and Donnie replies, “What makes you think I’m not?”

    Well a superhero saves the world and that’s exactly what Donnie did.

    In the process, he was able to save Gretchen, who never meets Donnie and is subsequently, at least we’re led to believe, nowhere near the area where she’s hit by Frank’s car. What’s more, Donnie never burns down Mr. Cunningham’s house and the police never find his porn stash and Ms. Farmer doesn’t decide to skip the dance recital, which means Donnie’s mom is not on the plane and it’s likely, with the death of Donnie, that his sister wouldn’t be on the plane, either.

    There is no Halloween party because A) Donnie is not there to suggest it to his sister and B) the mother is not out of town, allowing for the potential of the party. That means Frank doesn’t go out to get beer and he doesn’t end up in the area where he could run over Gretchen.

    Confused? Yeah – me too. I don’t know if there is an explanation that doesn’t at least end in even more questions.

    I guess the only explanation that works without any question is the one where Donnie hallucinated it all.

  41. This explanation makes the most sense out of all the ones ive read except for one point, based on donnie’s personality, ide say hes laughing at the irony of the fact that he is stuck in a loop(the tangent universe) and that to move on he must die

  42. were the bullies there (at Mrs. Sparrow’s house) because of previously mentioned rumors that she had a fortune in gems somewhere in the house? why else would they be wearing “masks”?

  43. I really think you managed to tie this up in a neat little bow.

    personally (after having seen this movie a million times)

    I think that it is a mix of all the things – maybe he was a schitso and that some kind of g*d (just being respectful) or future being was able to comunicate with his weakend mind. but in the end, yes, I think he is laughing because he fixed everything – and was exited to find out how it all works.

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