Donnie Darko

I saw Donnie Darko last night.

And as soon as I got out I wanted to know what possible explanation there could be for the story and (most importantly) for the ending. It took me a long time to come up with any satisfactory explanation so for the benefit of others here are the sites that really helped:

28:6:42:12 an MSN group that has (amongst other things) the complete text of ‘The Philosophy of Time Travel’

The best explanation I could find (I’m not entirely happy with it but as the film was clearly left ‘open’ it may be the best I’m going to get it)

Its also clear to me from reading the comments of others that the director’s commentary track on the DVD goes a long way towards giving a full explanation (but doesn’t quite give you everything). I plan to get hold of the DVD and will post another story if my findings are interesting enough

70 Replies to “Donnie Darko”

  1. Donnie Dark – a simple explanation

    The film showed Donnie looking back on his alternative life.
    He died when a plane engine fell on him, the film showed what might have been.

  2. Yes, this does fit most of what happens on the screen but it isn’t very satisfying is it?

    I like to think that these fairly talented creative people had something more in mind than “a boy has a dream and is then squashed by a jet engine”.

    In fact from interviews I think its fairly clear that the director wants there to be 3 possible answers: 1. dream 2. schizophrenic hallucinations and 3. weird time travel craziness. The first two are fairly straightforward and I think I’ve now just about got a handle on (3) as well with the links I provided in the story.

    I have one big problem remaining: why does the Frank character guide him through all these acts. Surely there is a third possibility beyond being crushed and what we see in the film: don’t break into the school or burn down Patrick Swayze’s house and then Donnie can live on, get the girl and Frank never runs anyone over or gets shot. Why is “Frank” determined to make this happen when it is so bad for him (except of course it isn’t because then it is all undone)? Is there third possibility we never see that Frank is trying to avoid because its so awful?

  3. “Donnie Darko” is actually a member of a well-established genre of film (and literature) known as the “terminal fantasy”. Other examples include “Jacob’s Ladder” (1990), “Final Approach (1991), but the theme is actually a very common one in storytelling of all varieties.

    All of these films and stories involve increasingly bizarre events with some degree of time distortion leading up to the realization that the protagonist has died, and that the events took place in a period just before, during or after the process of dying. Usually, the protagonist becomes involved in unraveling an explanation for the bizarre events, which explanation is ultimately revealed to be the fact that the protagonist is dying, or will die, or must die.

  4. This website:
    has some additional information you might like

  5. The best explanation i have heard for the movie is that frank has travelled back in time as a ghost to get revenge on donnie for shooting him. frank plans to get donnie out of his room so he doesn’t die and has to live through a worse month than he would if he died. then at the end of the movie when donnie goes back and dies in his room, this means that frank doesn’t get shot in the first place. not the best explanation…heres the link to where i heard it, its kinda long.

  6. If Frank doesn’t travel back in time then Donnie gets crushed as he won’t be guided out of the room. When he does travel back Donnie escapes. But how could he travel back himself (Frank)or how could he reveal his injury as he did in the cinema unless he was in fact a ghost, in which case he wouldn’t be time travelling as such, he would just exist as supernatural form. But thats not true, he must have travelled as a ghost to be able to predict the future. Threrefore, what we have is a loop in the time space continuum as Capt. Kirk or Picard might say. He travels back to save Donnie before he dies so that he in fact can die by Donnies hand which wouldn’t happen if Donnie dies in his room but how does he die (Frank) in the first place….a loop. Are we told Donnie dies at the end…we just see his distraught family crying? Admitadley he would be lucky to escape!

  7. Great movie… I’ve had to visit multiple websites like this just to understand the movie’s conclusion. I do believe it was time travel that was the basis for the movie… but I still can’t understand what it was that opened the alternate “universe” so to say…. any ideas?

  8. so far this is the best explanation for the film yet…it makes sense, check it out if you want a clear idea files/donniedarkoexp.txt – 11k

  9. I seen this movie about 4 times 2 try 2 figure it out. After watching Last Temptation of Christ this movie was made more clear. In Last shows how it would have been for Jesus if he never died on the cross. At the end of that movie an elderly jesus is shown on his death bed while the world is in total chaos He then prays & cries to God after relizing by not dying what would happen to the world. It then flashes back to Jesus on the cross laughing just like when at the end of donnie darko he laughs just before he is about to die after realizing what would/’ve happened if he would live.
    P.S. As Donnie goes to the theater it says on the movie sign The Last temptation of Christ.

  10. According to the back story from the website/director’s commentary Roberta Sparrow (Grandma Death/the old woman) was a Nun who worked out about “tangent universes” of the type where Donnie was involved and also that if the Donnie-figure did not choose to sacrifice himself then the universe would be destroyed.

    So she quit being a nun and wrote “The Philosophy of Time Travel” (the book that Noah Wyle lent Donnie) so that the person in Donnie’s position in the future could read it and find out what they had to do. That’s why she’s always checking for a letter – she’s waiting for the Donnie-figure to contact her because of her book.

  11. How exactly do Donnie’s actions affect the jet engine and the return to the normal universe? What did he do that made a difference? Shoot Frank? Get the letter to Grandma Death? What was the actual event that saved the world?

  12. It’s the fact that he chooses to go back through the wormhole and die in the original universe thus making it so the tangent universe never existed (except perhaps as echoes in Gretchen and his family’s minds).

  13. Donnie choices hos own fate by deciding to die in the bed rather than move, he knows the engine will fall but ralises he must dier. His death is decided by his forsight of the tangent universe and his experience of his previous 28 days (or future 28 days). Donnoe chooses to die as his life is so complex and living would result in his love for Gretchen and ultimate loss of Gretchen when she dies, he choices to save her by ending his own life. It’s a complex love story with many twists and many conclusions by its viewers

  14. If the rabbit doesn’t wake Donnie up,
    then he dies anyway and all the story as no reason to be.
    The “ghost” rabbit exists only because he was shot in the future, and this assume that the rabbit wakes up Donnie on the first place.
    So this is a loop with a mistake.

  15. Well! Having recentley finished reading the unabridged version of Proffessor Stephen Hawkins “A Brief History of Time” a number of issues raised within the film became clear.

    1) Rabbits eat carrots and can easily see in the DARK!

    2) Don’t watch this film on my tele, it’s rubbish and constantly flickers on and off for no apparent reason.

    3) Sunday afternoon is a bad time for this film, I fear I shall be unable to sleep for quite some time for fear of falling Jet engines.

    4) Dirty Dancing would have been a better choice. Apparently it is a disgrace that I havent yet seen it . Also you wouldnt need a website to understand the plot afterwards.

    5) At least Ive seen Ferris Buelers day off!

    That is about the best explanation I could come up with. Thank you for reading this! x

  16. Perhaps the best response to this film is not to try to fathom its “meaning” but just to see it as absurd. But I just _enjoyed_ it and enjoyed conjecturing about it too much to have that response. I loved Frank and I loved Donnie and I loved Gretchen. I think most of all I loved trying to sort it out in my mind. Just like piecing together the timeline of Pulp Fiction and going to see it again just a few days later. I was a little disappointed when I had finished investigating on the web to find the director had left it so open but I still think this was a really great film, rabbits or no rabbits.

  17. I saw this movie yesterday and understood it right away. Donnie goes back in time from the future to save his g/f from being killed. Also theres this big explination about ho dnnie cant actually die if wut was said about time travle is true but im to lazy to type it right now. n e ways the entire point of the movie was donnie trying to save his g/f.

  18. Well thanks for that Krista it’s all cleared up now!

    I understand why Donnie went back in time (to save Gretchen, and also his family). But it’s Frank’s motivations that still seem like a bit of a plot flaw to me. Frank guides Donnie to a situation in which his past self gets shot in the face. Why? Just “because”. I’d like a better explanation!

  19. I have seen this movie probably about 50 times. I still dont understand it all. But there are many ideas that i believe make sense.
    1) Each character in the story actually represent an aspect in life- Donnie is tragedy, Gretchen is love, sparkle motion is glamour, rachita is secret beauty, jim was deceit, so on and so forth.
    2) Frank travelled back in time in order to save himself.
    3) Frank made Donnie do all the things he did in order to gain his trust. If he could convince him that he could do these things and get away with them then he knew he could get him to believe the time traveling ideas.
    4) Grandma death is a go between of Donnie and Time.
    Now i dont know how exactly all these things piece together, but its a little way to try to make things make sense.

  20. He got shot cause he ran over gretchen. only 1 thing i dont understand…wen donnies talking to his therapist under hypnosis hes all talking about how hes gonna kill someone or hurt someone but umm he didnt. donnie did…if frank made him do it like he makes him do everything ten y would u all wanna shoot your self in the eye. well n e ways it was a spectacular movie none the less.

  21. I watched this film when i was absolutely wasted (on some prime skunk). I believe that u r not ment 2 totally understand everything on the film. I bet u all hav ur own ideas in ur head bout wot the film means and such. I know i do but i could never explain it. The explanation of the film is therefore wot u want it 2 be, ranging from a simpplistic storyline about a boy who sees the future and kills himself to a complex conclusion about him traveling back in time through a wormhole n sh*t. One thing is 4 sure, its an awesome film but there is meant 2 b an element of confusion in nit eg, the matrix.

  22. I watched this film with joey B. I reckon frank never travelled back in time, cos he was he inside the mirror? I think donnie imagined him, but when the real frank came, he took out all his anger for being frank and killing gretchen on him.

    Also Frank made Donnie do all the things he did because it made the wormhole possible – donnie’s mum and sis were on the plane because he exposed that guy’s child porn thing. I do need to watch the film again though because I feel I missed a few small details out. Grandma Death surely had more to do with it as well – constantly checking the mailbox?

  23. I’m still soooo lost. . but I love the movie. . . does anyone know what the song played while he’s talking to Frank/the Rabbit in the theater is ??? I love it. . so dark and creepy!

  24. I have watched the movie dozens upon dozens of times. My conclusion is thus, take what of it you like and argue about the rest, because I’m surely no closer to the actual explanation than any of you (if there even is one, from watching all of the deleted scenes on the DVD, then re-watching them with the director’s commentary, it almost seems as though there is no real explanation at all). One key part of the movie is that it takes place in the 80s during this religious cult era and the director himself says something along the lines of the Christian religion was lost in the 80s and how fake it all was, which can be obviously seen through the cult following of Jim. As far as Donnie, Frank, Grandma Death and such are involved, I believe that Donnie had the unique opportunity to live out an alternate reality, with Frank’s help. Frank who “comes back” or “goes forward” in time to Donnie’s aid is there becausen he is a ghost who wants a second chance at life. But, the end result is the same, being that no matter what you may do, you can’t change the events of the future, but you can change _how_ they happen. Grandma Death is there waiting for the letter that Donnie writes here, part of which is read at the end of the movie. You know, the whole, “I can only hope the answers will come to me in my sleep. And that when the world ends, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much for me to look forward to…” which is also another possible explanation for why Donnie is laughing at the end. He knows that his world is ending, and he can’t wait to see what is on the other side. The other possible explanation is that he understands what he was supposed to do and has had an “epiphany” of sorts, realizing that Gretchen is not really gone because as soon as the jet engine kills him, all will revert back to before they met.

  25. (so much to say, so little space 🙂 And another interesting thing I’ve noticed, whether or not it’s true, is that I think Donnie’s older sister and Frank are dating…the car screeching off into the night at the beginning/end when she sneaks into the house, and Frank is the only character you see with a car in the entire movie…fun food for thought.

  26. Frank is definitely dating Donnie’s elder sister (Maggie Gyllenhall’s character) that’s made clear in a couple of places in the movie.

    The one question I have really is why does Frank the spirit lead Donnie through a bunch of events that lead inexorably to his death? Is there not an alternative to either Donnie’s death or the future we see in the film where Frank and Gretchen are not killed? Perhaps Frank has knowledge of the universe now he is dead and thus knows (like Grandma Death before she went senile) that the universe will end if he doesn’t lead Donnie to choosing his death.

    Also I think it’s interesting how the Frank character is not at all scary when you rewatch the film in comparison to a first watching because you know that it’s just “a stupid bunny mask” and not some nonhuman creature after the first time.

  27. I’m pretty sure i’m understanding most of the movie. . what I DONT get like most people is frank. . . . is he evil or is he doing this for some overall good purpose? It SEEMS like he’s doing this for a good purpose but I have a hard time seeing him AS good. . . .

  28. I think he is meant to be some kind of avatar that has been sent to steer Donnie into saving the universe by closing the strange loop in time and dying. Quite why he takes the form of Frank who gets shot in the face in the alternate loop but (one assumes) lives a happy enough life in “real” world I don’t know. Perhaps that helps Donnie decide to die?

  29. Frank couldn’t have been sent back in time to close the strange loop because it would have closed itself if Donnie would have died in the beggining of the movie.

  30. I found this explanation it was great, really clear and I now fully understand what the hell was going on.

  31. I’ve seen this film quite a few times now, and have fallen onto this site looking for an explanation like so many others.

    I have only one explanation;

    Sometimes a film comes along that doesn’t have clear cut answers, and that in its very escence is what appeals to fans of this type of story telling. If you were able to understand exactly what the film was about it would immediatly loose its mysterious appeal and would gather dust on your shelf.
    I think that this what the writer intended, to actually excercise his viewers minds during and after the film (knowing to well that there are no definate answers, making the discussions even more interesting). For me I see the film as a jigsaw thats had its pieces scattered in a room. Only problem is there are pieces missing and some of them are from a different puzzle…. now that will keep you busy.

    As for my thoughts on the film?
    …… man and a rabbit?
    its based on Bugs bunny and Elmer Fudd isn’t it :0)

  32. if you read the book donnie is given, it explains everything without flaws. The whole thing is on a much bigger scale then frank goin bak in time to get revenge or anything like that, at the beginnig of the film wen the granfather clok strikes, the universe is put out of synch creating a new faulty universe. the new universe is weak and would only be able to keep for a few weeks before the it collapses and the universe is destroyed. donnie is the “chosen one” who is sent to put things right. the people around donnie are there to help him and provide him with clues to help him align everything (ie the plane is at the rite time at the rite place for wen the worm hole opens again) frank and gretchen are the people who died in the faulty universe and because of this they have more powers which help influence donnie then the living. because donnie is the chosen one, he has certain powers like controllin water, controlling things with his mind etc. there are loads more things to say but im crap t explaining them, so ill leave it except to say that wen the engine falls into donnies room the second time, it is the symbol that the portal to the other universe is closed and everything is good again.

  33. look at this link if u are confused it cleared up everything, gives a massive over view of the film but the final 3/4 paragraphs really , make sense and u can all sleep well knowing this!!!! wow he really is a super hero!

  34. ok, i’ve watched this movie several times, with both commentaries, all the deleted scenes, with commentaries, and read the Philosophy of Time Travel a couple times, which pretty much explains the whole of the movie. For some unknown reason “tangent universes” are occasionally created when a metal object “falls” backwards in time. this universe is unstable, and if it is not closed and the inhabitants do not return to the normal universe, both will be destroyed, killing everyone and everything. a Tangent universe is created when the jet engine falls through donnie’s room, since he would have been first to make contact with the object (the “artifact”) he became the “Living Reciever”, with possible powers over fire, water, and time, as well as telekinesis, mind control, increased strength (axe in the Mongrol). Anyone that dies within the timeframe of the tangent universe is the “manipulated dead” such as frank, it is their job to ensure the chosen one closes the tangent universe and saves everyone. the manipulated dead are granted powers that would be greater than the chosen one, were they able to close the tangent universe (Gretchen is a manipulated dead to a far lesser extent, she does not need to utilize pwers to aide donnie). Frank does his best to guide Donnie towards saving the universe, including setting an “ensurance trap” which involves placing Donnie’s mother and sister on a doomed plane (it was frank the helpped donnie to reveal the porn of jim) as well as causing Gretchen’s death, motivating Donnie to “reset” time in order to save those he loves. gretchen and donnies meeting was parlty the work of frank as well, since it wsa he that sent donnie to flood the school, allowing donnie to walk gretchen home, so that they would “fall in love” and donnie would want to save her.

  35. the other inhabitants of the tangent universe are the “manipulated living” trying to pushj donnie towards saving the universe, but have no special abilties, and are not as effective, or obvious, as the manipulated dead; examples, Roberta Sparrow (Grandma Death) and Donnie’s teachers. donnie’s ability to see people’s “paths” (the water things) are part of his developing ability to manipulate time, which ends with him creating the wormholes near the end that transport the engine of the plane back to where it fell in his room. (that is how a tangent universe is closed, by causing the events that opened it to occur) when you see donnie glaring at the dark hole opening over his house, he’s using his power to create it (that parts mostly my theory). when the tangent universe is closed, time returns to where it was before the universe was created, with the inhabitants remembering what occurred only briefly, as a dream.

    i think i remembered everything. this is all information i gathered from all over the place, one part is simply my theory according to what i learned, but i pointed that out. w00t!

  36. Right, that does make Frank’s motivations clearer. He actually /knows/ that he is leading Donnie to shooting him but that’s a good thing because he wants the tangent universe to be closed because he knows otherwise /everyone/ dies. Besides, in the real universe he is still alive. Like it.

    I think I remember hearing/reading on the DVD or in Roberta Sparrow’s book that the wormhole would only occur once and was natural, rather than it being a power that Donnie had. But that’s a minor point. Very neat.

  37. ok. i watched DD for the third time last nite, and i’m starting 2 understand it.
    At first i thought that the film was just two alternate realities. the first being when Donnie didn’t take his pills, he saw frank (a hallucination) which led him outside and therefore he survived the plane thing. the second being he did take his pills, and stayed in his bed, and died.
    Now i beleive that donnie took a concious decision to stay in his bed and die, for a few reasons:
    -this would save gretchen’s life, as donnie and her wouldn’t have met and she wouldn’t have been at grandma death’s house 2 be killed
    -Frank’s life would b saved
    -his mother would have been saved as donnie wouldn’t have burned down Jim Cunningham’s house and his mother wouldn’t have been on the plane
    -his older sister would have been saved grief as her boyfriend wouldn’t have died (frank is of course her boyfriend)
    -donnie seeing into the future also made him sacrifice himself as he had seen what the world would be like if he lived and if he died, and the latter was a lot nicer, and possibly he had seen what happened to him if he died e.g.some kind of afterlife and he liked it, that’s why he was laughing at the end, he was looking forward to dying since he had seen what was on the other side

    the question that still remains, however, is ‘what the f*ck was frank all about?’ and my answer to this is that frank was a hallucination of donnie’s which represented the end of the world and therefore frank was donnie’s guide to the end of the world. it almost makes sense if you think about it enough.

  38. Someone tell me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, anyone who dies in the tangent universe becomes one of the “manipulated dead” and they then have the power to travel to any point in time (in the form of a ghost, or whatever you want to call it) in the Tangent Universe and appear to the “living receiver” (Donnie) and it’s their responsibility to help guide the living receiver to do things that will ultimately lead to the closure of the tangent universe and restoration of the original universe.

    There’s also the “manipulated living” who are people in Donnie’s life who give him subtle hints that also help guide him (like when his teacher told him about the “Cellar Door”).

    The question this raises is who’s doing the manipulating and how? My guess is that the manipulator is supposed to be God or some higher power. It seems to me that the maniuplated dead (Frank the Bunny) learns the nature of the situation upon dying and can therefore give specific commands for Donnie to carry out. Either that or Frank is just a messenger relaying instructions he receives from the higher power.

    As for the manipulated living, I think they are subtly influenced by the higher power to provide clues to Donnie without being aware of it.

    Since Gretchen also died in the tangent universe she must also have become one of the manipulated dead but I’m guessing she doesn’t appear in ghost form to Donnie because Frank’s already handling that job and it would probably just unnecessarily freak him out and confuse him.

    There are still other parts of the plot I’m trying to figure out but that part seems to make sense to me. I’ll probably get a lot more out of the movie when I see it for the second time.

  39. DD comes back, dies this ‘time’ and the tangent universe is closed. But the engine crashing in from the future STILL causes a tangent universe – DD is dead, so who will save the world?

  40. “the question that still remains, however, is ‘what the f*ck was frank all about?'”

    Well, an answer to that question is in the cinema: “Will you take off that stupid man-suit?”

    Another clue: “Donnie is having difficulty with the forces around him…” or something to that extent said by the psychiatrist.

  41. Ive seen the movie a couple of times…the most helpful thing for me was to read roberta sparrows pamphlet… it’s long but helpful-email me if anyone wants it…

  42. Um, see, the thing is, that the events actually happened, but when Donnie’s mum went throught the time travel thingie, It pushed everything back, except donnie killing frank. since frank is dead, donnie is still in his room, and when the plane engine crashes in (from his mums plane, you see, which is why they couldn’t identify it) donnie is still in the room. It’s a whole wormhole theory that my mates and I spent hours figuring. But it does make sense, even though I’m not the best person to write it all in, i don’t speak very clearly, oh well…

  43. Check out this website, it will take you a while to read it all but it has links to the official website which has inserts from the book that ‘Grandma Death’ wrote. Look through this guys explanation along with the official website and it does help a lot.

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