WHY DONNIE DARKO’S LITERAL PLOT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE (AND WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER)

This post contains nothing but spoilers for the movie Donnie Darko.  Click “more” below to read the spoilers.  To go to the spoiler-free main review instead, click here.

I use the term “literal plot” to describe the science fiction/time travel device that writer/director Richard Kelly asks us to accept.  The word “literal” is used to distinguish this plot level from the alternate interpretation that the events of the movie only take place inside Donnie’s head.

If you’re still unclear on what the literal plot actually is, I suggest you read Stainless Steel Rat’s Donnie Darko FAQ before reading this article.  This is a very worthy primer on what the plot is trying to accomplish, and although this article is an attempt to refute that view, the FAQ is still an excellent and admirable synopsis of Kelly’s plot.

All the events of Donnie Darko except the very beginning (before Donnie hears Frank’s voice call him from his bedroom) and the very end (when Donnie dies) take place in the “Tangent Universe,” an alternate reality coexisting in some way with the “Primary Universe”.  According to the lore supplied via Richard Kelly’s website and DVD commentary, particularly excerpts from the fictional book The Philosophy of Time Travel,  in Donnie Darko an unstable Tangent Universe has been formed which will eventually implode and carry all of existence with it (Chapter 1 of The Philosophy of Time Travel) unless the “Living Receiver” (Donnie) guides a paradoxical “Artifact” (the jet engine) “back” to the Primary Universe (Chapter 4).  To do this, various characters in the Tangent Universe (most importantly Frank the bunny) set what is termed an “Ensurance Trap” (Chapter 10) to manipulate, trick or force him to send the jet engine to the Primary Universe.  This “Ensurance Trap” is Donnie Darko‘s literal plot.

Although confusing on the first viewing, after a superficial reflection, this literal plot sort of makes sense.  Every seemingly mysterious action Frank asks Donnie to undertake eventually leads to a result that appears to advance Donnie’s quest (flooding the school leads to his meeting and falling in love with Gretchen, burning Jim Cunningham’s house leads to his mother flying to New York).  If we stop our analysis once we “get” what Kelly is doing, the movie gives the appearance of forming a satisfying closed loop.

If we tempt fate by asking a few questions further, though, the plot collapses back upon itself, forming a black hole that sucks its literal meaning into oblivion.  I’ll divide the objections into three separate sections: literal plot problems, philosophical plot problems, and the most fatal obstacle of all–the thematic plot problem.

LITERAL PLOT PROBLEMS

  • There’s no good explanation why Donnie Darko is chosen to save the universe.  It’s too much of a coincidence to believe that the time-traveling jet engine would just happen to crash into the bedroom of the person who happens to have the power to fix the corruption in time; it’s too much of a stretch to believe that the fact that the engine crashed into Donnie’s bedroom somehow endows him with powers to alter reality.
  • Donnie doesn’t have to kill his own mother and sister by ripping the jet engine off their plane.  This is gratuitous; the engine could have come off any plane.
  • Donnie doesn’t have to burn down Jim Cunningham’s house, because there’s no need to put his mother and sister on the plane, and because he doesn’t need to throw a Halloween party in order to complete his quest.
  • Donnie and Elizabeth don’t have to throw the Halloween party.  The party is dramatic and a beautiful sequence, but no event happens there that is necessary to Donnie completing his quest.  All that is necessary at that point is that Donnie and Gretchen visit Grandma Death’s house; Donnie only goes there because he experiences a sudden compulsion that takes place entirely within his head.  He and Gretchen could have been anywhere: at home with his parents, on a movie date, at someone else’s party, out trick-or-treating, when the compulsion struck.
  • Gretchen doesn’t have to die.  She will die anyway because the universe is about to end in a few hours, and Donnie knows this: it’s the first thing Frank the bunny tells him.  That should be enough motivation for Donnie to save the universe.  The audience must supply its own explanation for why Gretchen needs to die to motivate Donnie to complete his quest.  The best inference seems to be that Donnie can’t exercise his superpowers unless he’s in deep despair or emotional turmoil.
  • Donnie didn’t need to shoot Frank.  Although the revelation that Frank the bunny rabbit is a real person who Donnie kills in the future is shocking and fun, it’s just window dressing, in no way necessary to Donnie’s quest.  His spirit guide could have been anyone.
  • If Frank the spirit guide is the same entity as Frank the guy whom Donnie kills, there’s a time-travel paradox: how can Frank’s “Manipulated Dead” ghost be around before Frank is dead?  If the spirit guide is another entity of some sort, then what reason other than cheap showmanship would it have for assuming Frank’s form?

Most of the above plot problems can be reduced to a single, intuitive objection:  why is this complicated Rube Goldberg-esque “Ensurance Trap” necessary to trick Donnie into saving the universe?  Shouldn’t the fact that all of existence is about to end be enough to motivate Donnie?

The “Ensurance Trap” seems more like a device calculated to create a dramatic story arc rather than a sensible emergency protocol for saving the universe in case time becomes corrupted and a Tangent Universe forms.  In the end, of course, the real explanation is that if a guy is asked to save the universe, and does so willingly and with little effort or sacrifice, that’s not a story worth watching.

PHILOSOPHICAL PLOT PROBLEMS:

  • The entire concept of the Tangent Universe seems unnecessary.  According to The Philosophy of Time Travel, the Tangent Universe is unstable and will implode, bringing the Primary Universe down with it.  But the same effect could be created simply by having the Primary Universe be the one that becomes unstable and self destructive, due to the presence of the paradoxical “Artifact” (the jet engine) from the future.
  • The existence of the jet engine in the Primary Universe remains paradoxical, since it originates in a Tangent Universe (coming off of the plane in which Rose and Samantha were passengers).
  • The existence of the jet engine in the Tangent Universe is paradoxical, since it comes from the Tangent Universe’s future.  At one point the jet engine exists in two places at the same time in the Tangent Universe: it exists as the detached engine that has presumably been removed from the Darko’s house by the FAA, and at the same time as the undetatched engine on Rose and Samantha’s plane.
  • There’s no explanation of why the Tangent Universe doesn’t continue to implode after Donnie sends the jet engine into the Primary Universe.  How does taking an object that was supposed to be in the Tangent Universe and moving it to another Universe correct an instability in the Tangent Universe? Without more, it’s simply an arbitrary rule that moving the Artifact from the Tangent Universe to the Primary Universe causes the Tangent Universe to dissolve harmlessly, rather than implode.

The objections above mostly stem from the “clarifying” material in The Philosophy of Time Travel, not the movie itself.  Kelly seems to use the Tangent Universe concept to try to get around the “time travel paradox” (if I traveled back in time and killed my grandfather, then I would never have been born, therefore I never would have traveled back in time, thus I would never have killed him, so I would be alive to travel back in time to kill him…) But although The Philosophy of Time Travel was created by Kelly to buttress and elucidate the plot, ultimately the book’s doctrines cause more difficulties than they solve.

THE THEMATIC PLOT PROBLEM:

Donnie should sacrifice his own life to save Gretchen’s, and the rest of us, in Donnie Darko. There’s no messianic element, no Christ allegory, no emotional resonance on the literal level, if he doesn’t.

Unfortunately, the plot sets up a scenario where Donnie either doesn’t have to die, or, if he does, he makes no sacrifice by doing so.

This flaw is why Donnie Darko‘s plot ultimately fails.  Since a paradoxical Artifact appears in both the Primary and the Tangent Universe, the only meaningful difference between the two is that Donnie dies in one Universe, and lives in the other.

The plot tells us, however, that the only thing Donnie needs to do to save all existence is to move the Artifact from one Universe to the other.  There’s no mention of him needing to sacrifice his life: the audience must supply that idea.  Some have concluded from Richard Kelly’s commentary that Donnie did not need to die to complete his quest.

But it doesn’t even matter whether the plot requires Donnie to die or not.  Even if we assume that Donnie is supposed to make a choice to willingly die for the sake of others, the choice is a false one.  Donnie knows that the world is going to end that Halloween night; that was Frank’s very first message to him.  Donnie will die whether he chooses to save the universe or not, either when the Tangent Universe implodes, or when the jet engine crashes into him.  Thus, his “sacrifice,” the emotional climax that the plot is supposed to set up, is utterly meaningless.  Donnie doesn’t make any sacrifice.

The fact that Donnie’s choice is a false one means that the plot, read literally, fails to complete the quest it set out to: to tell a story of messianic sacrifice.

WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT THE PLOT OF DONNIE DARKO DOESN’T MAKE SENSE

If the literal plot of Donnie Darko doesn’t make sense, does that mean that the movie is a failure?

Not at all.  Kelly asks the viewer to make a choice: either the events in the Tangent Universe actually happened, or they were “all just a dream” of Donnie’s.

Usually, the “it was all just a dream” plot resolution is a cop-out by a writer who can’t figure out how to end his story, but here it actually works.  In a way, it’s not important that Donnie really saves the universe or sacrifices himself: if we empathize with Donnie’s character (and we do), then emotionally, it’s only important that he thinks he does.  The plot of Donnie Darko is exactly the kind of grandiose, apocalyptic fantasy that a brilliant but troubled, possibly schizophrenic teenager would have.  In a movie where the central character is a bright adolescent who refuses to accept society’s standard lines, Donnie’s pseudo-sensible sci-fi solution to finding meaning in his life makes perfect sense.  The genius of Kelly’s film is not that it tells an entertainingly complex time-travel tale a la Back to the Future, but that it recaptures the integrity, naivete, and the longing to recreate the world in a better way that’s the hallmark of adolescence at its best.  And the movie accomplishes this feat while creating a sense of mystery and dreamlike wonder that lingers long after the credits have rolled.

Donnie Darko‘s Tangent Universe could be the most elaborate and ambitious MacGuffin ever created.

APPENDIX: A NOTE ON JIM EMERSON’S FREUDIAN INTERPRETATION OF DONNIE DARKO

Jim Emerson, an editor at RogerEbert.com, has created a curiously satisfying interpretation of Donnie Darko that sees the entire film as a psychological study of Donnie’s repressed adolescent sexuality–especially his sublimated desire to bed his own sister–and the demonic bunny Frank, in particular, as “a manifestation of that ambivalent aspect of Donnie’s own erupting id, his stifled/frustrated hormonal urges…”  I usually hate Freudian interpretations of films, but Emerson is so forceful and convincing that, after reading it, I started to think he was onto something.

But I had one serious objection to Emerson’s theory: a large part of it hinged on the “fact” that Frank is Elizabeth’s boyfriend.  That’s accurate, as it turns out; in another context, Kelly dropped that bit of apparent trivia in his DVD commentary.  The problem is, Kelly provides no direct evidence of an intimate relationship between Frank and Elizabeth in the film.

After reading Emerson’s interpretation, I rewatched the movie searching in vain for evidence that Elizabeth and Frank were sexually involved.  Elizabeth is dating someone, it’s true (she’s shown talking to a nameless boyfriend on the phone), and she knows Frank, it’s true (she asks where he is at the party), but there’s never any explicit link in the movie explaining that the person she was dating was Frank.  I dismissed it as an interesting supposition that was unfortunately unsupported by the text of the screenplay, until I heard Kelly confirm the rumor on his DVD commentary.  (DVD co-commentator Kevin Smith didn’t make the connection either, and correctly opined that no one would without the benefit of Kelly’s explanation).

There’s an amazing intellectual twist to this story of observing someone else’s interpretation of the movie.  I had thought that Emerson’s theory was clever and interesting, but ultimately invalid because it relied on a premise that was unsupported by the movie.  Then, Kelly admitted that he had intended this premise all along.  He had buried it in the backstory, however, and barely hinted at the relationship in the movie.  It’s almost as if the movie’s own unconscious is repressing the knowledge of Frank and Elizabeth’s intimacy.  That the narrator’s repression of key plot element from the story unlocks a powerful psychological interpretation, one that itself depends on the idea that the main character is repressing feelings that stem from his knowledge of the very same fact, is almost incredible.

In fact, it’s more than a bit weird.

29 thoughts on “WHY DONNIE DARKO’S LITERAL PLOT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE (AND WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER)”

  1. I need to watch the director’s cut, but the movie does make sense if you toss out the tangent universe scenario, or at least in the way it is put forth. What if Donnie was the one that created an alternate reality? The end of the world simply meant the end for Frank’s world. Frank only appeared to Donnie because he wanted to save himself and Donnie, after being imparted with the knowledge of time travel and wormholes, uses that knowledge to change the future. In other words, he sees that by sacrificing himself, all the others would live.

    ————

    If we stay with the tangent universe explanation, the rift seems to have happened previous to the engine entering. So perhaps Grandma Death caused the tangent in her cellar playing around with time travel. The reason the bad guys were in the cellar when Donnie gets there is because he was close to discovering the real reason the rift was caused in the first place. That was what drove Granny Death to her current state of mentality and she was the one that chose Donnie to fix it. Just some ideas.

  2. Aegyptia, I’m sure your revisions to the plot make sense. My issue is that it I think the viewer shouldn’t have to rewrite the movie’s script so it makes sense! Was the movie Kelly put up on the screen only a first draft?

    The main intent of my article was not to show why the plot doesn’t work, but why it doesn’t matter: the movie still works thematically and emotionally, despite the plot holes. In fact, the plot holes make the movie a weirder experience!

  3. I know what your point was, it was well stated. I mistakenly thought discussion on the rest was open and would have been interesting. I simply disagree there are plot holes, it all depends on your perspective, no revisions of plot needed.

    As an artist I can tell you what one starts out to say when creating a work of art is often turned on it’s head because the process of making it and/or the end result often teaches you something entirely unexpected instead. The artist is only a tool in the end and the art runs away with itself if it is any good, taking on a life of it’s own. Movie making is no different which backs up your main point. There is an x factor in everything where the magic, for lack of a better word or understanding, takes place.

    But to simply regurgitation bits of information the director lets slip or stand on dogma concerning the plot is unfortunate. We can disagree on that yet still agree on your main point, the movie works well despite anything else.

  4. You’re not mistaken at all to think the rest is up for discussion. I, personally, don’t want to participate in plot discussions, because I’ve said what I have to say about Donnie Darko‘s plot and have moved on. Others are free to discuss whatever they wish, and encouraged to disagree with me.

    The point you bring up in your second comment interests me, personally, much more than speculations about what “really happened” in Donnie Darko: “The artist is only a tool in the end and the art runs away with itself if it is any good, taking on a life of it’s own… There is an x factor in everything where the magic, for lack of a better word or understanding, takes place.” That’s very perceptive and important to note.

    In interpreting a work of art I find there is a tension between letting the piece “speak for itself” and listening to the creator. On the one hand, as you say, the artist is only a tool. Many of the bones and sinews of the work may grow out of his subconscious, or even appear by accident. The author may not be the best interpreter of his own work. On the other hand, art is an attempt by the creator to communicate with an audience, and I think we owe the artist an honest effort to hear what he’s trying to say, even if he’s wrong.

    The plot I’ve outlined above is presented the way Richard Kelly intended it to be. Unfortunately, he has been quite clear, through his director’s cut, his commentary with Kevin Smith, and the supplemental materials he’s supplied as to what his intended plot was, and it’s ultimately disappointing. That’s why the theatrical cut is so much superior to the director’s cut. It’s more ambiguous, and honors the mystery of the tale. When Kelly tries to nail his story down, it flies away from him.

  5. I’m glad I found this, even though it was written 2 years ago. I just watched the original version of the movie a few hours ago. I understood it fine, but I had the same problem with the holes in the plot. The jet engine thing is just a fiasco, I really don’t think he knew what he was doing there.
    I didn’t come here to discuss more theories. I came here after reading Emerson’s novel about the possible incest in this movie. I didn’t find it convincing at all, it sounded like the ramblings of a mad man projecting his own sick thoughts into the plot of movie. Perhaps being beaten over the head with the idea over and over, over about 20 paragraphs might make it feel convincing, but it really isn’t. It’s not that I have a problem with disturbing plots or themes, it’s that I REALLY didn’t see what he was seeing.
    But just to add my own idea in, I think Donnie had the power to save himself over quite a few others, and it took some convincing for him to decide that it was worth him going. After all he was just the troubled kid with emotional problems, the world would probably be better off without him, whereas, the loss of his mother, sister, sister’s boyfriend and a young girl in the neighborhood all within the short span of time, might have been a bit much. Of course, by the end of the movie we liked Donnie and we felt he was more than that. But that’s just my feeling on it.

  6. I believe that the whole movie is supposed to be centered around Gretchen. The whole reason that Frank is revealed to Donnie is so that he could help him fix Gretchen’s death. But in order to do this Frank has to create a tangent universe and put Donnie in it. After Donnie has his plan in place and knows how to fix it, he throws the jet engine into the real world causing a paradox that destroys the tangent universe.

    I think the whole movie is Frank trying to make things right and using Donnie to do.

  7. This article is good and very well put together I was just wondering why none of these plot theories innclude the fact that donnie darko had schizophrenia? That would cvlear a lot of the plot questions up and still leave it open to all of these wonderful interpretations.

    1. Abby: The “schizophrenia” theory (which the movie gives some evidence for) is pretty much the same as the “it’s all a dream” theory. I did write “The plot of Donnie Darko is exactly the kind of grandiose, apocalyptic fantasy that a brilliant but troubled, possibly schizophrenic teenager would have.” Richard Kelly has been very clear that he hoped the audience would take the movie at face value as a science fiction story, despite the fact that he leaves the schizophrenia angle open as a possibility. If we can’t buy his plot then hallucination is the fall-back position.

  8. I like to ointerpret the movie from the pov that donnie darko is in fact suffering from schizophrenia. It makes sense of some of the seeming disparities of the movie. From the first paragraphs of this article you can see symptoms of schizophrenia particularly hallucinations(frank the rabbit) , delusions of grandeur, an inflated misconception that you are an extremely important person, in this case donnie is a ‘messiah’ or saviour of the human race, and delusions of reference where donnie believes he is being sent secret messages that only he recognizes, that come from regular mediums such as the time travel book he reads for class and the whisperings of the crazy old woman that donnie believes holds the secrets to the universe. To read a full synopsis from this point of view I would recommend —> http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0246578/synopsis

  9. I was reading that someone felt that the entire plot was based on Donnie having feelings for Elizabeth what I thought true to this was Frank enter both there lives at a consecutive time. When Donnie sleep walked the first time to meet Frank, Elizabeth was on a date with Frank. At the same time the engine crashes thru the house, Elizabeth comes home from a date, smiling as though she had just fallen for someone, which was latter revealed in her concern for Franks absence at the party. The “how you know” it was Frank was in the squealing tires after she had closed the front door, implying his sports car and poor driving, as per shown latter. I took this movie as if Donnie represented the “fear” in life for everyone, based on the cycling thru of all the caricatures in the movie at the end, implying that with him gone, “fear” was gone and therefore everyone would be able to “love” as per the movie. I had this feeling right at the end when his girlfriend waved at Donnie’s mother, implying she would be a part of Donnie’s family in the absence of her own.

    1. Hi Kevin, that is what I call the “Freduian” interpretation of DD, first proposed by Jim Emerson. Read the “appendix” section of the post and you’ll find the link to Emerson’s original article. That interpretation hangs together, but I still wonder if we were really supposed to figure out that Frank and Elizabeth were dating from the sound of squealing tires!

  10. I maintain that DD is an enormously successful film simply based on the fact that so many people are effected by it enough to puzzle together theories and discuss all it’s endless possible permutations. What a marvelous work of art! I’d support this by pointing out that Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 has transcended it’s enormous faults by becoming a cultural icon and very popular film to watch and gleefully lampoon. Somehow, whether these films achieve the goal of their director’s or not, becomes irrelevant when faced with the evidence that they inspire generations of fans (for numerous reasons). It’s like people debating whether the calculations at the beginning of PROMETHEUS are the correct distance from the Earth. As G. Smalley maintains; it makes no difference at all. The work inspires the mind of each viewer in a unique and profound way., andor me; that is enough.

  11. very much disagree with your plot discussions, the answers to your confusion are evident in the film without need for further reading.
    for example frank is introduced as a person aside form his bunny form at the halloween party, and gives a reason for frank to come into the scene outside grama deaths house (with the bullies), the death of gretchin leads to the shooting of frank and the death of gretchin, these two deaths put Donnie over the edge into accepting what frank has told him, and seeing the death of his girlfriend encourages him to end the tangent universe to save her. The jet engine is the one thing that is really debatable. And theres always a paradox with time travel, but to play with such as wide range of topics so successfully in a single film is just briliant.

    1. The jet engine is the artifact. Since Donnie is the nearest to it when it breaks through the roof, it becomes his responsibility to return it to the primary universe and in turn, save the universe. In other words, it’s not a coincidence that the jet engine falls into the one guy’s room with the ability to save the universe, the jet engine makes Donnie the one person who can save the universe and everyone else aids in his quest to do so. Clearer?

  12. Everything Richard Kelly says about his film is post hoc-rationalisation. This is strange, as Donnie Darko is a fairly straightforward narrative. Donnie is coxed from his room by the ghost of Frank, this means Donnie isn’t killed when the aircraft engine hits his room. Life then progresses as it would have done if Donnie had lived. Through Donnie’s actions four people are killed, Gretchen, Frank and Donnie’s sister and mother. Finally, Donnie is returned in time to his bedroom and dies, but with the knowledge that to do so saves the lives of others. The End.

  13. Due to a sudden change in travel arrangements I reluctantly left the cinema approx 25 minutes before the end of the movie. Friends who had already seen it were at best vague about the ending and it was not until the DVD release that I was finally able to see the film’s closing act for myself. In the months between, DD remained a perfect, perfectly unresolved work.

    Regardless of whether one finds the ending successful or problematic (the fact that Kelly himself has felt it necessary to provide volumes of post-film explanation would lead to the latter conclusion) a much more pertinent question, and one which Donnie Darko so intimidatingly poses, is why the film works so mesmerisingly well for so long whilst containing elements which cannot be satisfactorily resolved, which, in effect, undo it. Is it something to do with the nature of endings? Did Kelly force the film into some kind of linearity, when it wanted to conclude in a purely poetic mode? Could the film’s loose ends be tied up without thereby destroying its mystery?

    For me, Donnie Darko’s great achivement is perhaps this worrying chaos at its heart, which the director couldn’t finally tame. The film literally makes no sense: the clues for interpretation disappear into ellipses; they do not appear onscreen, therefore do not exist in the film’s universe(s). Kelly’s later experiments in genre-splicing have failed on a grand scale, but DD’s black-hole-shaped flaws are integral to it’s successes. As the film itself tells us: it’s a very, very mad world.

  14. well actually, Donnie needs his mother and sister to be on the plane so he knows when it will be flying over Carpathian Ridge. Also, he needs to be having a party so Gretchen can feel comfortable stopping by after getting into the fight with Donnie during English class. Also, Frank wouldn’t have killed Gretchen had he not been getting beer for the party. If she had lived, Donnie wouldn’t have learned to care for the human race.

  15. If she had lived, the reality of the death of the human race wouldn’t have set in. Donnie wouldn’t have realized that he cared. He had to witness her death. That’s what did it for him.

  16. I just saw this tonight for the first time. I disagree that the movie ended well. Answer this, if the engine which is a matching one to another engine in existence, which alarmed the FAA, and upon Donnie saving the Universe since corruption was obvious by the matching serial numbers, then mom and daughter are on the ground, there must still be a corrupt universe and the universe should have imploded, right? Help me here, why are there still 2 matching engines with the same serial numbers? Kelly is confused and I refuse to call this a classic. I give it a 5 out of 10 for the acting. =\

  17. Badly written, and the mysterious mystical meaning which is so elusive, thus the cult following. Kelly is also of the followers himself since he is not sure of the meaning either.

    MeanGene

    5 of 10 for acting

  18. You guys seem to keep forgetting a few key things:

    1. Donnie has to return the artifact because he was nearest to it when it crashed (keep in mind he died the FIRST time it hit the house, the rest is all time travel) This is discussed in the directors cut. Which might I add, is much more fulfilling than the regular version.

    2. Frank gave Donnie 4th dimensional powers, including the ability to time travel, even though they refer to it as a tangent universe, if you really think about it, it’s STILL the primary universe. Keep with me, when Donnie killed Frank in the PRIMARY universe(the reason he already has a bullet in his eye when he comes back to find Donnie), Frank had died and ascended to the 4th dimension, wherein all consciousness resides, HE is the one that tore the engine off of a plane (apparently a jet engine from the Batman universe lol, swirly logo on the center cowl) and sent it BACK IN TIME using time travel, in order to prevent HIM (Frank) from running over Gretchen, and ultimately being shot in the face. He then tells Donnie to leave the house, and since he had reversed the flow of time, all that really changed is the decision Donnie must make considering all the events MUST STILL HAPPEN as they did before, once Donnie has finally GRASPED what Frank is trying to teach him, and what he was trying to prevent all along, Donnie uses the powers that Frank has taught him (remember the scene in the bathroom “how do you do that?”) to once again, again, REVERSE the flow of time, back to the night of the crash, realizing that if he just dies in the accident, Gretchen won’t be killed, Cunningham will stop being a ped (due to the waking nightmares), his mom and sister won’t end up dead, and neither will Frank. Even though Donnie is attached to his own life, he learns that being alone, without loved ones, is INFINITELY worse than dying alone, and decides to embrace it, because he ALSO now realizes that life does not end when you die, hence the need for the 4th dimension powers, powers used by who? 4th dimensional beings. aka the dead waiting to be reborn or w/e they do.

    This is just my opinion, but if you look at it not as a tangent universe, and more of just a tangent timeline, you’ll get it. Basically it’s a movie about Time Travel wherein the character can only fulfill future events because THEY HAPPENED but once he does, realizes FINALLY (I’m guessing Frank tried to get him to FIX IT many times before, but Donnie failed, so he just kept rewinding time again, the reason I think this is they message about Donnie having to lose everything to gain anything, I think speaks to that… For the time paradox to be fixed, there must be the death of Donnie, otherwise he would just keep repeating over and over again, because Frank would be forced to just keep rewinding time, or to himself, give up, but he couldn’t, because he loved Donnie’s older sister, wasn’t ready to leave, and would give ANYTHING to take back running over that girl in the street. (Gretchen)

  19. lol – shorter condensed version – The movie is really about Frank, who is dead and must use time travel to undo what Donnie did to him, prevent his own death, prevent running over Gretchen, he just wasn’t ready to leave, and he realized that by showing Donnie a terrifying series of events that would lead to the loss of everyone around him, that he could USE him to act as the receiver, return the artifact that HE (Frank) created, so that he could come back to the real world. He was mad at Donnie, he missed his GF (Donnie’s older Sister) and he knew that if he showed Donnie these horrible things, he could trick him into believing he could save everyone but really it was just Frank trying to get back into the physical world.

    It’s basically the story of Job from the bible, if you think about it, a higher power manipulates and destroys the life of a man, to teach him a lesson, and further his it’s own cause.

    Franks kind of selfish but most people are, so it makes sense. Also, at one point, there was something in the directors cut, that said the manipulated living will DO ABSOLUTELY anything to avoid Oblivion, that was just saying that Frank (who was a manipulated living up until he gets shot by Donnie) was willing to do all of this stuff to remain alive.

    I guess it really is all about the bunnies in this movie.

  20. Dang, just realized a hole in my first post, Donnie did NOT die in the first engine crash, otherwise he could have never shot frank, he had been disappearing at night for days before that night even happened, which seems to imply that he would have left at night whether Frank had called him out or not, my guess is that when you hear frank call him out, it’s because in the previous time reversal, frank didn’t call him out, he still left the house, but then when frank later approached him, it didn’t quite have the same effect on Donnie as when Frank makes it appear as if he just “saved his life” perhaps in that other other timeline, Donnie thought Frank was part of his illness, and attempted to ignore him, so pretending to save Donnie made him have more sway over him.

  21. My interpretation: In the “tangent universe” Donnie makes the world a better place. Because of him the world is better, But because he was supposed to die and did not, eventually the universe had to “correct the error”… even though the world would be in worse shape for him having left the “primary universe” which reasserted itself or had to be restored.

  22. Think of it this way;

    Timeline 1 – Donnie is a messed up teenager with issues, he has a little sister that is a dancer in the school group Sparkle Motion, perhaps Donnie meets Gretchen, perhaps not, but in this timeline no “paradoxical Frank” exists to bring about the chain of events leading Donnie to be Gretchen’s boyfriend, etc, etc. The sparkle motion tour goes to New York with the crazy, religious gym teacher going with the other girls and Donnie’s sister. As the plane heads back from New York a wormhole spontaneously appears and the plane engine is sucked into the wormhole entering a tangent timeline or universe, crashing into Donnie’s house and killing donnie, let’s call this timeline timeline 2 or “primary universe”. Now, who or what created the wormhole in the first place – – on that 28th day in the original timeline – – is up to the viewer; whether it was natural or not doesn’t really matter because Donnie will be guided by someone or something beyond the 4th dimension in a temporary timeline of visions regardless.
    Now it’s important here that this paradoxical rip in space-time between two universes occurred and Donnie was killed, but to a being beyond the 3 dimensions of space and the 4th dimension of time they would be clearly capable of intervening before Donnie is killed, thus creating another timeline and the one that features prominently in the film.
    This temp timeline shows visions of a future that would occur if Donnie was not killed by the plane engine, one that wouldn’t be too dissimilar from the original timeline to begin with, if we take paradoxical Frank out of the equation.
    Now, going back again to the original timeline again, remember Donnie’s sister would have thrown that party to celebrate getting into Harvard and her boyfriend Frank would have been there with his bunny suit, and he would have gone out to get beer, all of that would have originally happened, but since there was this wormhole that appeared as sparkle motion were heading back from New York a paradox occurred with the wormhole creating an alternate or tangent timeline where Donnie is killed by a plane engine that fell literally from nowhere. Since that original timeline had occurred up to the point of the wormhole appearing, whoever is speaking to Donnie via Frank and is manipulating the living in this temporary, intervening timeline, would be able to do just that if they are beyond our 3 dimensions of space and the 4th dimension of time; setting up the chain of events that will lead to Donnie flooding the school, meeting Gretchen, receiving the timetravel book, burning the motivational pedo speaker’s house, going to Grandma Death’s house, Gretchen getting killed, Frank getting shot and forcing Donnie to understand his fate and learning that there exists something greater than he; that he is not alone and that he now has a purpose.

    Now, Donnie could have ignored “paradoxical Frank” when he told him to wake up; it’s just a voice after all, let’s say he did and he gets killed by the plane engine, right, the someone or something intervening hear would simply try again, thus we can imagine that Donnie has been through this multiple times until he’s made to understand his paradoxical fate. This also means if Frank would have removed his bunny mask at the very beginning he may or may not have shown a shot eye yet since Donnie has yet to flood the school and go out with Gretchen, once he chooses to do those two things the possible chain of events leading up to Donnie shooting Frank is guaranteed, thus Frank’s shot eye represents a possible future if Donnie continues to do as Frank says and that possibility comes to fruition. Remember, “paradoxical Frank” is only seen via Donnie as visions, he represents a vision of a future that has yet to pass and his shot eye one a possible vision of the future that could pass, just like when paradoxical Frank shows Donnie a vision of a wormhole in the cinema and shows the pedo’s house burning, again a possible future.
    Thus eventually the wormhole appears just as it did in the original timeline, on that 28th day, only in this timeline Donnie’s Mum is on the plane with Sparkle Motion, and so Donnie sends the plane engine back in time, collapsing the temporary timeline and seemingly creating a bootstrap paradox, and returning to timeline 2 and accepting his paradoxical fate.
    It’s a mindbender for sure but once you accept the idea of alternate timelines and something or someone outside the 4th dimension intervening, it can in fact make sense, however paradoxical!
    Our linear understanding of time and dimensions is what makes this all confusing, but causal loops and bootstrap paradoxes are permitted by relativity.

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