What was donnie darko about exactly?

I’m going to give away the plot if anyone cares about that.

Did Frank time travel back in time in an effort to make donnie darko die so he could save his own life? The way i see it 3 things that happened when Donnie Killed frank were due to time travel frank telling Donnie to do something.

  1. flooding the school. This let donnie meet that girl, who he killed Frank over.
  2. Getting his dad’s gun upstairs
  3. burning down Patrick Swayzes house, as a result the old woman has to cancel her trip and Donnie’s mom would have to be out of town and on a plane (the same plane whose engine killed Donnie), leading to the party that Frank was going to.

There were probably other small things Frank did that led Donnie to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I am still slightly confused about the plot. It all seems like a large catch-22.

There have been about a half dozen threads on this movie, with all sorts of explanations. Shouldn’t be too hard to search for one, and you’ll probably find links in it to all the others.

Anyway, here’s my take (it’s been about a year since I last saw the movie, so I might make a few mistakes here) Oh, and spoilers ahoy, if anyone reading this is concerned about that kind of thing.

Basically, for whatever reason, Donnie Darko has the ability to see in four dimensions: the three spatial dimensions, and time. The human brain isn’t really wired for that, though, and it alters what he sees into a form he can process. Namely, Frank in the bunny suit, telling him stuff.

In my view, what happens is God (or the Universe, or Kismet, or whatever) gives Donnie a choice: either the events of the movie play out as portrayed (his girlfriend gets run over, his mom and sister die in a plane crash, he murders Frank), or Donnie can sacrifice himself by staying in his bed and getting pulped by the jet engine. The catch, of course, is that whatever he chooses, no one else will ever know, because the alternate possibility never happens. Throughout the course of the movie, he gets all these psychic flashes about what’s going to happen, and then, at the very last, he’s given the chance to go back in time and prevent all this grief from happening, which he does. Actually, it appears that everyone is sent back in time, and they seem to remember the alternate timeline as some sort of super realistic dream, as evidenced by the scene of all the characters waking up just as Donnie dies and clearly reacting to experiences in the other time line (Frank holding his eye where he was shot, Patrick Swayze’s attack of conscience for being a pedo, etc.)

There’s a lot more going on, obviously, and I don’t remember all the details (need to see it again) and apparently, the movie’s creator has a commentary track on the DVD that explicitly refutes most of what I just typed. But what the hell does that guy know? I like my explanation better, and I’m sticking with it.

About two hours too long?

I thought the film was shoegazing for shoegazing’s sake, kind of like Aronofsky and Kauffman’s films. I imagine the same sort of thing was done back during the French New Wave, although those guys actually did some things that had never been done before.

Donnie Darko is killed by the jet’s engine.
Before this happens, Donnie is given a choice.
That’s what the movie is about.

It has a great soundtrack, but there ain’t no shoegazing in that movie. Perhaps you’re thinking of navel gazing? Heh.

Anyway, here’s the deal according to Roberta Sparrow (Grandma Death):

The movie starts in the primary universe. At some point near the beginning, the fabric of time becomes corrupted and causes a tangent universe to form. Tangent universes are unstable and don’t last very long. When they finally collapse they can take the primary universe with them. To prevent the primary universe being destroyed, divine intervention occurs. This results in a number of interesting things happening in the tangent universe.

You get an Artifact (the jet engine) which needs to be guided to a certain place in space/time in the tangent universe to fix the corruption in the fabric of time. It is the job of the Living Receiver (Donnie Darko) to make sure this happens. Assisting the Living Receiver in this task are the Manipulated Dead, those who have died in the tangent universe. They set what’s called an Ensurance Trap to make sure the Living Receiver guides the Artifact to where it needs to be. Frank and Gretchen are the Manipulated Dead. Frank seems to know what’s he doing and can thus flit around in time; Gretchen doesn’t. Everyone else is the Manipulated Living… expect them to act strangely, they don’t want to die in the tangent universe.

What else… oh yeah, The Living Receiver has many superhuman powers, the key one being power over time, needed to send the Artifact back to the primary universe and fix everything. To exercise his power over time, Water and Fire are required… hence flooding the school and burning down Cunningham’s mansion. The Manipulated recall the events in the tangent universe in dreams. If you look at the website you find that after the events of the movie Dr. Monnitoff is killed in a hit and run accident, Jim Cunningham commits suicide and Grandma Death dies.

Be on the lookout for the theatrical rerelease this summer… it will have extra footage not in the original film and not included in the DVD outtakes.

I thought it was water and metal (i.e. him stabbing Frank’s ‘wall’ in the bathroom) so it was the metal of the engine and the water of the storm that fixed things.

Other then that great post covered what I would have said only in much more detail.

If Donnie Darko had a choice, why was he told by the bunny that the world would end in 28-some odd days?

I don’t remember all the details, but it seemed to me he didn’t have a choice. During his 28-day reprieve, he was able to be the things he was not prior to the accident - he was powerful, he was charismatic, he was interesting. Then, when the 28 days were up, he went back to his room and died. Perhaps it was a chance for him to live a different life before he went away forever? I dunno.


This thread was pretty informative, but the official donniedarko website sucks hard, why can’t they make an easy to navigate site. It keeps freezing and i can’t find the info i want.

It’s about nothing. I never understood the attraction of the movie. It tries to be mysterious and dark, yet ends up being boring. I never cared for any of the characters in the movie.

I really recommend avoiding the director’s explanation. I realize it’s his movie, but the whole convoluted “tangent universe” backstory is barely hinted at in the film itself and is, I think, needlessly complicated, unsatisfying, and ultimately stupid.

It also fails to explain how the engine managed to crash into the “tangent universe” Darko home in the first place, which is the event that gets the whole story going! According to the director’s own backstory Donnie needed to send a metal object into the “primary universe”, not back in time to earlier in the “tangent universe”. There’s no reason for the mysterious engine to strike the Darko home in the “tangent universe”. Having it there doesn’t even make sense according to the rules the director set up for this whole parallel world plot. The engine hits not before, and not at, but just after the point when the director says the “tangent universe” splits off from the “primary universe”!

Anyway, you could almost certainly come up with something better on your own.


He did have a choice he could either fix things or try to go on in the Tangent universe. If he didn’t fix things it would collapse in 28 days and everyone would die. Many of the things in the tangent universe were set ups trying to make his life as miserable as possible so he wasn’t tempted to try to continue in the tangent.

When he woke up in the real universe he thought that the tangent was all a dream so he didn’t get out of the jet engine’s way and ‘Frank’ didn’t exist anymore to tell him to move.

It’s convoluted but perfectly consistent. The engine is the Artifact, a product of divine intervention. It doesn’t come from either universe, it comes from god. The event that gets the whole story going is a corruption in the fabric of time that leads to the creation of a tangent universe. By the time the engine crashes into the Darko house, they are already in the tangent universe.

In terms of the primary universe, no time travel occurs at all. Don’t assume that time runs concurrently in the primary and tangent universes. They aren’t parallel… think of the tangent universe as a little loop of string coming out of a knot in a much longer string. From the perspective of someone in the primary universe, a corruption in the fabric of time appears, spits out a jet engine, and then vanishes. But within the tangent universe, 28 days pass wherein Donnie gets the jet engine where it needs to go and fixes the corruption. Unfortunately this means the jet engine pops out of the vortex in the primary universe above his house, drops down and kills him.

That’s the whole point of the movie, according to the director. Divine intervention and fate. Listen to the chorus from the first song in the movie, and pay attention to Donnie’s conversations about god with the doctor.

Apparently the director’s cut makes some major changes, including the music. Which worries me, knowing he almost stuck “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS in the opening scene instead of “The Killing Moon.”

Although I will add that the director’s commentary did make me wonder how this guy could have made that movie.

Because it would. No matter what Donnie did, the tangent universe would collapse exactly when Frank said it would. The issue was whether it took the primary universe with it.

Miller - Donnie didn’t have to sacrifice himself. It’s fairly obvious that Roberta Sparrow was meant to have gone through the same experience and based her book on it, so you can survive being the Living Receiver. However, Donnie thought everything that had happened was just a dream, so when he “woke up” he simply sat there laughing with relief rather than getting out of the way.

You know, mike1dog, sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.

Yeah, but much like Lamia, I don’t care for the director’s explanation, so I disregard it. Personally, I think Sparrow was given the same sort of choice as Donnie, and couldn’t make the sacrifice Donnie did. The guilt from which eventually turned her into the mad ruin of a person we saw in the film.

Would this be the guilt she felt over not having averted the total destruction of the universe? :rolleyes:

If you’re going to accept that the contents of Sparrow’s book are true and based on first-hand experience, you also have to accept that you don’t have to die to fulfil the role of Living Receiver because if you don’t fulfil the role the universe is destroyed. Me, I read it as her having seen “the wiring under the board” changed her - she had been a nun until she gave it up suddenly for science, you may recall. The rest of her behaviour can be read as senility; the woman’s meant to be pushing ninety, after all.

Incidentally, I just found out that Patience Cleveland, who played Roberta Sparrow, died last month of cancer aged 73.

Okay, once again, I do not accept the director’s interpretation of his own film. In my view, neither Roberta Sparrow nor Donnie Darko saved the whole universe. Donnie saved his family and a handful of others: no more, no less. Roberta, I think, saved considerably less. Yes, this is not what the director says. And one more time, to make this absolutely clear, I don’t care what the director says. I find my own explanation of the film to be more satisfying emotionally and intellectually than the one the director originally intended, and so I use that explanation when trying to understand the events of the film.

That’s a big “if” you’ve got at the beginning at the paragraph.

I’m sad to hear that.

Your explanation doesn’t really contradict what the director says, it’s pretty much the same premise but with the plot specifics wrong. God gives Donnie a Hobson’s choice, which is basically “die, or die and take everyone you know with you.” This isn’t really a morally illustrative choice because what does he have to gain personally by choosing the latter? He dies either way. It’s a question about fate.

I don’t agree with that. The choice was live and everyone you care about dies, or die and they all get to live. I like this explanation better than the director’s because it is a moral choice, and therefore is about character, which is interesting. The director’s explanation makes the entire movie about a Star Trek-style time/space anomaly, which is about made-up physics, which is boring.