Explaining the Madness
A new theory to help the viewer unravel the cult classic.
The tangent universe may be a trial and error phase for Donnie allowing him to realize what he needs to do in order to “save the world.” We believe that the timeline for the tangent universe allows Donnie to repeatedly go through the cycle making him realize that he needs to scarifice himself to save his mother and sister and Gretchan, which may be his biggest fear. The tangent universe also provides the biblical illusions to the character Cherita (?), the flood, and the end of the world. These become more relevant as the movie goes on and by the end of the movie Donnie becomes more of a believer.
i feel like the connection between the tangent universe and the real universe is directly indicated/proven through one single scene. the scene where donnie is on one side of the water barrier (the mirror) and frank the bunny is on the other side. this scene shows that the tangent universe runs parallel to the real universe and you can connect to the tangent by looking through the mirror but cannot actually connect directly unless through perfected time travel.
Think about the writer of this film. He had to have been a genious or maybe even crazy to have come up with this!! I have no clue how he held all of this in his mind, fit it all together into a film and still stayed sain. Im beginning to doubt he even knew the entire meaning of this film; how the hell could he! This film is absolutely incredible, I will never stop watching it. I can only hope that one day I will be able to understand each and every line in this film and the bigger message it holds!
Through this movie we have concluded that destiny is predetermined, that through small actions and decisions your destiny can be altered and redirected. For there are small segments in life that must be completed to come to our final ending. -Destiny/Fate
I actually do understand everything that happens. This movie is very interesting, though because it has so many things going on at once. Donnie does go through many challenges during his time in the tangent universe and eventually, he figures out how to fix everyone else’ lives by killing himself off at the end on the beginning of the real universe. He wants to save the world from what happens in the other universe. If I could add a thought, Frank and Donnie are alto egos and in my viewing, if Frank has to die than Donnie has to die sometime too, or this thing will go in a loop, so if Donnie does die, then Frank can’t save him. So they must both die.
I think this movie definitely has something to say about finding resolution in chaos. In the movie, Donnie tries over and over again to change the outcome of the world and the lives of those he loves. Howeer, he is never able to ind resolution and has to go back again and again. However, when Donnie finally accepts that he has to die to save those he loves, he wakes up in the primary world, happy and content now that he has accepted his fate. Thus, by accepting this outcome, Donnie reached resolution in the chaos.
I apologize for my lack of response here, but I submitted this to metaphilm at the request of my English teacher. I have lost a good deal of enthusiasm here, and, clearly, have not frequented this site too often. That being said, I have some replies to make.
To everyone commenting on the scientific inaccuracy of many parts of my explanation (Such as time travel, tangent universe, etc), let me simply say that it does not work to apply tested, proven physics to a theoretical, if not completely fictional, area. I was working with what the movie gave me, and nothing more (Aside from the time travel). The movie itself is a work of fiction. It was not made to be scientifically accurate, and my explanation will follow in that course.
Also, Dan, thank you for pointing out the mass vs. density typo. That was merely carelessness on my part.
Its a openly confusing Emo flick based around time travel.. its is only a classic because there are some many Emo kids that grew up with it!
i stumbled upon this, saw the diagram and instantly wanted to watched the movie based on the diagram of the universes alone. the movie to me was very good and this explanation helped so much. i like seeing everyone comment on what is going on in their minds about this movie. but i do agree with the timeline as based on the movie and nothing more
but one question, how do you know what is in the philosophy of time travel book?
What is the significance of the medication Donnie is always taking?
Nice article, very clarifying. Now, do you have any idea of the content of Donnie’s letter to Mrs. Sparrow? I haunts me haha…
Nice write up, although I don’t agree with a few points. Still, I feel like I need to make a few corrections, and then offer my streamlined explanation of Donnie Darko.
- Donnie didn’t wake up in the middle of the road laughing at the beginning of the film…he woke up dazed and confused. He did let out a chuckle after standing up and getting his wits together. Why the chuckle? I took it as Donnie realizing he had been sleep walking yet again (or sleep bike riding, apparently)...he was laughing at the absurdity of him waking up in yet another strange place. It had become regular with him…even when he finally gets back home that morning there’s the eraser board message on the fridge asking “Where’s Donnie?”. Even his family has gotten so used to it that they aren’t frantically calling the police; they’re just putting their concerns as a note on the fridge.
- I doubt Donnie had been through this experience before. He was far too confused for it to have been a repeat visit to the tangent universe. Not to mention nobody else showed even a minuscule remembrance of having been in the tangent universe multiple times. I think the things that have been interpreted as signs that Donnie had been in the tangent universe multiple times are probably simply story foreshadowing of events to come, such as Donnie “stabbing” the water barrier between him and Frank in the bathroom at just the spot where Frank’s eye would be…it foreshadowed Donnie would be shooting Frank in the eye towards the end of the movie (not to mention that it foreshadowed the whole “water/metal” thing concerning time travel).
- As for Frank having been shot showing that this wasn’t Donnie’s first time through the Tangent Universe, It’s most likely that Frank was both living and dead throughout the Tangent Universe’s existence. It’s a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” type scenarios; Frank can’t help Donnie in the Tangent Universe unless he’s dead, but Frank won’t be killed by Donnie in the Tangent Universe without “Dead Frank’s” help and guidance.
- I don’t recall Frank instructing Donnie to write a letter to Grandma Death (Roberta Sparrow). It seemed something he wanted to do on his own. What Frank DID do, was put the concept of time travel in Donnie’s mind, so that when Donnie found out “Grandma Death” had written a book long ago about the same concept he would want to read it. And it was reading the book and seeing so many things he’s experiencing explained to him from within its pages that made Donnie want to write her a letter. But it was never at Frank’s instruction or even suggestion.
- Gretchen showing up terrified at Donnie’s party didn’t serve in showing Donnie that the world is indeed ending; what it did do, though, was serve a purpose in giving Donnie an experience in total love that he’d never had before. He and Gretchen making love sealed the deal for Donnie—Donnie was happy and content when he and Gretchen came back downstairs after making love. It was the death of the one person who gave him love and understanding that made him shoot Frank, and it was her death that made him finally realize at the end that he could unwind time and save her life.
- I know many others have said this, but I don’t think Donnie necessarily felt he had to die in order to save everyone. Instead, I think Donnie chose to die.
In the Tangent Universe, Donnie experienced true love, acceptance, and understanding. He also realized that there is indeed a God, that Life doesn’t end at death. A telling scene was when Donnie discussed the idea/concept of God and dying alone with his therapist. Donnie said the whole idea of trying to figure out if God exists or not was “absurd”—and ended that scene with him, almost in tears, saying “I don’t want to be alone”. With his mental issues and unique perceptions of the world even before being in the Tangent Universe, Donnie most definitely felt alone…and he didn’t want to feel that way anymore.
And ultimately this, I think, is what the movie was about and what made the movie so fascinating: the idea of finding connections that make you feel like you’re no longer alone in the world…or in the universe. Donnie found that connection with Gretchen, and through the extraordinary events in the Tangent Universe he came to feel a connection with something much greater at work in the universe. In my opinion, the sci-fi aspect wasn’t the main story…it was simply a device that allowed for the story to explore themes of love, God and destiny.
He writes to Roberta Sparrow that he hopes when the world come to an end he will “breathe a sigh of relief”, because there will be “so much to look forward to”—that he will know there is a God and Life doesn’t end when our bodies stop living. And what do you know, that’s exactly what Donnie does after traveling back to October 2nd and finding himself back in his bed: right before he turns over to go to sleep, he lets out a very noticeable sigh of relief. He knows now that there is indeed going to be much to look forward to after death…he knows he’s not “alone” in the world or in the universe. He had Gretchen. He has God. He doesn’t need to stay in a world full of phoniness and hypocrisy, especially when Gretchen won’t even remember knowing him. Donnie’s at peace with letting go and moving on.
The comment from Frank in the theater foreshadows this when Donnie asks Frank “Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?”, and Frank poignantly responds “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” Donnie’s taking off his stupid Man suit.
- I’m of the belief that the Tangent Universe does not exist parallel to the Primary Universe. Instead, the Primary Universe got “knocked” off it’s path and onto a tangent path when the artifact from the future made its way into in the past. Putting the artifact back through the portal effectively “rewinds” the Tangent Universe to the point where the Primary Universe got knocked off its course, thus allowing the Primary Universe to continue on its original, predetermined path. The time-lapse footage shown in reverse seems to echo this point.
This thought is also echoed with the very last words said in the movie: as Gretchen and the young boy wave to the camera, a police radio dispatcher is heard saying the words “All units should be back on base frequency”. Meaning, “Everyone and everything should be back to normal now, the Primary Universe is back on it’s base path.”
A good film is like a good joke. If it needs to be explained (especially in great detail) then it isn’t very good.
I would like to say that this theory makes complete sense. Although there is one thing I would like to add so as to assure people of this theory’s validity. Whenever they show the clock in the Tangent Universe, yes it is always at night, it reads the same time- 12. When the jet engine hit Donnie’s house in the beginning, it was 12. This proves how time had stopped where the universes switched, the tear or portal, and then remained the same throughout the course of the Tangent Universe. Other than that, great analysis of the movie. Kudos to you sir.
Now the question is what would have happened if Donnie never left his bed when he was first supposed to leave and follow Frank. One of the obvious arguements in this film is what happens when you stray from you predestined path, and as such I theorize that this is exactly what causes the time loop. Effectively there are three parallel time lines in this movie two are shown and the third is never revealed. Donnie’s predetermined destiny (A) is to stay in bed and survive when the engine never falls through his roof, but when he strays from this to follow Frank he completely leaves that timeline and creates the two we see in the movie. Because he strayed from his path he must now choose his new destiny (either he dies(A1) or everyone around him dies(B)). In the end he must choose because he can no longer return to the original timeline (A) because the loop timeline (B) now causes a corruption in timeline (A1) where the engine falls through the roof.
hey i like u’r article…but i have few questions.
u said donnie has send back the artifect to the point A ,
so at point A in primary universe that plane is stiill exist coz it is 2 oct and plane will fly on 28 oct, that means here there are again two engines in primary universe. one is at donnie’s house another is fixed on plane itself. this universe still unstable…..or u can say tangent universe…..
Could “Donnie Darko” be interpreted as a deconstructionist piece? Thoughts welcome.
Ok I have a few things to say. First I’d like to say the main flaw in the original article is that Donnie’s death had nothing to do with it and because Donnie sent back the same jet engine that ruptured the primary universe, it in itself would make it so that two of the same entity exist at the same time once again yet this time he is laughing probably at how he either blamed himself for all the deaths or that he ironically wanted to see the world burned because although he learned he had the power to use a portal for time travel, he is the one who caused the primary universe to become unstable.
It’s hard to explain this stuff sometimes but as regarding to mr “I’m smarter then all you and you are all wrong” yes this movie was based on fiction but the only knowledge you know is the words written by others. Just because it is most accepted as fact doesn’t make it fact. Many thought the earth was flat before it was proven otherwise and for time travel, dimensions being alternate or tangent, and even black holes can only be looked into at a certain point. Hell, I’ll just say my theory of a black hole is that once a piece of matter “appears” in our universe that did not exist prior, a black hole is created devouring an equal amount of mass from a different part of the universe to keep it “100%” so that it won’t collapse on itself by having something taken away and won’t explode based on it containing more mass then it can handle. I’m not saying I’m the most intelligent person or have read numerous books or articles on the matter but I can still have a valid opinion. And since this was written on my small ass phone, please ignore any faults in my arguement haha
However I do think the article was well written based on Donnie darkos view of universes minus the one flaw… However I honestly just think his death at the end of the movie only means a new living whatever will be chosen to find a way so that no duplicated mass can exist in either universe. All Donnie needed to do was follow the portal with the jet engine into the past and redirect it to the beginning of the tangent universe so that it never fell in the first place in the primary universe and would either cause the tangent universe to fall on itself yet allows the primary universe to flow, or just keeps the tangent universe in a forever loop as the primary universe just continues unscaved.
i think u r right,i like u’r comment.
This is probably one of the most interesting interpretations of a movie I’ve ever read. I really enjoyed it. Would love to read more by you???
Also, how do you know all this stuff about PU and TU, etc? Please share more of this knowledge!!!
Ummm.. I don’t think Donnie did any traveling thru time. I think he just sent the engine back in the end because if he traveled back then there would be two Donnies.
Could it also be possible that Gretchen dying could be an addition to the slew of insurance traps? His task was to save his loved ones, and he clearly failed in the tangent universe (Gretchen dies, Frank dies, his mom and sister dies, plus his favorite teacher dies). Instead of Gretchen being the manipulated living, couldn’t she also be an insurance trap? Which he failed at, so he has to go back in time and correct his actions? I mean, it would still lead and explain the ending, but it could be deciphered a different way.
I also agree with “Mr. Jones” like the author of this article stated, if there are duplicates in a universe, it would cause it to be unbalanced. Therefore, if there were 2 Donnie’s, it would cause the primary universe to be unstable and eventually collapse, accomplishing nothing that Donnie intended. Everyone would still die and he would have failed at his goal. I think that the reason he talked to his physics teacher about time travel is because he wanted to send the jet engine back in time, as opposed to sending himself back in time.
I HAVE A BIG QUESTION. SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME. Okay, so if there’s 2 of everything (1 in the primary universe, 1 in the tangent universe) then there is technically 3 Franks. There is 1 in the primary universe (as it shows at the end of the film) and there is 1 in the tangent universe (Donnie’s sister’s boyfriend) right up until he dies at the end. But if the bunny is Frank, while Frank is still alive in the tangent universe, then there are 2 Franks in the tangent universe. But, that can’t be?
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