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I have the basic understanding that the entire plot to Donnie Darko revolves around time traveling. As far as the ending is conceded, you may have various interpretations of what actually happened. The Director's Cut does dive into the book on time travel a bit but leaves me wanting a better explanation for what we see on screen. So what are the common theories to Donnie being dead or alive in both prior to the first plane engine crash and the second one seen in the final scene? Is that enough to understand the overall timeline (which is very complex and super confusing).

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The timeline is a bit confusing, but if you watch the standard cut first, then the directors cut, you get a lot of info to fill in the blanks and the entire story line makes much more sense and it explains why the people at the end of the movie (back in the "primary" timeline are awake and sad). There is a great explanation of the "tangent" universe here: – DustinDavis Mar 31 '14 at 16:06

There is a total of 2 timelines that we observe in Donnie Darko.

  • Primary Timeline (Primary Universe)
  • Secondary Timeline (Tangent Universe)

The primary timeline, is the one we see at the beginning of the film, starting from Donnie waking up in a random location, biking his way back home. We continue seeing this timeline until the night he first sees Frank.

It is in the next few hours after this encounter, that the Tangent Universe is created. This is due to Donnie not being in his bed when the jet engine hits his room. He is meant to die in this encounter due to some unknown rules of the Universe, better explained in the book. (I think even the book mentions that this can occur for unknown reasons).

During the rest of the film, we are presented the Tangent Universe until the end of the film, when the World is about to end. Donnie summons a portal to lead both himself, and the jet engine back into the Primary Universe, the same night that he left his bed to see Frank for the first time.

It is when we see him start crawling into his bed that we are back in the Primary Universe until the end of the film.

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Does Donnie summon the portal? I thought it was the preset time given by the rabbit when the portal would open. Also why would Donny like to go to the past and end being dead? – Mistu4u Jul 20 '13 at 6:57

I think it is a mistake to take the events of Donnie Darko literally, or to look for a logically consistent timeline or timelines.

There is a key extra scene on the DVD, in which Donnie is having a conversation with his father and says, "Dad, I'm crazy." Not sure why this was omitted, but it strongly supports the interpretation that the film shows Donnie losing his mind -- as do all the included scenes involving Donnie's psychiatrist, who recognizes what is happening to Donnie.

Indeed, Donnie's experiences in the movie are textbook symptoms of schizophrenia:

-he feels increasingly separated from family, friends, and peers

-he thinks he can see into the future

-his fantasies -- like outing Patrick Swayze's criminal character, or (ahem) saving the universe -- put him in white-knight, savior-type roles

-to him, the logic of the whole thing makes perfect sense, but to anyone else, it is beyond comprehension

Personally, I think part of the genius of Donnie Darko is that -- just like many real-life schizophrenics' hallucinations -- Donnie's fantasy almost starts to make sense if you strain to understand. But ultimately it only really makes sense to Donnie.

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+1 just for the sheer fact of bringing another perspective to this that is largely unappreciated. And another +2 because Its a great answer. I can't give 3 votes, but just pretend :) – TylerShads Feb 15 '13 at 17:17
I don't believe it is a film about schizophrenics' hallucinations. The quotes you mentioned or the diagnosis by the psychriatist was a normal real-life-people like reaction.If strange things happen to a normal person, after a certain limit, he would surely doubt himself (I'm crazy).The doctor's diagnosis is also the same reaction! – Mistu4u Jul 20 '13 at 7:01

I tried explaining it here:

Hope this helps

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Welcome to Movies & TV. Could you please try to recapitulate the essence of that linked post in any way to make this answer more than just a link? – Napoleon Wilson Feb 25 '15 at 15:13

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