A Fourth Dimensional Concept:

One of the most confusing aspects of Donnie Darko is following the two seperate timelines. The first step to understanding is being able to differintiate between the "Primary Universe" (PU) and the "Tangent Universe" (TU). In addition to these two seperate timelines, the movie occurs in a perpetual time loop of temporal paradoxes similar to those of "Christmas Everyday", "Ground Hogs day", and "Primer".

October 1, 1988 In the beginning of the movie Donnie is on the hill, looking at the sky, laughing. He rides his bike home and goes to sleep.

October 2, 1988 After midnight, Donnie is woken up by Frank-Bunny, saving him from a jet-engine crashing into his room. The jet-engine is actually from October 30, disappearing through a time corruption 28 days into the past. This catastrophic event distorts spacetime and creates a Tangent universe (TU). In the Tangent Universe, Frank-Bunny guides Donnie Darko on a 28 day journey through this alternate tangent dimension to save the universe

October 30, 1988 (TU) After his journey through the TU, which we witness in the movie, the jet-engine breaks off the plane (that his mother and sister are coincidentally on), and from the Tangent universe, Donnie using a wormhole sends it back to the Primary universe (PU), giving it a reason for being. The only object that went back in time from the tangent universe to the primary universe was the jet-engine. In doing so the tangent universe and everything in it is replaced by the primary universe, and time is reset

October 2 1988 (PU) Jet-engine appears in the Primary Universe (without explanation to everyone but the viewer), Donnie and everyone else are reset and repositioned. Primary-Donnie, back in bed, is killed by the Jet Engine.

02. The Philosophy of Time Travel


  • The Living Receiver
  • The Artifact
  • The Manipulated Living
  • The Manipulated Dead
  • Misc.

The Living Receiver:

Donnie, in this case, is chosen to guide the Artifact into position for its journey back to the Primary Universe. The Living Receiver is often blessed with Fourth Dimensional Powers. These include increased strength such as the axe in the statue, telekinesis, mind control, and the ability to conjure fire and water such as with the school and cunnigham's house. The Living Receiver is often tormented by terrifying dreams, visions and auditory hallucinations during his time within the Tangent Universe. Another example would be Donnie seeing Frank, amongst other things.

The Artifact:

When a Tangent Universe occurs, those living nearest to the Vortex (the residents of Middlesex) will find themselves at the epicenter of a dangerous new world or Tangent Universe. Artifacts provide the first sign that a Tangent Universe has occured. If an Artifact occurs, the Living will retrieve it with great interest and curiosity... Artifacts are formed from metal' in this case a jet engine. Artifacts returned to the Primary Universe are often linked in religious iconography (explanation of spiral symbol), as their appearance on Earth seems to defy logical explanation. Divine Intervention is deemed to be the only logical conclusion for the appearance of the artifact.

The Manipulated Living:

'The Manipulated Living are often the close friends and neighbours of the Living Receiver. They are prone to irrational, bazaar, and often violent behaviour. This is the unfortunate result of their task, which is to assist the Living Receiver in returning the Artifact to the Primary Universe. They will do anything to avoid oblivion'. Katherine Farmer is the best example of this, she is absolutely obsessed with Sparkle Motion because if they do not win the Talent Quest they will not fulfill their place in the "grand plan" and restore the Primary Universe. She is almost distraught when she has to ask Donnie's mother to go. Also explains why everyone is a little "kooky" throughout the whole film. In their own way they are terrified because the world is coming to an end. Human instinct is to ALWAYS try to survive, even if they don't know they are going to die.

Edmund Darko
Rose Darko
Elizabeth Darko
Samantha Darko
Katherine Farmer
Elisabeth Farmer
Jim Cunningham
Kenneth Monnitoff
Karen Pomeroy
Garry Cole
Cherita Chen
Seth Devlin
Ricky Danforth
Joanie James
Susan Bates
Sean Smith
Leroy Jones
Michael Carier
Linda Connie
Roberta Sparrow

The Manipulated Dead:

The Manipulated Dead are more powerful than the Living Receiver. If a person dies within the Tangent Universe, they are able to contact the Living Receiver through the Fourth Dimensional Construct.

Frank is able to travel through time to help Donnie, Gretchen helps him less obviously by being responsible for a series of coincidences that leads up to the scene at Grandma Death's and inevidebly the restoration of the Primary Universe.

Frank Anderson
Gretchen Ross

Miscellaneous Concepts:


When the Manipulated awaken from their Journey into the Tangent Universe, they are often haunted by the experience in their dreams. Many of them will not remember. Those who do remember the journey are often overcome with profound remorse for the regretful actions buried within their dreams, the only physical evidence buried within the artifact itself; all that remains from the lost world.

Karen Pomeroy, Ken Monnitoff (the only 2 teachers sympathetic to Donnie) and Cherita (a harmless lost soul who Donnie promises "everything will be better for someday" and her smile tells us it is) all awake happy and content. Jim Cunnigham wakes up from the TU crying, knowing he is a pedophile and a fake (he commits suicide not long after.) K Farmer knows she is not traveling her "righteous path" and is traveling the "path of fear" also, possibly that the man she has been in adoration of (JC) is a pedophile. Therapist – possibly for giving D placebos and not helping him better through therapy.

The Fourth Dimensional Construct

Water and Metal are the key elements of Time Travel. Water is the barrier element for the construction of Time Portals used as gateways between universes at the Tangent Vortex. Metal is the transitional element for the construction of Artefact Vessels.

Examples: The time-spear formations and the mirror/portal with which Donnie sees Frank in in his bedroom. The jet engine (The Artifact) is constructed of metal.

Ensurance Traps

A way of the Manipulated Dead ensuring that the Artifact is safely returned to the Primary Universe by the Living Receiver through various "coincidences". Frank's whole reason for appearing to Donnie; he is setting up the restoration of the Primary Universe. The chain of events leading up to the restoration of the PU is a series of these 'ensurance traps':

1. Donnie floods school and starts going out with Gretchen ("I'm glad school was cancelled… or we would never have had this conversation").

2. Donnie finds wallet ("Now you know where he lives") and burns down house.

3. Cunnigham's child-porn is exposed, which later keeps Karen at home for campaign, thus Donnie's Mum has to go away with the girls.

4. Frank shows D the "water spears" which he follows to the gun he later shoots him in the eye with.

5. Monitoff gives Donnie "Philosophy of Time Travel".

6. Sparkle Motion win contest and go away.

7. Gretchen's Mum leaves so that Gretchen will go to Donnie's house, and then to her death.

8. Donnie sends a letter to Roberta Sparrow, she is reading it when the red car comes speeding up the road, causing it to swerve to miss her, and to run Gretchen over.


03. Putting It All Together

When the engine from the Oct. 30 PU drops (into the past), the PU is gone, the TU is created. Similarly, when the engine in the Oct. 30 TU drops (when the LR/Donnie fails), the TU collapses, and the PU is reset, at the point we see in the beginning of the movie. This is the loop, and it continues until the engine does not drop in the TU because it is sent back to the PU by Donnie. Ending this repeating time-loop is directly how he saves the universe.

At the intro, Donnie is laughing as if he remembers something, specifically his own survival in the previous tangent loop, when looking at the sky. This is where the movie begins, and it is also where the tangent is reset and the loop begins when Donnie is NOT successful. Then the loop continues as we see when the engine drops into the past via a time corruption to create the tangent universe. On that previous previous quest , Donnie did not send the artifact back. When he does and the time loop finally ends, he dies alone as he always feared, but with a sense of completion and relief hence the laughter and the accomplishment of saving his family and friends and the entire universe because he is finally successful in ending the looping time paradox by preventing the jet-engine from landing where it already exists.

when the time loop finally ends, he dies alone -as he always feared to- but with a sense of completion and relief (hence the laughter) and the accomplishment of saving the world, along with his family and friends.