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Explaining the Movie Daniel Isn't Real - because this movie has a number of possible ways that the ending could be interpreted. And none of them are good.
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Insert happy dance. It’s just so frustratingly difficult to find new movies worth talking about here at THiNC. “But Taylor, there are a metric butt-ton of movies in the theaters. Just pick one.” I hear you shouting at your iPhone. OK, so yeah, that isn’t how THiNC. rolls. We prefer our movies with a dollop of Indie flare to them, and we most look for movies that have had the confusion dropped on them by a dump truck. In other words, we like our movies to be mindjobs that don’t coddle the audience in any way. And those, my random internet friend, are rare. Which is why I’m dancing a jig that I will be explaining the movie Daniel Isn’t Real to you today.

What’s a “Daniel Isn’t Real” you wonder? Glad you asked. The movie tells the story of a troubled college freshman, Luke (played by Miles Robbins – son of Tim Robbins – and is known for his role in X-files), who happens to suffer a violent family trauma, which, in turn, resurrects his childhood imaginary friend, Daniel (played by Patrick Schwarzenegger – yes, that Schwarzenegger) to help him cope. If you must, feel free to partake in this trailer. But if you trust me at all – you’ll just go find the movie at your nearest movie theater (or, here’s a hint, you can also find it here, here, or here online) and watch it.

Daniel Isn’t Real most reminds me of two distinctly different films. The first is Right Said Fred. Hahahah. Come on, that is funny, even though I’m being serious. It’s such a great movie. Which tells the story of a young girl with an imaginary friend, that comes back when she is older. And the other movie that reminds me of Daniel Isn’t Real is the movie Bad Influence (with Rob Lowe and James Spader). Mix those two movies, and a secret twist to the affair, and you basically have Daniel Isn’t Real.

Explaining the Movie Daniel Isn't Real - because this movie has a number of possible ways that the ending could be interpreted. And none of them are good.

Daniel Isn’t Real Movie Explainer Walkthrough

Luke, as a child, stumbles across a murder scene, and due to the trauma, from there on out, Luke is accompanied by an imaginary friend. Luke and Daniel are so thick as thieves, that one day, Daniel convinces Luke that he should drop a vial’s worth of meds into a smoothie he is making for his mother (played by Mary Stuart Masterson – who was legendary in the back in the day cafe “Some Kind of Wonderful”). “It’ll give her super powers!” Daniel says. And because of that near miss, Luke’s mother forces him to lock Daniel away in a dollhouse, and to never let him out again. But after Luke starts having issues socially, and problems with his own mother’s mental instability, Luke lets Daniel back out of his dollhouse cage. And right away he gives Luke advice on how to shutdown his mother’s mental meltdown by telling Luke to put the scissors to his own neck. And sure enough, it stops her derailment.

And from there on out, Daniel starts introducing Luke to an ever escalating world of experience. (Girls. Parties. Etc.) But he also begins to simultaneously unleash an escalation of chaos in Luke’s life as well. It’s subtle at first, but it grows, and spins, and expands, as the movie progresses. Ultimately, the conflict begins to become the battle for control. And it becomes clear, that while Luke is sleeping, Daniel has been taking over and doing things. For example, after Luke and Cassie, the artist, have sex, it’s apparent that Daniel is jealous. So when Daniel takes over to have sex with Sophie, he is overpowering, and anything but kind to her. It even seemed to me almost as if he was raping her. But what do I know? It goes so far that Sophie maces him. But in this one area, we see the two different sides to Luke’s personality – or do we?

Becoming overwhelmed by what is now happening in his life, Luke decides to go and see John Thigpen’s father. John Thigpen is the psychopath who killed a number of people, and it is the murder scene that Luke walked up to as a young child. And it was during this chaos that Luke creates his MPD manifestation of Daniel. It was obvious that this trauma was really significant in Luke’s life. So, going back to talk with Thigpen’s father to try and understand what happened is important. And while he’s there, he sees drawings that John made of himself and a character named Daniel. And it’s then that we start to wonder, could it be that Luke was afflicted, tormented, by something, that entered him immediately after John Thigpen died in the assault? Because, if so, then the entire configuration of the equation has totally changed. Now, we seem to be talking about something way different here – something extraordinarily, inflammatorily, crazy… when, a minute ago, we were just talking about imaginary friends?!? Wow. Huh, it sort of feels like something significant shifted out from under us here.

Fast forward – and we get to the scene between Luke and his counselor wherein the counselor utilizes a Tibetan singing bowl in order to hypnotize him and chat with Daniel. And when Daniel comes out, he tells the counselor that Luke is weak, and is nothing without him. Better yet, he tells him that he is “just a traveler, searching for a home.” If this isn’t setting off alarm bells for you – then I got nothing for you. But we will get to what this might be momentarily, if you haven’t already figured it out.

Now, Daniel cranks Luke’s mouth wide open, and climbs inside, essentially taking over for Luke, and letting loose on all the chaos and vitriol he hasn’t been able to accomplish with Luke around. And when he does, he begins stabbing the counselor dead with the Tibetan dagger that was “sharp enough to your demons and your trauma.” And after he wakes, seeing the counselor dead, he heads out to find Cassie. Locked inside the dollhouse – Luke is running, and fighting to find a way out of his mental prison. All the while, he can hear Cassie struggling and protesting up above. Meanwhile, Daniel transforms his face from Luke’s back to his own, in front of Cassie, and the chaos continues. But eventually Luke breaks through a wall, jumps out into the abyss, and appears, back in reality, alongside Daniel. Both fully corporeal (I believe?).

The two begin fighting with swords and things get very bloody very fast. Cassie is pushed aside as they fight for final control. And when Luke is finally beaten… Luke grabs Daniel, and jumps off the top of the building they were fighting on. And when Cassie arrives at Luke’s body, she finds him broken, and dead. Cut to, Daniel in his king demon visage, standing above Luke’s dead body, and then he leaps downward towards Cassie.


Daniel isn’t Real Ending Explained

There are two main ways that this movie’s ending could go. (OK, there might be an infinite number in between these two explanations, but you get my drift.) Two distinct possibilities that explain what has been happening throughout this movie between Luke, Daniel, Cassie, and Sophie. Both perfectly explain the entirety of the movie. But one might handle the various nuances of the movie better than the other. We will see.

Explanation #1 – Luke’s MPDs

The first, and easiest to grasp possibility, is that Luke becomes afflicted by a strong Multiple Personality Disorder, manifesting itself in the person of Daniel. Luke times 2. It’s pretty obvious how this would go down. Luke wanders over to the scene of a mass murder, and the trauma of that experience causes his personality to split. And for the rest of the movie, everything we experience, in regard to Daniel, is a mental projection that we are seeing through Luke’s mind’s eye. Simple really. Really easy to understand what is happening with this theory.

Explanation #2 – Luke’s Demons

OK, this movie was geared towards explanation #1 100% for a large swath of the movie. Until, that is, Luke went and met with Thigpen’s father, and we learn that John also had “an imaginary friend” named Daniel. So, it could be a coincidence that both John, and Luke, had an imaginary friend named Daniel. Could be. But it seems like a little bit of a stretch.

What could that possibly mean though? John, the mass murderer, was tormented by something that drove him to murder numerous people? Or maybe it was Daniel who murdered everyone while John was subverted? And if this Daniel is the same Daniel, and he somehow walked out of John and into young Luke, maybe he is in danger.

A Quick Rabbit Trail into Demonology

Demons have different connotations and different meanings to different religions and cultures. For example, in Greek society, the term for demon ‘εὐδαιμονία’ literally means good-spiritedness… means happiness. Within the Roman world, the statues they worshiped were actually assumed to be inhabited by the gods or demons they represented. And within the Christian world, they saw them as a malevolent experience. They were minions of Satan and his dominion.

Even today, in many communities around the world (including in my house specifically) there remains a very healthy fear of demons. Feared because of their power to possess living things. In the Bible we see detailed accounts of Jesus interacting with powerful daemonics that have been taken over by hundreds (legions) of demons. Islam, as well, has a very real response to all things demon-esque. And many believe that these influences come from Zoroastrianism. Regardless, there are quite a number of religions and influences around the world that take a pause when it comes to spirits and demons alike.

But What About Daniel Isn’t Real?

Why can’t this movie just be about imaginary friends? Because it isn’t. That really isn’t an option here my friend. It’s either Luke is mentally fractured and suffering from a multiple personality disorder. Or, the boy is demon possessed. Really, these are your options. And we are given a number of details that basically proves that this latter, demon possession theory is the one that the writer and director originally intended. For example, as we have already mentioned, John and Luke’s “imaginary friends” are both named the same thing. Also, we see hint after hint that Daniel brings all manner of ill will with him… and desires to harm, and injure others. We also see, at the end of the movie, that Daniel, looking down on Luke’s crushed form, is without a place to live. (Not sure if you are familiar with the passage of scripture where Jesus casts out demons from a man, and they ask him not to send them out into the void, but rather to send them into the nearby pig herd. (Which then freaks out and runs headlong into the lake, and they all die.) But it seems as though, from that anyway, that demons aren’t fans of being homeless.) And then he dives downwards.

Wait, he dives downwards? What does that mean? Well, it means that now that Luke is dead, he has nowhere to live. And so, he dove into the nearest living being, which, would be Cassie. Are you ready for a Daniel isn’t Real 2 – starring Cassie? Because that is what I took away from that movie ending. And you? How do you think the movie ended? And what did it mean?

Edited by: CY

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6 Responses

  1. Lisa

    I just watched this last night and I would tend to agree that the movie is about an actual demon regardless of the way the movie tries to paint it otherwise in the beginning. We see his true face in the drawings and in the dollhouse. He seems to feed on broken people who would be easily manipulated such as Luke and the boy previous who committed the murders. Luke thought he was getting rid of him but in reality he just set him free to inhabit someone else. As Cassie also seems a bit broken I can see her being a prime next host.

  2. deKev

    Yes, agreed with Lisa that Daniel has got to be a real life demon who specializes in feeding on the mental illnesses of its victims and leading them astray. I also think the demon gets stronger when its victim gets er… crazier. I remember Luke as a kid was able to banish Daniel into the dollhouse and kept it under lock, figuratively and literally. One possible reason for that is that young Luke was not so “crazy” then and consequently the demon was not strong enough to resist Luke’s banishment.

    Now my question, does anyone have any idea what’s up with the granny’s dollhouse then? There’s zero background on it and yet it works like a MacGuffin (or is it a Checkov’s Gun) that features prominently in the final act.

    The movie is quite ok for me, not too groundbreaking or memorable, plotwise. Perhaps the filmmakers just wanted to dodge the bullet of shaming mental illnesses, and so decided to go with a demon for explaining the imaginary friend. I just wished the imaginary friend could have used some other more out-there explanations, like an entity made real, that’s literally, physically real, a manifestation of and by a person’s psychotic disorder.

    OTOH, the visual effects are excellent for a small budget film and IMHO performances are very good too, especially that of Miles Robbins, who I could’ve sworn is related to Casey Affleck, and not Tim Robbins, haha.

  3. Damon

    I thought it was about a demon soon as child Luke laid eyes on the dead body and then the random kid popped up. I don’t know why thats where my mind immediately took me, but it did. What made me start to change my mind was his mother suffering from mental illness. I wonder how that plays into this thing as a whole if its specifically about a demon. Maybe i’m looking too much into it which i usually do but what about how he looks, if we are to believe he just jumps form person to person, he takes on the same look every time based on the first guy’s drawings but he has the ability to change his appearance if he chooses to since he came to Luke initially as a child and in a sense grew up with him despite being locked away, but how do you “lock away” being possessed?. Also, wouldn’t Cassie now knowing his name and his signature look make her a bad selection as his next target or is it that they don’t have a choice in the matter? He kinda got “invited in” by child Luke, whereas she is an adult and knows what it is.

  4. Lisa

    Agreed, the performances were good but I also wondered about the dollhouse because it was never explained fully how one could imprison the demon at will. And now that Luke is out of the picture, what happens? Maybe the dollhouse could be any structure used to imprison the demon if the person is strong enough to believe it will? I also agree the writers seemed to be steering clear of “demonizing” mental illness with this one by steering away from it as the explanation in the end.

  5. Lisa

    He could just be using Cassie because she’s the only one available at the moment until he finds a more willing target but I think he picks his victims by their mental illness.


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