If you can confuse enough people with a time travel element in a less-popular film, you can probably get them to come watch a sequel. That seems to be the theory which led to the release of S. Darko, a time travel story following the life of the younger sister of the titular Donnie Darko, whose life was filled with objects, ghosts, and messages traveling from the future. Our analysis of that film was modestly favorable. Although this sequel repeats many of the tropes of the original, it does so in original ways that make it much more complicated. Thus we provide an analysis of Samantha's adventures in time travel.
In the end, it is a much more difficult and less satisfying movie than the original, although perhaps a bit less dark in its presented outcome, even though there is no clear path to reach that outcome.
Again we have a film (as we did with Butterfly Effect 2) for which a confusing original movie gained a cult following and so gave rise to a sequel. This time, though, the original Donnie Darko worked, given a few assumptions about what was happening. With many of those same concepts repeated in the sequel, we might expect it also to be a successful time travel story--but it is seldom so simple as that, and S. Darko has several twists that make it challenging to analyze.
Again we have a vortex through which a large object travels from some point in the future to some point in the past, coming "out of nowhere" to kill someone. We also have ghosts, but ghosts of people who are not yet dead who somehow travel to moments in time prior to their deaths to interact with specific individuals. Roberta Sparrow’s book becomes part of the story, and although she died years before her grandson wanders into the events in an important way. Again someone in the future sends a message to a past self, changing history.
Daveigh Chase reprises her role as Samantha Darko, Donnie’s younger sister now in her late teens, the only active character remaining from the original story, although her parents, older sister, and particularly deceased brother are mentioned. She has left her Virginia home with wild partying girlfriend Corey headed for Los Angeles, but their car breaks down near the small desert town of Conejo Springs (in Utah, based on Randy's vehicle tag). She has a copy of the book, The Philosophy of Time Travel by Roberta Sparrow, in which are tucked at least one picture Donnie drew of the rabbit-suited ghost of Frank and the beginnings of a fantasy story about a unicorn and a prince who happens to have the same name as one of people significant in the events of the story. Stranded in town, they meet several people and also discover that two young boys have vanished without a trace, making the townspeople suspicious of one of its members.
The problems begin fairly quickly, but it will not be easy to sort them into any orderly form. Even constructing an original history is a challenge.
To create an original history we must assume that nothing dependent on future events will happen in that first history on which that future is itself dependent. That is, before Billy's ghost can talk to Corey, Billy must die, even if we assume that the ghost then has the ability to travel to the past. Thus the history leading to Billy's death must occur before Billy appears in the past.
Corey and Sam break down, and Randy eventually arrives in his sports car to drive them to the garage. Sam sees Justin Hard Sparrow, known locally as Iraq Jack, climb the windmill outside town, and when Randy offers to fix their broken water pump, Sam and Corey take the only room at the hotel, and during the night a meteorite destroys the windmill, killing Jack. Since the meteorite killed someone, the property owner won't sell it to geekish nice guy Jeremy but instead gives it to the hotel keeper.
The girls meet most of the people in town, and become popular as we see in the film. Samantha's ghost does not burn down the church or blame it on the now deceased Jack. The girls have a spat over whether Corey and Randy should stop partying and get the car fixed so they can continue to Corey's father's club and become dancers, but the killer car has not yet been pulled out of the future so it does not arrive in the past and Randy leaves Sam to continue her walk. Perhaps the girls make up; perhaps they continue feuding for a while. Since Billy is probably not yet dead there is no ghost of Billy along the roadside, no hint of premonition of death.
(The timing of Billy's death is complicated. He is found dead on the afternoon of July 3rd, and Randy says he might have been alive had she found him a day sooner, which would be July 2nd. Billy's last appearance to Corey occurs on July 3rd, at 3:33 in the morning, which might or might not be before his death. Since ghosts in this story tend to appear prior to their moments of death we reasonbly conclude that Billy died later that morning. In any case, the accident occurred on the afternoon of July 1st, when Billy was almost certainly still alive.)
If we can assume that the effects of the meteorite take about the same time for the original victim as for Jeremy, by the 3rd the hotel manager will have clearly visible tumors and erratic behavior, but he is not that important in the lives of the girls. Although Jeremy likes Samantha, absent the emboldening effects of the meteorite he is unlikely to buy her the dress or ask her to the fireworks. Thus again she is not killed.
However, this all hinges on one very uncertain event: at what moment does the vortex open and draw the car out of the future into the past? Although Corey sees this happen, she has just passed through some kind of temporal gate herself, as she leapt from the middle of the night to the middle of some day, and we have no other link to connect that car to any point in time. However, we do have mention of the approaching "end of the world", which in the original film was related to the temporal vortex and might be so again this time. If we can identify when that happens, we might be able to make sense of our timelines.
On June 29th, 1995, at 3:33 in the morning, sleepwaking Samantha pulls a feather from inside the television, and her ghost then appears alongside Jack on the windmill. She tells him that the end of the world will come in four days, seventeen hours, twenty-six minutes, and thirty-one seconds. If we do the math based on exactly 3:33, this happens on July 3rd, 8:59:31 P.M. We can reasonably suppose that it is several minutes after that, but not later than perhaps ten o'clock.
That does not correspond with the daylight view of the open vortex, and thus the vortex cannot be the predicted end of the world. It must then correspond to the meteor shower that occurs when the fireworks were supposed to appear. That is its own timing problem, as it seems they are the Fourth of July fireworks, but Jeremy has Sam on the hillside to see them late on July 3rd. That's not impossible, just unexpected. July 4th fell on Tuesday in 1995, and thus it is possible that some communities had their Independence Day celebrations on Monday; the confusion arises because the banner promoting the celebration specifically says July 4th. It is possible that in his sickened state Jeremy did not realize he had the wrong day and Sam did not recognize the error; it is possible that the effects of the meteorite include that he has some kind of psychic ability and is anticipating the meteor shower, but has it confused in his mind with the fireworks. Notably, there are no fireworks; Jeremy raves about them being duds. It is implausible either that they were genuinely all duds or that the fireworks were cancelled in anticipation of an unexpected meteorite fall, thus it is most likely that Jeremy has confused the scheduled fireworks display with the time of the end of the world, which is the meteorite strike.
This, then, is a different concept of the end of the world. However, this gives us trouble concerning when the vortex opens. Assuming it to be the same kind of vortex as we encountered in the first film, it moves objects and possibly information from the future to the past. The past endpoint is July 1st, when the car appears from nowhere. Of the future endpoint, we have reason to believe that it is after the early morning hours of July 3rd, because that is when Billy last appears to Corey, but she leaps to daylight when she passes through the bars of the gate on the front of the mine. The question is, what day is it? When July 3rd repeats there is no indication of a vortex; but the meteor swarm is scheduled for that night, and it seems unlikely that on July 4th Frank Pickford would be towing a car along the road given the devastation of the night before.
Yet that appears to be our best answer. It seems once again the end of the world was highly overrated--a few small meteorite hits which in a sparsely populated locale like Conejo Springs would have kicked up some dirt and dust which settled quickly, leaving a few holes in the fields. The next day, July 4th, is business as usual, with Frank Pickford towing a car that becomes unhitched, rolls to a point where it gets pulled into the vortex, and vanishes from the world only to duplicate itself in the past. That is our recognized time travel event.
That also has the advantage that it can be consistent with our analysis of the previous film, in that everyone whose ghost appears in the past is dead before the vortex appears, and thus we can resolve everything with one temporal departure point. The arrival times are more complicated, but we will deal with these individually.
It may be inevitable that Darko fans reading this analysis will assert that it is entirely incorrect because everything is explained in Roberta Sparrow's book, The Philosophy of Time Travel. Such statements were made concerning the analysis of the original film. The answer then was simple: the film predated the publication of the supposed book which allegedly explained it. That is, the filmmakers created a movie in which reference was made to a book, then after the movie was popular they released on the Internet images of pages of that book--but the book did not exist prior to the movie. If a movie makes direct reference to the Koran or the Bible or Hamlet, such that the characters and plot are specifically influenced by these, then it makes sense that the filmmakers expect us to know something about these books and to evaluate the movie in relation to those realities; but if the book referenced does not exist when the movie is made, they cannot expect us to know or consider the contents of a book that did not exist until after the movie was released, even if it happens to be a book or a movie about time travel.
The issue is more complicated with the second movie, because the book was published, at least in electronic form, prior to the release of the second film, and anyone can read it free on the Internet. Thus it might be argued that the characters' understanding of the book is part of the explanation for the movie--an argument which fails, because the book we see in the movie is not the one published on the web. Roberta Sparrow's The Philosophy of Time Travel on the web is all of about six pages of drivel that explains nothing. The object in Samantha's suitcase is a hardcover book, and although it is certainly not a huge tome it clearly contains more text than what was published. The book as it exists in the movie is a fictional book, in that it does not really exist outside the movie; the essay posing as that book which exists in the real world is thus excluded from consideration as "parole evidence", material that is not included in the film itself and cannot be considered in evaluating the film. It is at best the filmmakers' effort to put the meaning they wanted on the film they originally made, an opinion to be compared to what they actually put on the screen (we do not analyze what filmmakers intended to say but what they actually said), and as such might be interesting, but does not dictate how we understand time travel either generally or within the film.
More simply, just because a fictional character within the story wrote a book included in the story does not mean that the book's explanation of time is correct, and especially does not mean that the Internet essay posing as a copy of the fictitious book is correct. The existence of such a book within the movie is significant, but the contents of the essay beyond what the movie gives us are not.
Tucked in her copy of the book, Samantha has a picture Donnie drew that is a rather frightening image of Frank's ghost in the rabbit suit from the first film. It becomes important in the story, because her ghost has Jack make a metal version of the mask as a helmet and use it somehow in the process of changing the past. The image is explained simply as "Donnie liked to draw," but that explanation fails, as careful consideration of events will show.
To recap briefly the original story, there was an original history in which events in Donnie's life brought him to the point where he shot and killed Frank, who was wearing a rabbit costume for Halloween. The next morning a temporal vortex happened to rip an engine off a jet and toss it back about a month, where it was headed directly toward Donnie's bedroom--but the rabbit-suited ghost of Frank reached the room first and led Donnie away to the golf course, so he survived. That led to what was a bad month, culminating again in Donnie shooting Frank and the vortex taking the jet engine (this time killing Samantha and Mrs. Darko, who were aboard it)--but Donnie this time sent a message telepathically to himself, getting himself to ignore Frank and stay in bed, and so was killed by the jet engine. That created yet another history, in which many of those terrible things did not happen (including that Samantha was not killed on that jet), Frank did not get shot, and so the ghost of Frank did not travel back to tell Donnie to leave his room and history stabilizes as Donnie dies in bed.
When did Donnie draw the picture of Frank Samantha has tucked in her book?
In what we take to be the only history of the world that exists after all changes have resolved, Frank was never shot, and never came to Donnie as a ghost; and thus the Donnie who died in bed that morning, the only Donnie who ever lived in a history that has not been erased, never saw him and could not have drawn his picture.
Further, that Donnie did not receive any message from the future, because there was no version of himself in the future to send it; thus he cannot have received the distorted image of the rabbit from his future self.
Even were we to assume arguendo that Donnie, lying in bed moments before the engine killed him, had some vision of Frank in the rabbit suit--Frank who will not be shot and thus will not have a rabbit-suited ghost, who will not travel to the past to appear in Donnie's room--Donnie would have had to have leapt out of the bed, grabbed paper and pencil, and sketched furiously for the few seconds of life remaining to him. Then somehow in the devastation that killed him and destroyed his room, that sketch must have survived. Yet we know that in his last moments he lay in bed, and died without having left the sheets.
There can be no picture. Even another time travel event would have trouble bringing an image from a history that has been undone and so never was. No picture means Samantha knows nothing of the rabbit image, and does not pass the information to Jack. A significant part of the weirdness of the film has been undone because of something that could not have happened before the beginning of the movie.
It does not, however, impact the time travel elements within the movie; it only means that we have to exclude the nonsense about the rabbit mask.
The logic of the first film was such that everything that traveled to the past left from the same moment in the future, arriving at the same moment in the past and moving at different rates to reach target points--thus Frank's ghost reaches Donnie before the jet engine, but Donnie's message to himself arrives before Frank's ghost, but there is only one time travel event in which all three of these eventually travel. That assumption faces more difficulties this time, because one of the ghosts is seen significantly prior to the moment of the arrival of the car. However, that ghost cannot have departed before the arrival of the car, because that person is still alive at that moment. Thus the first history ends the moment the car is pulled from the future, and at this point we have no reason to conclude that this is not the moment of departure for all our time travel events thus far. We are assuming that the vortex opened on July 4th, sometime in the middle of the day.
At this point, there is only one ghost. Billy died on July 3rd or 2nd, so he is able to catch the vortex on the fourth and travel back to make his first appearance on July 1st, simultaneously with the appearance of the car, again suggesting that he travels to the past using the same vortex as the car, and that there is at this point only one time travel event.
Samantha is walking outside town when Randy and Corey appear in the sports car. Samantha does not want to stay in Conejo Springs and does want to continue to Los Angeles to start her new life, so she challenges why Randy is partying with Corey instead of fixing the car. Corey does not want to admit that she lied (or perhaps exaggerated) about the potential employment on the west coast, so she picks a fight. Randy tells Corey to get out of the car, which she does. Then as Sam crosses the street Corey sees Billy's ghost on the other side, and as Randy pulls out the car from the vortex hits Randy's car where Corey had been seated, and Samantha is killed in the wreckage.
The first altered history must reach the July 4th vortex. Jack is dead, and the meteorite was given to the hotel, where the hotel owner is getting sick. Corey sees Billy's ghost again, and he takes her through the gate of his prison into the future--a time travel event, but one with no repercussions, as she changes nothing in the past but only vanishes for a while, leaving her things in her room. The hotel owner might wonder whether he should sell the contents of the room to cover the bill, since one girl is dead and the other seems to have run without paying, but because of the death of Samantha he will probably delay in the hope that someone can contact her family about her possessions. On July 4th Frank is towing the car that comes off the hitch and sails into the vortex headed back to the first, along with Billy, and now also Corey's telepathic message to herself to tell Sam the truth about Los Angeles.
The ghost of Samantha is not part of this trip; the girl killed by the car is not the one whose ghost haunts Iraq Jack. That gives us a simpler story at this point, as Corey changes history with her message to herself.
We do not know how Corey is able to alter what she did on July 1st, but we already know from the first film that someone within sight of the future end of the vortex can send a message to his earlier self, and regretting the death of her friend Sam, Corey does this. It does not create a different anomaly, because both the message and the car depart from the future and arrive in the past together. However, it creates two other problems.
The big problem is that Corey has killed herself. That is a problem because once she does this, she cannot do it--a grandfather paradox without the generational complications. In this history, Samantha is not killed by the car, but Corey is. Samantha mourns the death of her friend, but has no clear way to leave town immediately and no clear destination. Billy's ghost does not appear to anyone other than Corey, and with her dead he cannot lead her to the future to send the message to herself. Thus she never sends the message, and if she never sends it, she never receives it, and we have an infinity loop. If she lives, she sends the message that causes her death, and if she dies she never sends the message and thus lives. Our story ends here.
Some will attempt to resolve this with some version of an understanding of Niven's Law, that once a time traveler changes the past the past remains changed even if the time traveler never makes the trip to change it. Apart from the logical problems here, the film later relies on the notion that if you eliminate a temporal departure you eliminate the arrival--that is, in the final history of the world Corey will not receive the telepathic message regarding talking to Samantha because the past has changed, but that must mean that it did not arrive because it was never sent, and therefore a message never sent will never arrive, exactly the situation we have here.
The smaller problem is somewhat awkward, something of a butterfly effect problem, which we will address next.
We said that there was a big problem and a little problem created by Corey's telepathy to the past. The big problem was that in causing her own death she prevents herself from causing her own death (creating an infinity loop). The little problem is more difficult to see, but it has to do with the timing of events.
We assume that the vortex is an impersonal unintelligent phenomenon. It is not trying to kill anyone; it just happens to do so. In the first film, Donnie escapes death because he gets out of the path of the jet engine in time; he is killed on the repeat because he chooses to stay, and then because he simply does not know to leave. We do not suppose that the jet engine was aimed at him; he simply crossed its path at the right moment to die. The very fact that he was saved the first time proves that he could be saved. So, too, we assume that the vortex dumps the car on the road with enough momentum to deliver a fatal impact, and that Samantha happens to step in its path when it impacts Randy's car. Then on the replay Corey changes things such that Samantha is not in the path of the car--but Randy's car still is, and this time Corey is in it. Yet the conversation Corey has with Samantha in this rewritten history is considerably longer than the original conversation. It is not a matter of offsetting events by mere seconds, but by enough time that the killing car ought to have sailed past them while they were conversing.
Both scenes begin with a truck crossing the overpass, and fourteen seconds later (by the DVD time stamps) Randy's car stops alongside Sam, and the conversation begins. In the first scene, the crash occurs one minute fourteen seconds later; in the second, it is one minute forty seconds--twenty-six seconds longer. Why is the car late? Perhaps the conversation is truncated--but if so, it is the second scene which is missing bits, making the delay longer. The timing is clearly inconsistent.
It is as if Billy had decided someone had to die, and directed the car to hit Samantha, then instead to hit Corey. But if Billy were directing it, the fact that Corey changed the timing of events should not have caused Billy to change his target. Billy would need a reason to target Corey--the only person who can see him--instead of Samantha. Of course, Samantha is the one who will find his body; but he cannot know that in the history in which Corey lived and Samantha died, so that can't be a motivation for making that change.
Apart from this, it suggests that the vortices are caused and controlled by the ghosts, a theory that will not work in the first movie: Frank is dead before the vortex first appears, but Donnie changes history such that Frank is not killed, and that would make it impossible for the vortex to appear, and create an infinity loop there, as Donnie's death means Frank lives and does not create the vortex and Donnie lives, which means that Frank dies and creates the vortex. Certainly it's possible that the rules are different in this movie than in the other; but the connection of Samantha and Donnie as well as the Roberta Sparrow book mean this should be understood to be the same universe, following the same rules.
So we are stuck with a timing problem, that the car that missed Samantha would also have missed Corey.
Of course, she dies for story reasons, and so that Samantha can live to die another day.
In the first temporal anomaly we see, Sam's ghost saves Jack's life; thus we expect that she will be killed, and are not surprised when the car hits her.
That, though, is the wrong ghost.
The ghost that appears to Jack is always wearing the gold sequined dress from the dress shop window; Samantha has not even noticed it at this point. That Samantha is killed while watching the meteorite shower. Thus before Samantha can appear to Jack, she must die in the accident, be restored to life by Corey's change to history, then die again at the hands of Jeremy. That poses yet another problem.
Nice shy Jeremy is going through changes because he has the meteorite that destroyed the windmill. However, that meteorite will kill Jack unless Sam intervenes. We know that if Jack dies, the owner of the windmill will not sell the meteorite to Jeremy; he will give it to the hotel manager. It is doubtful that Jeremy would be so bold as to buy Sam the dress, invite her to the hillside, or lose his temper and kill her, absent the effects of the meteorite. Jeremy kills Sam because he has the meteorite, and he has the meteorite because Sam's ghost saved Jack, but Sam's ghost can only save Jack if Jeremy kills her. We have a predestination paradox, an uncaused cause, a series of events which will only happen if they happen, and therefore cannot happen.
This is accepted in fixed time theory; causal loops can occur because history need not be rational; this, though, is not a fixed time movie, as more than once history is changed. We must find a replacement theory solution, finding an alternate cause of the chain. The only plausible explanation is that someone bought that dress for Sam, and then killed her in it on the night of the meteorite strike. We have two candidates for this. One is that Jeremy does it, that the effects of the meteorite made him sick and intensified his confidence but that he would have done the same even without being exposed to it. The other is that the hotel manager, who has the meteorite in the original history, is emboldened to take an interest in Sam, notices that she likes the dress, gives it to her, takes her out, and gets upset when she comments on the rashes and tumors developing from the meteorite exposure. Either of these will result in Samantha's ghost appearing in that dress.
Yet there is another problem with her death. Although it is a dark scene, it is inescapable that she dies because when she falls she hits her head on the metal rabbit mask Jack made. We previously observed that the picture on which this mask is based cannot exist, but even if we ignore that (after all, can we know whether a ghost can have a copy of a picture that never existed?) the mask cannot exist in this iteration of history. Jack certainly will not make this mask without direction from Sam's ghost; Sam will have no ghost unless she hits her head on this mask. Thus her relatively improbable death by striking her head on the mask becomes an even more improbable death by hitting the ground. It is not impossible, but it strains credibility at this point.
There is also another problem with Samantha's ghost, in the issue of when she appears.
The first time travel event in S. Darko in the temporal order of the story (as opposed to the sequential order we are seeking to recreate) is the arrival of the Samantha ghost on June 29th, to save Jack. This gives us a new anomaly, but raises an issue about the ghosts: Does Samantha's ghost await the vortex and then travel through it to a time three days before the car emerges to kill her, or does she have the ability to travel from the moment of her death to the earlier time herself?
When she arrives on June 29th, she leads Jack out of the path of the meteorite, which is something she would know. The vortex arrives during the day after she is killed, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that the vortex gave her the means to travel to the past. This, though, poses an interpretive challenge for our understanding of how time travel works. In the original film, Frank's ghost reached Donnie before the jet engine, but within minutes, possibly seconds, barely enough time to remove Donnie from the path of a stratospheric descent. Billy's ghost likewise did not arrive sufficiently before the car appeared as to cause us to believe he reached the past first, only that he reached the scene of the disaster first. This time, though, Samantha's ghost contacts Jack about two and a half days before the car arrives. Thus if she used the vortex as her means of travel, she somehow managed to travel further into the past than the car, Billy, or Corey's message. That confuses any effort to understand how the vortex works; but we do not understand how the vortex works as it is, so there probably is no particular reason to assume that a ghost could not ride it to a different point than the material objects it moves. The alternative would be that ghosts, and perhaps all ghosts, have the ability to move to moments in the past when they were alive, and to interact with humans in those pasts. This ghostly ability appears to be a very rare phenomenon, such that having two such ghosts do so in this time and place is a remarkable coincidence. If all ghosts, or even all who are murdered, have the ability to travel to the past and interact with persons so as to change history, then the sheer numbers of them would make it impossible for history to stabilize. It is better to assume that the ghosts are taking advantage of an independent phenomenon, the vortex.
More problematic is that if Samantha can travel to the past at will, the odds that she did not leave at the same instant as the car means we would have a separate anomaly and more complex histories to unravel; indeed, it also means that Billy probably did not leave at the same instant as the car, and we would have to resolve (with little evidence) the order of their departures both temporally and sequentially. The anomalies are simpler if they share a future end, and we have good reason to credit the vortices as the means of time travel for the ghosts as well as the object, so we will accept that Samantha's ghost manages to use the vortex to travel to several days earlier. In this regard, it is noteworthy that in the film Samantha's ghost appears to Jack at a moment after her death, to release him from jail, and since Jack is going to undo her death that cannot occur in any history in which she does not die.
Both ghosts pose another puzzle as well, though. In the original film, there is a connection between Donnie and Frank's ghost because Donnie is going to kill Frank, and thus there is some twisted sense to Donnie being the only person who can see Frank. However, the only connection between Samantha and Jack is that they see each other when Jack climbs the windmill, and the only connection between Corey and Billy is that Corey sees his picture on the wall of the cafe and is dating his older brother Randy. Yet only Jack sees Sam and only Corey sees Billy, and no effort is made to explain why. It can't be said to be a mistake in the film, though; it is simply something that does not appear to have any rational explanation that just happens to happen that way, taxing our credibility further.
Despite the similarities, there are some significant oddities in this film that might cause us to wonder about events in the first. In particular, they are about the vortex and the car.
We don't know where Frank found that car; perhaps it was a junker in the desert he hauled for parts. It becomes unhitched, and then is sucked into the vortex, emerging a couple days earlier.
It is that aspect of being sucked into the vortex that is confusing.
In the original film, the vortex was an anomaly high above the ground, and the jet in which Samantha and her friends happened to be flying passed too close and was torn apart by it, one piece being hurled to the past, the rest scattered across the countryside. The National Transportation Safety Board probably concluded that it was extreme turbulence, although we are told they never did figure out how that engine got where it did. Yet we readily accept that some kind of destructive rip in timespace destroyed a jet that passed too close and tossed a piece into the past.
This vortex is different. It picks up a car that happens to be rolling freely on the ground, thousands of feet below, and draws it slowly and deliberately into itself; it attracts nothing else--not the watching Corey, not the nearby tow truck, nothing. It is a very different event, in that regard.
There is also a significant question concerning what happens to that car after the crash. This was an automotive fatality in which a driverless car collided with in the first instance a pedestrian and in both a passenger vehicle, and it will be investigated. The police will find the car at the scene--where else can it go? We have every reason to believe it is physically present, transported from the future, and no reason to believe that the vortex removed it after the collision. Certainly the jet engine which crashed into Donnie's bedroom in the first film did not vanish; why should the car?
Assuming that the car was still there, the police would have followed a pretty standard procedure, attempting to determine how the crash happened, and then calling a local towing company to remove the wrecked vehicles from the scene. In tiny Conejo Springs, that means calling Frank Pickford, who would remove the car to his storage lot and hold it for a period of time in case the owner claimed it, and then would claim it as scrap to pay for his services towing and storing it. However, that also means that on July 4th when he finds an old abandoned car somewhere in the desert, it is going to look terribly familiar. He will have catalogued the car from the crash, recording its vehicle identification number along with make, model, year, and color, and seeing a car so very like it is going to get him to look. Of course the second car can't be the first car, but what are the odds of two identical old cars appearing unclaimed so close to each other? He already has this car on the lot; he is towing the same car again. He would certainly notice.
Of course, he never gets them next to each other, because he loses the "second" one on the way home as it is pulled into the vortex. But he will have checked the numbers all the same, and he will know well before he reached his garage that something strange happened.
Although it is improbable in the extreme for Samantha to have died on the hilltop in either the original history or the history in which Corey saves her (and impossible in the history in which she is hit by the car), and the improbabilities rise if we want her in that dress, and impossible that she should hit her head on the rabbit mask, for the story to continue at all Sam has to be killed on the night of the meteor swarm. This initiates the ghost we see.
That ghost immediately frees Jack from jail; but in this history, Jack is not in jail because he died on the twenty-ninth when the meteorite hit him. The fact that we see her do that in the film, though, means she has the ability to appear after her death, and also increases the likelihood that we are correct that she uses the vortex to reach the past.
Samantha now makes a major change to the past: she saves Jack. This changes everything. Since Jack did not die, Frank has no qualms about selling the meteorite to Jeremy instead of giving it to the hotel owner. That begins the changes in Jeremy.
Now we hit a problem. The first time history changed, the car killed Samantha, and as that history ended Corey, aided by Billy's ghost, sent a message to herself to save Sam and kill herself. We saw that this creates an infinity loop, because if her older self causes the death of her younger self, her older self ceases ever to have existed and cannot do that. That, though, hits us here in a slightly different way: did she save Sam or not? On the one hand, she sent a message which left from the future at the same instant that Sam's ghost left; on the other hand, it was not this future.
Logically, if Corey sends the message one second after Sam departs from the future, her act is "not yet erased" by Sam's departure--the telepathic message comes from an as yet unaltered future, which will not be altered until after history resolves up to that moment. Similarly, if Corey sends the message one second before Sam leaves, then the sending of the message is erased, and the message can never arrive.
Although it is a difficult point in replacement theory, it seems that the moment of departure must be rewritten as soon as it is reached. Were that not the case, then with each iteration there would be an additional time traveler--the first traveler leaves from the end of the original history and arrives in the past, and then when he reaches the departure point he leaves again, erasing his previous departure.
That means that although Sam's ghost is wearing the sequined dress, Sam is once more killed by the car. Her ghost's departure is not erased until we reach that moment, and meanwhile the surviving Corey will take Billy's advice and send her telepathic message back to save Sam--but on that iteration, Sam's sequined ghost cannot make the trip. We thus have no history in which Jack survives and Corey is killed. Our story has to end here, trapped in a complex interwoven infinity loop, as Sam can only be killed on the hill if Corey dies, and Corey does not die if Sam is killed on the hill.
Of course, the filmmakers did not realize they had made such a blunder, and continued telling the now impossible story; so we will overlook the blunder, believe another impossible thing in this film (on top of all the improbable ones we have swallowed so far), and continue analyzing what remains.
After Samantha's ghost saves Jack from the meteorite, she directs him to do a few other things. The making of the rabbit mask we have already discussed. There is also the odd matter of the burning of the church.
This is challenging from several directions. We are fairly certain that Pastor John is behind the disappearance of Billy and the other boy (apart from the annoying fact that the creators of the Darko series seem to believe that all crusaders for religion or morality are secretly perverts and criminals), but Sam suspected the jealous and zealous Trudy, and it's not clear she thought otherwise when Trudy made the observation that John's bracelet was missing. We might thus conclude that the burning is retribution for Billy's death--except that on the night of June 30th Billy almost certainly is not yet dead. Further, unlike the fire in the previous film, this fire did nothing to uncover the villainy afoot, instead increasing the local prejudice against Jack.
That is another odd point. Samantha insists that Jack come with her to the church, and then Sam burns the church. It is not that Jack imagines Sam did it--Pastor John is certain that no ordinary fire could have done that damage, and we see Samantha releasing the flames that engulf it. Why, then, does she bring Jack there, if she is going to do it herself?
The most plausible explanation is that ghosts in this universe are limited in their existence to very short distances from the specific individuals they haunt. Billy never appears but that Corey can see or hear him; Frank the Rabbit never appears but within Donnie's space. So it may be that Samantha literally cannot go to the church unless Jack goes there, because in some way she is anchored to him and can only appear where he is. Thus she directs him quite literally to take her to the church, so that she can burn it.
It is peculiar that Jack would lose his dog tags here. It is the function of such tags that they stay with the body, no matter what kills a man, so that his body can be identified. (They are issued in pairs, so that if the body is found in the field one tag can be removed to report the death and the other left to identify the body.) However, it seems to be the nature of these ghosts that whatever they do makes things worse for the ones they haunt, so the improbable discovery of Jack's dropped dog tags in the wreckage from the fire is part of that aspect of making his life worse.
If we ignore the Corey problem (that if Sam lives, Corey is not alive to send a message to herself keeping Sam alive), everything advances now to the night of the meteorites. Jeremy buys Sam the dress, and she hits her head on the mask and dies when he gets angry. At this point, Jack picks up the mask and somehow does something he does not understand and the movie does not explain, but he creates a new anomaly--and the repercussions of this are severe.
We previously raised the question of whether Samantha released Jack from jail at the moment she died, and then traveled to the past on the vortex, or whether she waited for the vortex, did everything else, and then after the moment of her death released Jack from jail. What we observed then was that Jack can only be in jail if he is alive, and he can only be alive if the ghost of Samantha travels back to save him, and thus that in the first history in which Samantha is killed on the hilltop there is no imprisoned Jack to release, so she must first go back and save him so that he can be in jail for her to release.
Now, as she reaches the moment of her own death, her ghost visits Jack in jail and sends him to use the rabbit mask which caused her death to work the magic that will undo it. Yet for him to do that, he must already have made the mask and she must already understand that he did so at her direction. Thus it seems probable that Samantha's ghost will travel to the past first, then as the future arrives she will know that the mask has been made and will direct Jack to use it.
This is not certain. After all, in a sense she knows the mask was made--Jack showed it to her, and she hit her head on it when she fell. She did not then understand why it was made, but apparently ghosts automatically understand the nature of the supernatural immediately upon their deaths, so it is within the realm of possibility that she does it first. That, though, introduces a different problem. Jack is about to cause a new anomaly. We do not know how he does it, but he sends a message to himself to ignore Sam's ghost, or somehow prevents Sam's ghost from reaching him, so that when the meteorite hits he is on the windmill. This restores the original history in which he dies. It also means that in the next iteration of history he is not in jail to be released, and he does not take the necessary actions to change the past. Also, in the history he creates, Samantha does not die, but instead leaves Conejo Springs to return home. Thus there will be no new ghost of Sam releasing Jack from jail at the end of this history; neither of them will exist.
What that means is that we have first a history in which the mask does not exist and Jack is not in jail, in which Samantha's ghost must use the vortex to travel back save Jack's life; second a history in which Jack lives, Samantha's ghost encourages him to create the mask, then Sam dies when her head strikes it, then her ghost releases him from jail so he can use the mask as intended; then third a history in which Jack dies from the meteorite strike and Samantha does not die so there is no ghost, but also no Jack in jail. Thus the only history in which Samantha can release Jack from jail is the one in which she has directed him to create the mask; she does not exist in the history in which he uses it, except as a time traveler from the previous history. That is, there is no new ghost of Sam if the old ghost of Sam does not prevent Jack's death. The only time Sam's ghost can release Jack from jail is at the end of the history in which she has spared Jack. Thus she must travel to the past first, save Jack, get him to make the mask, release him from jail, and direct him to use the mask to change history.
If your head is spinning, that's not really surprising. It still does not make sense, and gets more complicated yet.
We have attempted to divine the chain of events that lead to Samantha dying, Samantha dying again, her ghost traveling to the past, Iraq Jack a.k.a. Justin Hard Sparrow being saved, the mask being created, Samantha's ghost releasing Jack from prison, and Justin donning the mask to change history. It is not possible to get that far; if Samantha dies, Corey will save her by dying instead, but if Corey dies she cannot save Samantha. Still, ignoring all the other problems, we come to a point at which Jack dons the mask and creates another anomaly.
This anomaly is unique, because it is clearly not related to the vortex. That is, we know that the killer car was carried to the past through the vortex, and we know that when Corey sent her message to herself in the past she first leapt to the time and place of the vortex to send it; we have good reason to believe Billy's ghost, appearing at the same time as both the car and the message, also waited for and used the vortex, and no reason to believe that Samantha's ghost did otherwise. However, the vortex occurs over the city in bright daylight, and Jack creates his anomaly in the middle of the night, and thus Jack's anomaly is unrelated to those caused by the vortex. That becomes its problem.
Part of its problem is that it undoes itself. We have an infinity loop because if Jack successfully alters the past he dies, and if he dies he does not successfully alter the past. We thus are stuck between the two histories, in one of which Samantha's ghost saves him and he uses the mask to create the other history, preventing that salvation, dying in the past, and not being able to change the past, restoring the history in which he is saved.
Niven's Law might be thought relevant here, but it would be extremely difficult to explain how Jack's message to himself negates the arrival of Samantha's ghost. The argument would be that since history never reached the moment in which Samantha's ghost catches the vortex and leaves for the past (which we have placed on July 4th) she never arrives in the past. The problem, though, is exactly the reverse of the one which prevents Corey from sending the message to herself: since history never reaches the moment of departure, that moment of departure is never erased, and the arrival from the future is thus not erased either. For Jack to prevent Samantha's ghost from departing, he would have to keep history alive until the moment of the vortex (or later) and prevent the ghost from making the departure at that moment.
This thus distinguishes Jack's demise from that of Donnie in the original film, because when Donnie died he eliminated Frank's ghost, and thus history could stabilize into a version in which the ghost never arrived and Donnie died in bed. In this case, Jack does not eliminate the arrival of the ghost intent on saving him; he only eliminates whatever it is he did to prevent himself from being saved. Thus again, if he is saved he will die, and if he dies he will be saved, and we are stuck in the infinity loop.
We have no idea how Jack's magic manages to change history in the more critical way--that is, getting Samantha to abandon Corey and head home. We are supposed to believe that because Sam leaves, neither she nor Corey will die. It is, however, irrelevant, because history will never reach the point from which their time travels are initiated and thus their departures will never be replaced, and so their arrivals will never be erased. Even were we to suppose that Sam does not stay in Conejo Springs, on the evening of July 3rd Jack would not work the history-changing magic, and so Sam's ghost having departed from the July 4th that will never come arrives on June 29th and saves Jack, while whatever Jack did to get Sam to leave will have been erased and Sam will stay, first to be killed by the car, then to be killed by someone on the hilltop.
They want it to have a happy ending; they got an impossibility.