I have decided to discuss the motif of pop music in Donnie Darko and its’ significance in the development of the film. There are seven different late eighties pop songs used throughout the film, yet I am only going to focus on three of them. The songs that I feel best illustrate director Richard Kelly’s use of the pop music motif are the film’s opening sequence, which uses Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, by Joy Division, which is played at the Darko Halloween party, and lastly, ‘Mad World’, a Tears for Fears cover by Gary Jules, which is played at the end of the film, after Donnie has died. With these three examples, I intend to show that these late 80’s pop songs are used to show when Donnie is in non-dream states.
‘The Killing Moon’ starts playing after the film’s title comes up and Donnie walks off screen and a bright light washes over the picture on screen, dissolving to white. The first note of the song starts the moment that we see the white on the screen fade to a long shot of Donnie riding his bike. I believe that the song starts at this point for a number of reasons. It establishes an approximate time period; the late 80’s, with the audience, because of the way the song sounds. Ordinarily, this might be expecting a lot of the viewer; to connect pop music to an era, but this also indicates who the film was marketed towards, particularly 20 to 30-somethings. Syrupy overproduced pop music is linked to teen romantic comedies of the late 90’s. Similarly, dramatic and grandiose pop music with detached semi-distorted vocals is linked to the late 80’s. The way I see it Kelly knew who his audience was and assumed that they would associate Echo and the Bunnymen to the 80’s.
This song being placed in the beginning of the film shows that music is going to play an important role in the film. The way that the opening is edited literally creates a bond between Donnie and the music. The pedals on his bike are edited to be in sync with the music and the natural sounds of his bike coasting are edited into the actual song. This further cements the bond between Donnie and the music. Donnie’s father, Eddie, points the leaf blower at Elizabeth as she walks by and as the music swells, the natural sound of the leaf blower is edited into the scene. Most pertinently, as Donnie walks into the house after dropping his bike onto the ground, the music fades down and the sound quality changes from that of a compact disc to that of a radio. As Donnie opens the refrigerator door, the music is abruptly cut. The change in sound quality is seemingly done to transition Donnie back into real life, and to signify the actual start of the movie. The change of the song’s sound to radio quality shows that the song has actually been playing in real life and gives us our first hint that pop music will almost only be used in situations where Donnie is in non-dream states.
OH GOD. only 2.5 pages to go! and i have two more examples left. why did this take me so long to do? countdown til class = 1.5 hours!