Friday, July 30, 2004


If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time longer than a week (or maybe even just a week), it’d come as no surprise that I’m a very big fan of the movie Donnie Darko. I’ve seen the movie about 30 times and even bought a DVD player largely so I could watch the movie at home with commentary and deleted scenes because I wanted to understand the movie better. Just like a boy who doesn’t really like to talk – you become obsessed. What are they hiding? What can you unlock? What about the bigger picture of this are you missing? It’s like Jordan Catalano syndrome, only I feel like Donnie Darko is deeper that my high school crush. And yes, you’ve just entered another Donnie Darko related post. A very long one at that.

One of the things that really drew me the most into Monde Donnie Darko was the accompanying music: Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon,” Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,”Duran Duran’s “Notorious,” The Church’s “Under the Milky Way,” and Gary Jules’ version of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World,” to name a few.

For the longest time I just thought that these songs were merely put in there to put a time context to the movie and because they were really fucking cool songs. In retrospect, I realize that these songs were actually plot devices serving as clues to what’s going on in the movie and to maybe help the viewer get a better sense of what everything' means. Until Scott sent me a link to a Salon article about the movie I still hadn’t figured things out. So before reading on, I suggest you go to that article.

I warn you, I will be super insane about this, so you might not follow because I’m not sure my thoughts are totally flushed out to the point of making sense.

[EDIT: I saw the directors cut last night (I unfortunately missed the first 4 minutes, which meant that I missed one of my favorite scenes, which also means I missed the fact that they changed the song they used in the opening scene. It was no longer "The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen. Now it's INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart" and apparently the song worked really nicely. I guess I'll go see it again tomorrow so I can see this for myself. Anyway, there are some added comments to this post that I thought about since last night -- and since seeing the directors cut, so i'm putting those notes in red, just like this.]

Echo and the Bunnymen – “The Killing Moon”

The movie, I found, nearly appears to be written almost as if the screenwriter had been given an assignment to create a movie based on a song, and that song is “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen. Must I point out the fact that Donnie Darko spends the whole movie following around and listening to the advice of a dude in a bunny costume? (BTW – apparently NIN’s “Hurt” inspired the movie Fight Club.)

“Under blue moon I saw you” begins the song. The blue moon represents a rare moment, much like the rare moment when something happens in the universe that causes there to be two universes. A freaky occurrence in space, the world or universe will collapse and destroy itself. Nature killing itself.

“Up in your arms too late to beg you or cancel it though I know it must be the killing time, unwillingly mine” - Donnie, for the first time (a rare moment a la a blue moon), experiences love but also needs to face the fact that he must destroy and kill everything to save everything. It’s something he doesn’t want to do but needs too, nearly against his will.

”Fate, up against your will. Through the thick and thin, he will wait until you give yourself to him.” -- OK, the first part of this line can be interpreted as how Donnie must face his fate as the inevitable and unlikely superhero – a fate nearly all super heroes feel sort of unhappy with. The second part of that line can be used with two reasons: 1. Donnie’s girlfriend Gretchen most likely gives her virginity to Donnie (or at least takes his) and he needs to have that in his life to feel complete and then feel alright and not alone about destroying the parallel universe so he can save the real one, and 2. Donnie is giving himself to God by following through with what fate had left him with.

”In starlit nights I saw you. So cruelly you kissed me. Your lips a magic world, your sky all hung with jewels. The killing moon, will come too soon.” -- What kisses Donnie cruelly under starlit night is the kiss of death for his love, Gretchen. The lips forcing him into a magic, parallel world. The hung part is obviously referencing his ginormous cock.

”La la la la la...” -- the nonchalantness Donnie eventually feels about the whole thing when he’s sat in his bed laughing. OK, I’m stretching with that one.

[EDIT: This song doesn't open the film anymore. Instead it's what you hear just after Donnie and Gretchen have sex for the first time. It works pretty well in that scene as well since it's got the whole concept of there being a killing moon and Donnie kills Frank shortly after while they're in the twilight. It also pushes the "fate up against your will" concept of how Donnie is just doing what fate has called for him to do -- which is DESTROY THE TANGENT UNIVERSE]

Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

OK, whatever Donnie is feeling in this movie can be summed up best by this song. His love for Gretchen, his short, yet undying love for her, causes him to destroy everything. It tears them apart because she follows him to the cellar door and gets killed by Frank. It tears them apart because when Donnie is given a second chance to live and repeat everything that went wrong for a chance to be in love with Gretchen again – or maybe not even repeat for definite but face the chance of repeating the fate that leads to Gretchen’s death, he chooses to off himself so she might live. At least he got to live a life for a short time when he was in love and knew that someone loved him back. He’d rather die than not feel that again. His love for her, tears them apart. Unlike “The Killing Moon,” it’s about “Love Will Tear Us Apart”’s feeling, rather than the lyrics.

Duran Duran – “Notorious”

Not my favorite Duran Duran song, but I’m assuming the reason it was used (if the director/music supervisior was as meticulous about the song selection as I’m making them out to be) was because of this line:
”No.. no.. notorious! I.. can't read about it, burns the skin from your eyes, I'll do fine without it, here's one you don't compromise. Lies come hard to disguise, let me to fight it out, not wild about it. Lay your seedy judgements, who says they're part of our lives?” -- Patrick Swayze’s character , Jim Cunningham, comes to Donnie’s town as a sort of holier than thou self help master whom Donnie calls out for being a fraud and the anti-Christ. Turns out Donnie was right. Cunningham was busy with a child pornography ring when he wasn’t busy trying to convince everyone that he was the second coming. This is discovered when Donnie burns down his house and the fire department finds a secret room filled with the sicko porno tapes. Pretty seedy for such a judgmental person. He was no longer able to disguise his lies, despite Kitty “God is Awesome” Farmer’s attempt to prove his innocence. It’s no mistake that this was played during Sparkle Motion’s performance, and when Donnie was burning down Jim Cunningham’s house. And it was probably also no mistake that Jim’s last name was Cunningham seeing as the word “cunning” means “Marked by or given to artful subtlety and deceptiveness.”

Tears for Fears – “Head Over Heels”

This song is the first song post-galaxy change. “Something happens and I’m head over heels” – that something is, let’s see, when the universe splits into two and Donnie finds himself on bizarroverse. Eventually it’s an action that Donnie commits later on in the movie that causes him to get through the film: He kills Frank. Frank is killed during the 28 day bizarro period and therefore able to exist and walk around as he wishes (as a sort of ghost), advising Donnie on what to do. If Donnie never shot and killed Frank towards the end of the movie he never would’ve been able to destroy the bizarroverse because Frank served as a helper. Anyway, basically this line is pretty impressively used if you’re as crazy as I am and over analyzing lyrics at 9:30 pm on a Friday night “It's hard to be a man when there's a gun in your hand.”

[EDIT: there's a line at the end of this song that I haven't been able to find on any of the lyrics databases for this song. If I am hearing it correctly, what's being said at the very end of this song is: "One little boy, one little man. Funny how time flies." Donnie is a little boy, turned into a little man almost instantly, and in the directors cut of the movie he makes a reference to time flying. He makes time fly.]

If you’ve gotten this far, color me impressed. It’s pretty much downhill from here.

The Church – “Under the Milky Way”

I don’t know if this movie was the first time I heard this song since it seemed incredibly familiar to me the moment it came on screen. I wish I could remember exactly which part this song came in on since that might make some sort of difference for my purposes. In terms of when it was used in the movie: the song came on just after Donnie and Gretchen had sex for the first and last time (unless he fucked her corpse, you know, for old times). However, the line that works well for this is: “And it's something quite peculiar, something that's shimmering and white. Leads you here despite your destination, under the Milky Way tonight.” You know how Donnie keeps on following those silver orbs? Those are quite peculiar, shimmering, and sort of white. They lead him around despite what he thinks his destination should be – or rather they lead him to what his destination should be. It all happens under the Milky Way – which is out of it’s mind on that particular night.

[EDIT: In the directors cut they had this song playing while Donnie was driving in the car with his father. The song that played post coital changed to "The Killing Moon".]

Tears for Fears/Gary Jules – “Mad World”

Well, this is the last song we hear in the movie. We hear this song when Donnie finally gets everything back in order (after using his telekinesis powers to rip the engine thing off the wing of the airplane his mom and sister were on and cause a sort of time traveling machine that destroyed the parallel universe he was in – I shit you not, that’s what he did) . No more bizarre universe. No more dead girlfriend. No more dead bunnyman. It’s a crazy world, this world he lives in. This world we live in. And if it weren’t for the martyr by the name of Donnie Darko, we’d be dead.

[EDIT: I forgot to mention that the song contains the incredible line "I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad, that the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I ever had." This is one of the most important lines of the song, and I totally forgot to mention it. There are a lot of theories that the entire movie was a prophetic dream of Donnie's, and that all the people in his life had a similar dream. If it was a prophetic dream, and he died in it, and he fell in love, then it'd be easy to say that it was the best he ever had.]

Thank you and good night.


Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I've probably bought 30 copies of "Donnie Darko" to give to friends in the time since I first saw it in October 2001 and my take on the movie, particularly the ending, is a bit different.

First, in my opinion, DD is perhaps the best movie ever made about being an American teenager. Amidst the creature comforts of being suburban and middle class, teen angst, if not quite on par with genocide in Africa, is still a very real and profound thing when you are going through it. Donnie Darko and his schizophrenia, to me at least, are meant to represent this awkwardness and confusion, both literally and metaphorically.

I could write all night about this, but I'll try to be succinct: I didn't think it was Donnie's telekinetic powers that brought the engine off the plane at all.

Donnie, like so many well-intentioned but screwed-up adolescents, is distraught at what a hash he's made of things, and particularly the fact that his actions have led to the death of his girlfriend. Heroically, and like many a teenager is prone to think, he wants to set things right.

Hence, all of the time travel talk of the film comes home to roost: if Donnie goes back in time to before these 30 days started, to the beginning of the movie when he SHOULD have been in his bed and died when the airplane engine came crashing in but for the fact that he had been sleepwalking -- none of the events that took place in the movie will have never "happened". In particular, Gretchen will be saved because she will have never met him -- because he will be dead before any of the events ever happen. (As shown by the fact that she doesn't know who he is when she rides by the house on her bike at the end of the movie.)

Wanting to die dramatically for the good of others, pining, and sacrificing for your first true love are all particularly intense teenage things. It is wrenching to watch because the clear subtext of it is: what if we could do things over, go back in time and correct our mistakes? Would things be better, or just different? ("I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad/The dreams in which I'm dying, are the best I've ever had")

It is the most beautiful and melancholy movie I have ever seen.

My apologies, though, if my explanation rings untrue with you and/or the director (though I've convinced myself that a lot of this stuff was unconscious for him).

-- Dan P.

Anonymous said...

i once wrote a paper for a film class that was mostly about the music in Donnie Darko. so i enjoyed reading your interpretations. it's great that you're so into this movie. it's a classic, at least to me.

Anonymous said...

In the director commmentary, it's mentioned that the talent show sparkle motion dance routine was choreographed to a different song that they had trouble getting the rights to. I forget the orgiginal song, but notorious was the second choice.

Anonymous said...

The links to the Salon article aren't working.
I'd really love to read it.

I hope DD starts playing in more cities...or maybe I'll just move to NYC.

yeah, that seems easier

Nick_Likes_You said...

Yeah, it's one of those movies that has a perfectally realized soundtrack, which seems to be few and far between in movies these days, which more often than not use songs that are just songs the director likes.

I think my favorite example of a perfect soundtrack is The Royal Tennenbaums. But I think I just want an excuse to talk about that movie. <3

sls said...

oh sarah. its so good to see waste time on your friday night (though arguably not wasting any time) by talking about such a wonderful movie. i remember seeing donnie darko at the sundance festival in its original cut in january of 2001 and then making it my fucking goal of the year to see it as soon as possible (sadly not again until october of that year). i think richard kelly did something that takes so much intelligence and bravery to complete that this movie is a masterpiece. i'm drunk writing this and i mean it. seriously. its wonderful. i can't count the number of times that i've seen it. i had to re-write something once so that i didn't brush against the genuis of donnie darko and it ultimately was my first serious accomplishment that made them greenbacks. i almost think its because someone may have thought it was mildly as fucked up as darko (sadly in al actuality, it was probably that fucked and more because of my david lynch obsession, but fuck it, it paid so nice).i met richard kelly once and told him that i thought about donnie in a similar vein to the way i thought of lloyd dobbler and i had a heterosexual crush on him, and richard kelly told me i was fucking retarded for comparing the two, but i don't think so. i am straight. and i love women, but damnit if i can't enjoy a male's vibe. donnie. i enjoy you. fuck. too much liquor. sorry. anyway. i'm going to leave you to talk about sarah's wonderfully intelligent post and i'm going to go back to listening to "alex eiffel" and "under the milky way" on repeat". read more of my awfulness here
... if you would like. okay. to hell with me.

Anonymous said...

sarah, i heart you.
donnie darko is my favourite movie. ever.
'nuff said.


michael said...

my vote for best HS movie evs still, and forever will, lie with "Ferris Bueller"
what bettter escapist fantasy was there that you actually picture yourself in?
and THAT film had "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want".

Sarah said...

The links to the salon article have been fixed.

Sarah said...

I dont remember "Please please please..." being in Ferris Bueller. I know for sure that it was in Pretty in Pink tho.

Nick_Likes_You said...

No, it was definatley in Ferris Bueller.

Save the musical changes, what was different about the directors cut? Any extra or changed scenes?

Anonymous said...

wait! i wanna talk about cherita and her sybolism! with the earmuffs, and the witnessing ms. pomeroy's freakout, and the book jacket, and always sitting under the mascot, and wasn't she the character shown when that line in mad world hit? ooh, and what about frank and the "my father's father" business? as (potentially)related to the guy (can't quite hear his name) that donnie's dad talks about in the hotel room, the "doomed" one? that's always bugged me. sorry to turn your comments into a donnie darko faq.

Anonymous said...

"Please Please" was definitely not in Ferris Bueller. It was definitely in Pretty in Pink. DEFINITELY.

Anonymous said...

"Hurt" inspired Fight Club? Wasn't the movie based on Chuck Palahniuk's book?

joewheezy said...

Go to Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Ferris DID HAVE "please please." it was a cover by dream academy (i think). when they were in the museum.

Chris Clark said...

The above anonymous poster is correct. The Dream Academy did cover "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" when Ferris is in the museum.

Excellent post Sarah! I picked up on a few of the songs but not all of them.

Anonymous said...

"Please please" performed by Dream Academy does not count. It's just wrong.

Hey yo ma-ma-ma, you don't deny it...

Anonymous said...

That Cellar Door thing has been bugging me for over 2 years now, and still it's not been resolved. Aside from the 'leading' nature of the statement and therefore it's purpose in the film (supposedly, confusingly), what makes it so beautiful? Is it the sound, or the promise, or what? Does anyone out there know? God help me...
I'm surprised that the film 'Harvey' starring James Stewart isn't mentioned anywhere in the Salon article. It's the only other film I can think of that has a six-foot (albeit invisible) rabbit as a co-star, and where the lead character is accused of being crazed and unreliable, but is actually telling the truth as he sees it and harming no-one along the way - even saving them from themselves. Or maybe it's such an obvious reference that no-one bothered bringing it up. My head hurts.

michael said...

ok so it IS a cover of "Please Please..." in Ferris in the museum scene that culminates with Cameron spacing out into the Seurat painting and Ferris and Sloane kissing (HOTT!), BUT its: A. instrumental and B. so similar that the difference is negligible. it just works perfectly. i like being able to hum the lyrics to myself over the scene better anyway.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely one of the best and deepest films I have seen. I watch it QUITE often!

Mad World is easily on eof the best songs ever also. It envokes feelings and mood unlike other songs of its type. The quote you mentioned is fabulous. It has been posted on my blog for years! It is always there somewhere. Usually hard to find. It's just for me. Heh.

Glad to see someone else shares such an appreciation!


Anonymous said...

... and damn that article is good!


Alison said...

"please, please, please..." is also in Never Been Kissed, another movie (though not nearly as good as DD)that involves Drew Barrymore. I guess that can be the missing link between Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Donnie Darko.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm so effin impressed with your song-by-song analysis, I'm hoping like hell you'll do the same thing with some other films. That was brilliant.

I just saw the Director's Cut last night, and I'll admit that while I wasn't the biggest DD fan before, I liked it a lot more this time around. I never disliked the movie, but it wasn't earth-shaking for me. The interesting thing was, my interpretation didn't really change all that much, and I think there's a fascinating complexity once you merge what seem to be Kelly's intended time-travel and tangent universe elements with the ideas of teen angst, devolution into depression, and potential schizophrenia. I think it's actually really interesting to compare DD to Ferris because Ferris was a movie made in its time (1986) whereas DD was made about the same period (1988) but with the ability to reflect upon that time, and what we find now 15 years later is a much darker sensibility and a heroic sort of teen, rather than simply a mischievous one. That's really simplistic, but in retrospect, I think it's one of Kelly's greatest achievements, conscious or not.

-- Aaron (Out of Focus)

Husky G said...

i just saw 'garden state' last night, and i'm guessing that similar track-by-track analysis will be needed. on my next viewing (there's bound to be one 'cause it's a very delightful flick) i will bring a pen.

astralgirl01 said...

This song-by-song analysis is brilliant.

Brava, Sarah.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

can anyone verify this: is the donnie darko halloween costume of skull body suit with gray hoodie a reference from the Karate Kid?

oh sarah darko, we luv ya


Anonymous said...

The song the girls were dancing to was originally "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys. Thing is, they weren't able to get it cleared, therefore post-production they had to use a different song, so they went with "Notorius". I would have preferred "West End Girls", but Sarah will tell me if lyrics-content-wise it would've been better or not :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I just read the lyrics and it WOULD have fit perfectly, and it definitely continues to prove that the choice of music in "Donnie Darko" is anything but a coincidence:


Anonymous said...

I remember Halloween 1988. It kinda sucked. Totally boring. Nothing cool happened like in the movie. And I was listening to the same music, too.

saltydog said...

I still have not seen this. It is actually high on my Netflix queue. Can't wait.

Bella said...

To your point of DD being influenced heavily by the song "Killing Moon", I must say I agree. Not sure if this was already mentioned(by you or one of your many blog-posters), but the song mentions the term "Blue Moon". As you know a Blue Moon is very rare and also as you know refers to a full moon occurring twice in the same month. From what I can recall a Blue Moon does occur in the movie, I think anyway.

Sarah said...

can anyone get me in touch with richard kelly? the guy who wrote and directed this movie.

mantiz said...

great post man. really dig the focus on the music.
and 'Mad World' is an awesome track ;)

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