Frankie Hendricks, Senior Contributor
Everyone has their own opinion about Donnie Darko and what it’s supposed to mean, but one argument I think everyone can agree with is that the soundtrack and original score are massively underrated. The songs chosen and written to help conjure the 1980’s aesthetic that director Richard Kelly was trying to obtain. He recruited the efforts of Michael Andrews to do the original score. One thing important to note is that the original score pieces done by Andrews do not include any guitar or drums. It is easy, when trying to manifest the mood of the 80’s, to fall into a trap of the same played out classic rock singles. Instead, Kelly had Andrews stick to instruments such as piano and ukulele, and more exotic instruments like the marimba and mellotron. This makes the other non-score songs stand out more, with dramatically different styles.
The film begins on a solid note with “The Killing Moon” by Echo & the Bunnymen in the opening sequence, which sets the scene for Donnie’s suburban life; his beautiful home, his safe neighborhood, his mom reading Stephen King’s “It” while his father uses a leaf blower on the front lawn. The song “Head Over Heels” by the 80’s era pop-rock band Tears For Fears plays during a montage introducing us to Donnie’s classmates at Middlesex High School. I especially love the inclusion of the Duran Duran’s hit “Notorious” which Donnie’s little sister and her dance troupe perform to during a talent show. The soundtrack included other songs by The Church, Joy Division, and the director’s cut even included a song by INXS, but the most notable song by far is “Mad World,” originally by Tears For Fears, but covered by Andrews and his close friend Gary Jules. The song is played during a key point in the story, when time reverts back and everyone feels a strange sense of déjà vu.
The original score is an eerie listen, ambient and menacing, except for scenes involving Donnie’s love interest Gretchen Ross. Upon her introduction, the song named after her on the score is a sweet, soft number. Other songs that play in scenes with Gretchen are sweet as well, but with an underlying sense of melancholy and foreboding to them. The original score would make for great background music for a haunted house or macabre setting. I never tire of watching Donnie Darko, I think I understand just a little bit more of it every time (probably not), and I never tire of the perfectly suited soundtrack.