🎬 Donnie Darko

Watched 20 Years Ago, ‘Donnie Darko’ Turned ’80s Pop Into Nostalgic Dread,20 Years Ago, Donnie Darko Turned ’80s Pop Into Nostalgic Dread from Stereogum

The soundtrack for ‘Donnie Darko,’ which debuted at Sundance 20 years ago, mines ’80s pop for beauty and dread and romanticism. From its opening scene set to Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” on, the film made the sounds of gloomy new wave and postpunk cool.

I cannot remember where I first saw Donnie Darko, but it has been one of those films that I have come back to again and again. I am not sure what it is about the film, but maybe Tom Breihan captures it best with the suggestion of ‘the vibe’.

Really, though, the story didn’t matter. It was the vibe: Gyllenhaal’s sick-of-this-bullshit grimace, the eerily modulated voice of the giant rabbit who came to visit Donnie at night, the way Kelly’s camera floated through classrooms and cul-de-sacs. And it was the music. Kelly set Donnie Darko in 1988; the movie’s climax happens on the Halloween just before the Bush/Dukakis election. In the movie’s best sequences, Kelly takes the songs that would’ve been playing on modern-rock radio at that moment — the Bunnymen, Tears For Fears, the Church — and mines them for beauty and dread and romanticism.

Alternatively, Alison Foreman discusses the sense of nihilism.

From the banal narcissism of Birdman and Rick and Morty to the layered trauma of Bo Burnham: Inside and Fleabag, characters’ complex inner lives have become regularly explored arenas in TV and film. That’s proven fertile ground for broader discussions of humanity’s purpose — or lack thereof. As a result, Donnie Darko seems less a vessel for nostalgia entertainment than a contemporary of the current climate.

I am not sure I appreciate how foreign this music was at the time. I remember seeing songs like The Killing Moon on Rage, but as Breihan attests, I do not remember hearing much of the music on the radio.

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