Review Summary: The best example of a soundtrack that works beyond the film.Donnie Darko
is an American film about the struggles of a young man who suffers from hallucinations and is tasked with saving the world. This movie is set in the timeframe of the late 1980’s and features songs by artists such as Tears for Fears, INXS, and Echo and the Bunnymen among others; as well as an engaging original score by Michael Andrews.
The first musical piece that is heard is Carpathian Ridge. This piece introduces the film, with spacey feedback, which flows into a reverb soaked piano line. The spaced out notes create a saddening and disturbing feeling for the listener. It sets up a mood, as the listener feels emotion, but does not know why. The Tears for Fears song Head Over Heels takes place during the introduction to Donnie’s school. It is an 80’s song, very upbeat, and reminds me of those typical high school/teenager movies with its bright synth and effect-laden guitars, and gives the audience a break from the melancholy beginning of the film. My personal favorite piece of music in this film is entitled Manipulated Living. It occurs during the intercut scene between the PTA meeting and Donnie’s bathroom encounter with a mysterious character. This is a very uneasy piece, with pulsing, deep sounds, along with some strings and random feedback. It really is quite a creepy tone while accompanied by the visuals. A while after that is the Liquid Spear Waltz, which is a waltz, with piano, strings, and ambient background tones that lightens the mood and adds a sense of curiosity to the movie.
During the middle portion of Donnie Darko
is For Whom The Bell Tolls, which plays during the cinema scene. Haunting female choral voices are used to give a chilling effect and it works very well. Although these pieces are all very well done in correspondence with the movie, the most emotionally driving piece has to be Gary Jules cover of Mad World, which was originally done by Tears for Fears, and appears near the tail end of the film. This cover features a very down-temp piano piece with Jules singing and nothing else. This stripped down version, along with the images featured the film, evoke an emotion of sadness and add a huge emotional burden to the viewer because of the events that have enfolded in the film as well as the music itself.
The thing that makes this soundtrack work so well is the simplicity. Outside of the songs by other artists, the original score doesn’t feature more then a few musical elements going at one time. This gives more emphasis to each individual element, unlike a large orchestral score where the focus is on the large scale. Little musical snippets that get repeated such as the piano piece in Carpathian Ridge, also helps give a sense of familiarity and continuity.
Michael Andrews score along with the songs by well-known artists makes for a very good soundtrack to a very good film. This is one of the few soundtracks I have heard that is just as wonderful outside of the film as it is within the context of the film. Its simple, haunting sounds are one of the best examples of what a soundtrack should do, and I highly recommend giving it a listen.