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Textual Analysis - Donnie Darko

The target audience for the film Donnie Darko would be the male gender from the ages of 16 – 24 and in the socio-economic grading boundary A – C1, this would be due to the fact that it requires a lot of thought to comprehend the complex narrative and structure and people in the higher grading may have a better education, therefore they may have a better understanding of the complexity of the plot, similarly, the fact that they have targeted a younger audience as they would be in some form of education when they watch the film which may stimulate them into thinking about the deeper meaning of the narrative and structure; a wider audience would be men from the ages of 25 – 30 in the same socio-economic grading boundary.

The film contains many action codes which show the audience exactly what is happening, however it also contains enigmatic codes which leave the audience questioning the film and will make them want to watch until the end to see if it has an unresolved ending which means that they will have to find clarification by piecing together the information that they mentally gather from the film and then work it out for themselves or they’ll find that it may have a resolved ending so that the film will give them the answers to their questions without the additional thought.

The film isn’t classified by one specific genre as it shows a likeness to a variety of themes, for example, the plot follows the theme of time travel which would mean that it is stereotypically classed as sci-fi, however a love interest is introduced in the film which causes there to be a relationship in the plot and adds a touch of melodrama to the mix of genres; another factor contributing to the drama aspect is the fact that the main character Donnie also has mental health problems which complicates the story as it blurs the lines between reality and delusion.

The confusion between the two mind states that Donnie has adds mystery to the film because it keeps you asking questions as the audience are unsure of what is actually happening; some may say that the film contains aspects of being classed in the thriller genre as it contains a man dressed in a grotesque rabbit costume which represents his conscience, the expression on the mask is pulled into a wild grin which appears somewhat scary and connotes horror as the audience don’t know who or what is behind the mask until the end part of the film; despite the genres mentioned, the film contains traces of dark humour which adds a twist to the sombre mood already set.

The opening sequence starts off by showing the main character laying on an empty long, winding road at daybreak in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, the audience can determine this as there is a lack of houses, people and there is also a forest nearby which connotes solitude and loneliness.

There is a use of enigmatic codes as the audience can see Donnie lying next to a bicycle, which they can assume is his and that he may have been cycling away from something in a hurry but had crashed and fallen off however he appears to be wearing pyjamas which could refer to the fact that he was being chased by something and didn’t have time to get changed or it could mean that he had been sleepwalking and had managed to sub-consciously cycle to his current destination, this leaves the audience in the dark about what has actually happened to Donnie prior to him arriving.

Another use of enigmatic codes is when Donnie stands up and turns to walk away, his facial expression changes from dazed and confused and he starts to snigger about something, the audience are left clueless as to what he is laughing at but they can only assume that he isn’t surprised that he has woken up in a secluded place and that it must have happened before.

All of these factors are reminiscent of a horror film as he as awoken on an isolated mountainside nearby a forest in his pyjamas by himself; his clothing is associated with the horror genre as it is possible that he was in a rush to escape from an attacker and as his pyjamas are white, he is portrayed as an innocent character from the start; from looking at the sky it is apparent that it is the morning, this plants the idea that Donnie had spent some of the night there and this would connote the horror genre as the location doesn’t seem as scary or corrupt during the day however at night the location would portray the opposite.

The film doesn’t use the genre conventions that would be used to identify a sci-fi/mystery/drama very often; however it tends to use other conventions, such as using the remote mountainside for the horror genre, this is effective because in a way it relates back to the mystery genre as it causes questioning and confusion among the audience; there is also a Halloween party that takes place which could also be mistaken as the horror genre as the amount of slasher films such as the ‘Scream’ films that take place around Halloween.

The theme of time travel arises during the film which is a major convention of the sci-fi genre which would make the film fit into this category primarily as it is the most prominent theme that is consistently followed throughout the film; the mystery genre is reinforced in this film by the main character Donnie attempting to solve/prevent a quizzical event from happening – this then causes more interest from the target audience as they want to discover what happens.

The narrative of the film appears to be conventional at first and the use of enigmatic codes means that the audience have a lot of questions that require answers to which they receive if they continue to watch, for example, by watching the film the audience find out that Donnie is prone to sleep walking and is drawn out of bed by ‘Frank’. The film is chronological up until approximately 1 hour 40 minutes when there is a quick montage of the film that is shown but is shown in reverse order so that when it finishes it is at the beginning and it repeats itself however this time it rewrites the plot differently than the way it was at the beginning of the film (almost as if it’s a paradox or tangent universe); this makes the audience question the ending as the mother then waves to Gretchen who was Donnie’s girlfriend but if he had died before they had met, they would had never have known each other.

The uses of technical codes during the film are important to strengthen the strangeness of the genre divide and questioning of the plot, for example, there’s a scene that begins with a shot of the door of the school bus but it is tilted directly on a 90° angle, the door then begins to open in slow motion and as Donnie jumps out and starts to walk towards the school with his friends, the camera slowly tilts back upright towards the school and returns to ‘normal filming’;

This camera shot connotes a mystery yet to be explored inside of the school because the audience are unsure as to why the film contains this camera angle after having so many ‘standard’ ones, it could represent the fact that Donnie is on medication that the audience see him taking in the bathroom every day and that it is the effect of drugs that is making that shot out of balance; alongside the angle, the light is filtered to make it appear as if it is in an almost dream-like state which would support the idea that it is to do with the adverse effects of Donnie’s medication, however it could just be to add a surreal take to the narrative early on in the film.

Inside the school we see the obvious rivalry between Donnie and Seth, who is another student at the school, as they glare at each other; Seth then goes to his locker and snorts what the audience can only assume is some form of drugs, possibly cocaine; this is the use of visual codes as it shows the audience what type of school setting Donnie is in and how this sort of environment may affect his behaviour later on in the film.

There is a voiceover during the film which is the voice of Frank the rabbit however Donnie is the only one apart from the audience who can hear him; the voice is distorted and deep sounding so they can assume that it is a male voice and also it commands Donnie to carry out various tasks and follow him which would show authority and power, it adds to the horror/thriller aspect of the film as the voice can appear almost scary due to the tone and distortion.

At the very end of the film, the audience hear the song ‘Mad World’ performed by Gary Jules, this song is significant to the film as it connotes how the world is through the eyes of a teenager and how messed up it appear, this fits the film Donnie Darko very well as his world is being slowly turned into something unrecognisable and difficult to understand which means he could probably relate to the song if he was a real person, this may cause the audience to feel a connection with him because people in the lower age range may be around the same age that Donnie’s character is supposed to be and they might feel a similar way about the world.

There are a variety of different characters used in the film Donnie Darko, by looking at Vladimir Propp’s Characters in Narrative, we can categorise them, for example, we have Donnie, who is the ‘hero’ as he attempts to save people but he could be seen as a ‘false hero’ as he is the one who actually sets fire to the house and burst the water pipes.

Frank, the man in a rabbit costume, can be seen as a ‘villain’ due to the fact that he led Donnie to set fire to Jim Cunningham’s house and bursting the water pipes at school but then again he could possibly be seen as a ‘false hero’ because if he hadn’t of made Donnie break the pipes, he wouldn’t of met his girlfriend; he can also be seen as the ‘dispatcher’ as he sends Donnie off to complete these tasks. Gretchen, who is Donnie’s girlfriend, could be seen as the ‘princess’ as she needs saving because Frank said that the world was going to end and she was the first person that Donnie wanted to save.

Dr Monnitoff, who is Donnie’s science teacher, could be named a ‘donor’ as he gives Donnie the ‘The Philosophy of Time Travel’ book by Roberta Sparrow. Dr Thurman, who is Donnie’s therapist, gives him hypnosis treatment so that could be categorised under ‘donor’ and Roberta Sparrow who is the old woman that wrote the book that was given to Donnie could be known as a ‘donor’ in a way as he wouldn’t of known any of the in-depth detail about time travel if she hadn’t of written it. Despite these characters fitting loosely into these categories, the characters aren’t very conventional in regards to any theories however that’s what makes the film more interesting for the audience due to the fact that it’s different and not the standard expectations from a film.

Date: Oct 14,2021