Frame of Mind: Donnie Darko

I’ve been meaning for a while to follow the lead of other film blogs and begin a column all about examining a single frame from a film. It is a no brainer that I would make the topic of my first such column my favourite film Donnie Darko. There are many stills from Donnie Darko that have become synonymous with the film, particularly the shot in the movie theatre that has become the “main” image of the film. However, it would be no fun to focus on any of the familiar images, so there will be no guys in bunny suits in this post.

To start, I thought that I would bring attention to a frame from close to the end of the film showing the wormhole opening in the sky above the central town of Middlesex. Probably the most interesting aspect of this shot is the tiny speck of an airplane that is barely visible at the top of this cloud formation. Indeed, the plane is only notable to people if they know where to look, especially since the scene quickly cuts away to inside the plane. This is one of the few shots in Donnie Darko to have a real sense of scale and it’s a wonderfully composed visual.

Another striking frame is this sideways bus shot that kicks off the “Head Over Heels” montage. The sunlight results in some overexposure and lens flares, while the phrase “Mongrels Rule” can be seen written on the school bus window. As the shot continues, Donnie would jump out of the bus and the camera would rotate back into an upright position, resulting in the lens flare moving across the frame.

Here is a shot that says so much with so little. Donnie is sent to the office after speaking out in health class and not only does his teacher Ms. Farmer give a humorous description of what he said, but there is a photo of Ronald Reagan nicely reflected on the bookcase. With the film taking place in the late 1980s and Ms. Farmer being a very conservative individual, the meaning of this shot requires not that much explanation.

This shot from the film is a little more well-known, but is still quite striking. This is obviously meant to be a very ironic image in how Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is playing as the second film of a Halloween double feature. This shot really speaks to the controversial nature of Scorsese’s film and it would be understandable that a conservative community like this one would view it on par with The Evil Dead.

That wraps up my inaugural “Frame of Mind” column. I continue to do these periodically. I will finish off with a few additional shots from Donnie Darko.

Credit to The Matinee for being my primary inspiration for this column.

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).