Fiction: Task 1

Donnie Darko – Cinema Scene Analysis

Analysisng a Scene  – Fiction Unit (Criteria 2.1, Directing Unit Criteria 1.1 & 1.2)
This scene from Donnie Darko takes place in a dark cinema populated only by Donnie and his girlfriend Gretchen. There is an immediate feel of isolation and loneliness as the scene starts with a distant shot of Donnie and Gretchen sitting right in the middle of the cinema surrounded by almost life like shadows on the wall, this gives the impression that they are alone and surrounded by an unnatural presence.The camera slowly zooms in to reveal Gretchin has fallen asleep and Donnie is starring forward, but not really watching the film, he seems distant, worried and almost tearful, this emotion adds to the feeling of an uneasy environment. Donnie then slowly turns to his left and begins to smile, telling the audience that he can see something that wasn’t there before. As the camera cuts to a wider shot, Frank is seen sitting next to the sleeping Gretchin. Frank is a character created by Donnie’s subconscious mind, a a frightening looking character dressed in a rabbit suit that speaks Donnie. The camera cuts between close up shots of the Frank and Donnie to capture the emotion and intensity of the scene, but occasionally cutting back to distant shots of them all in the cinema to remind the audience of their isolation.
I also think Gretchen sleeping in the middle between Donnie and Frank acts as a ‘middle ground’ not only between characters but also the worlds they are from – Donnie in real life, Gretchen in her unconscious and Frank from an unreal imagination.
The entire scene is dark, the only light is coming from the screen which highlights the characters nicely as they’re the only people in the cinema. This places emphasis solely on the characters and pushes the background into complete darkness, again denoting isolation in an unnatural setting. I also think setting the scene in a darkened cinema shows how Frank only appears to Donnie in dark places when he is alone.
There isn’t a lot of dialogue between the characters and there are lots of pauses that allow the emotion on Donnie’s face to explain his feelings and thoughts. Frank’s voice is a softly spoken whisper which seems pointless as they’re in an empty cinema but I think this works well to indicate that his words are only for Donnie to hear. At the end of the scene, the camera cuts to a wider shot showing Donnie and Gretchen alone again. This tells the audience that Frank was never actually there and he was just a figment of Donnie’s imagination, but still pushes the idea of loneliness and insecurity.

The Narrative Structure of the Science Fiction Genre

Assessment Task 1 part A – (Fiction Criteria 1.1 & 1.2 and Film Studies Criteria 3.1 )

The purpose of this report is to analyse genre, specifically the science fiction genre. I chose to analyse this genre because I have watched science fiction films in film studies lessons and after group discussions and analysis, I thought this would be interesting to look into further. In this report I will be mainly looking at three films that we watched in film studies, Metropolis, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Blade Runner.  Science fiction in film has been around for decades, the first science fiction dates back to 1902 with George Melies’ silent film ‘La Voyage dans la Lune’, a 17 minute long film which tells the story of astronauts flying a canon propelled space ship to the moon. Man would not walk on the moon until 1969, 67 years after the film was made, so at the time of release this film was extremely futuristic and unrealistic by the standards of that era. And from this point onwards, Sci-Fi would always have similar narratives.

One of the beauties of the science fiction genre is that there is no limit to a narrative. Most sci-fi films are set in the future so it allows the creators to dream up all kinds of technology and inventions and it can still seem realistic because nobody knows how the future will turn out, for instance if you told people in 1902 that ‘La Voyage dans la Lune’ would become a true story in just 67 years nobody would have believed it, but technology evolves at such a pace that anything seems possible and sci-fi is the perfect way to show this.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the 1927 Fritz Lang film Metropolis. The film is set in a futuristic society in which the rich, healthy and powerful citizens live above ground in a mega city surrounded by towering buildings that represent hierarchical significance and economic status. The other side of the story is set underground, where the poor, lower class citizens reside in filth, and live only to serve the people above them by operating the machinery that serves the rich. The theme of this film is associated with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime along with the fear of totalitarianism, a political system where the lower class members of the public becoming ‘machines’ that exist only to serve the ruling classes precisely what Hitler set out to achieve in world war ii. In the denouement stage of this film, the working class section of society work together to rise up and revolt against the rich and powerful by destroying the machinery that controls the city, which results in a new regime that combines the two, once completely separate worlds.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 1951 film directed by Robert Wise and based on Harry Bates’ 1940 short story ‘Farewell to the Master’. This film revolves around an alien life force that comes to earth, accompanied by a huge robot, to warn the planet that if it does not change its ways, it will be destroyed because it is seen as a threat to the rest of the galaxy. The concept behind this film relates to the ‘Reds under the Bed’, a term created by the McCarthyism witch-hunt. McCarthyism comes from US senator Joseph McCarthy, a republican whose regime saw thousands of people accused of communism without any evidence; hence the term is now defined as ‘the practise of making unfair allegations’. Reds is a slang word for communists and ‘under the bed’ relates to how they were allegedly hiding themselves in society, resulting in the paranoia of undercover communism in the USA.

This film was also released in a time when people were still scared of war because World War II was fresh in the memory so the idea of an alien race declaring war on the entire planet was very apt. This film concludes with the alien returning home to a different world, leaving a warning for earth to change its violent ways before its too late, a message that stayed with many people long after the film finished.

The final film I will be looking at is Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner. Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles in the year 2019; Los Angeles has become an overpopulated, dark society that is inhabited by robotic human replicates that live illegally amongst real humans. These androids are banned on earth because they are primarily used for illegal activity so are tracked down by a police-like force known as blade runners, whose job it is to identify and destroy the androids. The theme of Blade Runner is another sci-fi film that reflects the social issues of its time. In the 80’s people were sceptical of hyper capitalist foreign policies that were being introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the USA, this fear combined with corruption of government gave this film an appropriate narrative that allowed viewers to see a real insight of what could happen in the future. Ridley Scott depicted this message through evident homelessness, overpopulation and use of pathetic fallacy, creating a futuristic yet realistic world where the rich and poor are entirely separated, just like in Metropolis.

Science fiction films have developed over the years but the core themes have remained very similar with themes that revolve around alien life, time travel, technology and futuristic inventions. The ‘What If’ factor has kept science fiction fresh, exciting and relevant. Keeping audiences interested and fearful of the future, technology and what might happen. As technology and society evolves, filmmakers will continue to find inspiration for films that will portray real life fears through sci-fi. To conclude, I think it is this that makes sci-fi such an interesting and unique genre, the only genre that allows sometimes ridiculous stories of farfetched scenarios to seem realistic and possible in the not to distant future whilst reflecting the social issues of the era.

What Makes an Auteur an Auteur?

Assessment 1 part B – (Criteria 1.1 & 1.2)

Auteur theory is the notion that a director’s influence on a film reflects a personal creative vision. This theory suggests that a film maker can bring unique qualities and styles to a picture, different from any other, through their own interpretations and ideas. The word auteur is a French word that translates as author and like an author of a book controls the entire ‘feel’ and content of a novel, according to auteur theory; a director has the same control over a film. This theory derived from Francois Truffaut, a well known writer and director from the 1950, Truffaut was heavily involved with the French new wave film movement. In 1954 Francois Truffaut wrote an article for ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ magazine, the point of this article was to protest Hollywood’s critically acclaimed films that received the highest praise. Although they were well made, Truffaut saw these films as simply adaptations of literature with no personal influence or vision to contribute. It was this lack of personal branding that Truffaut and other filmmakers to call for film to legitimise itself as its own respected art form, different to simply watching plays or reading books. “The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure” this is a quote taken from the article written by Francois Truffaut that sums up his vision for the future of film.

Alfred Hitchcock is noted as an acknowledged auteur with his unique style of horror and thriller films that usually include blonde women, quick cuts and suspense building tension. Steven Spielberg is renowned for his inclusion of a ‘dysfunctional’ family but usually with happy, fairytale endings. Some even argue that Quentin Tarantino is an auteur because of his constant use of drugs, violence and language in his characters. Each of these directors bring a unique style to their films that makes them stand out from others and recognisable as ‘their own’ style.

Although these are some of the most famous and established directors in film history, I believe that there are other directors who create a unique feeling to films that are well on their way to becoming future auteurs in their own right. I believe one of these auteurs in the making is Nicolas Winding Refn, director of ‘Drive’ and more recently ‘Only God Forgives’. I will be looking into why I think he has what it takes be become a successful auteur with his creative techniques and stylish filmmaking.

Although auteur theory was developed in the time of The French New Wave, Nicolas Winding Refn refers to this film movement as ‘the antichrist’ in this quote:

‘I grew up in a cinema family. My parents were brought up on the French New Wave. That was God to them, but to me it was the antichrist, and how better to rebel against your parents than by watching something your mother is going to hate, which were American horror movies. When I saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I realized: I don’t want to be a director, I don’t want to be a writer, I don’t want to be a producer, I don’t want to be a photographer, I don’t want to be an editor, I don’t want to be a sound man. I want to be all of them at once. And that film proved that you can do it because that movie is not a normal movie.’

Although Refn is a relatively young director, his most famous film, Drive is a perfect example of why I think his style of filmmaking makes him an auteur. The film is a masterpiece is stylistic visuals and atmosphere. The characters, script, lighting and sound effects make a recipe for brilliant film in my opinion. The main character has next to no dialogue in the opening scene; instead Refn uses music, clever lighting techniques and camera shots that tell a story on their own. A seemingly emotionless and distant main character means the director must rely on something other than dialogue to tell the protagonists story and Refn does this superbly. Refn uses similar techniques’ in his latest film, ‘Only God Forgives’. Although this film has been widely criticised for lack of substance, it oozes and ambient, stylish feel with red lighting, conveying violence, revenge and redemption excellently. This is of course all my own opinion, but I think the stylishness of the film is inarguably a result of Refn’s influence. Both ‘Drive’ and ‘Only God Forgives’ have a distant protagonist with little dialogue, frequent use of music, sudden and surprising violence and by no means a happy ending. All these aspects allow the films story to tell itself, instead of being directly told to you through characters voice or actual footage The main aspect of Refn’s filmmaking that I believe separates him from others is the aesthetics of his films.


Below are some stills taken from Drive and Only God Forgives.


These images show off Refn’s unique style of violence, tension and lighting.

Similarly, in Only God Forgives, the lighting has promiscuous and violent conations, characters with lack of dialogue and stylish violence – all brilliantly executed by Refn. Each scene tells its own story through means of lighting, positioning, colour and sound.

The techniques used in this film, I now associate with Refn and I look forward to seeing him make his mark on future films in a similar style. I personally prefer the type of film that uses suggestion and other techniques to convey a message or a story, instead of being spoon-fed a story through blatant video and almost patronising speeches explaining the story.

So what does make an auteur an auteur? I think anybody can be an auteur as long as they bring some sort of unique style to the film in one way or another, which is why I believe Nicolas Winding Refn is an auteur in the making, provided he keeps this level of subtlety, atmosphere and artistic style incorporated in his films.