The scene I chose to analyse is the ‘head over heels scene’ from Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001). I chose to just analyse the first 1 minute and 4 seconds of this scene, as the entire scene is far too long to analyse in under 1000 words.

This scene is accompanied by the classic ‘Head Over Heels’ song by the 80’s British New Wave band Tears for Fears. This song is both era appropriate, as the film is set in 1988 and metaphorically appropriate, as the scene begins ‘head over heels’ with the camera titled on it’s right hand side, showing the back of an American school bus.

The first character we are introduced to in this scene is Donnie Darko, who is the main protagonist of the entire film. The viewer watches Donnie Darko open the school bus door, and step down, out of the bus. As soon as Donnie puts his feet on the ground the camera begins to swing ‘right side up’, tilting the frame to the left. As the frame swings right side up it also pulls back, tracking to the left, introducing the viewer to the shots location – Donnie’s high school. This shot then cut’s to the next shot whilst the camera is still tracking to the left, allowing for the sense of momentum from the this shot to transfer to the following one.

The following shot shows Donnie opening the school door (from the inside of the building) and walking inside the building. Originally this shot stands still watching Donnie objectively come through the door, but as Donnie moves inside the camera picks up his character and follows him through the school’s corridor.

As we follow Donnie walking down the corridor we are introduced to his two closest friends who are in the same shot, walking closely behind him. For the entirety of this shot Donnie’s eyes have remained looking at the ground. As soon as Donnie’s eyes raise to look down the corridor, the camera then swings around to reveal to the viewer what Donnie sees – ‘the bad guy’, the film’s key antagonist – walking towards him. Now instead of watching Donnie front on as he moves through the corridor, we are watching the antagonist front on as he walks towards Donnie, pulling a face at him.

The camera now stays with this character as he walks down the hallway, suddenly swinging around again, once he locks eyes with another key character – Kitty Farmer, the main disciplinarian of the school students. The camera rests on Kitty for awhile, then spins around to the right to follow Kitty as she walks down the hallway. As Kitty walks past Gretchen Ross – Donnie’s main love interest, the camera spins to the right to rest on Gretchen as she looks at herself in the mirror. The camera then does an entire 360 degree spin to follow Gretchen as she turns from her locker, to walk back down the hallway.

We follow Gretchen down the hallway until she looks at the bad guy (from earlier) as he now sniffs drugs with one of his mates – another antagonist within the film. The camera then rests on the two ‘bad guys’ until it moves to the right – over their shoulders – to catch the Principal as he walks through the hallway locking eyes on the two ‘bad guys’ doing cocaine. We see his non-plussed reaction, then the camera follows him as he walks down the hallway out back door at the end of the hallway.

Not only is this scene an amazing technical and visual feast, but it also introduces the key characters of the film, suggests their upcoming role in the film and establishes their relationships to each other.


Character Introduction in Order of Appearance

First set of Characters Introduced

Character: Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal)
Character Actions: Walks ahead of two friends, keeps head bowed
Character Insights: Independent. Shy. In his own world.
Character Archetype: Main Character/Protagonist

Character: Ronald Fisher (Stuart Stone)
Character Actions: Pat’s Sean on back and jovially chats to him.
Character Insights: More outgoing of the two sidekicks. The two sidekicks have a seperate relationship, to the one they have with Donnie.
Character Archetype: Best Friends of the Main Character/Sidekick

Character: Sean Smith (Gary Lundy)
Character Actions: Patted on back, chats to Ronald.
Character Insights: Less outgoing of the two sidekicks. The two sidekicks have a seperate relationship, to the one they have with Donnie.
Character Archetype: Best Friends of the Main Character/Sidekick


Fourth Character Introduced

Character Introduced: Seth Devlin (Alex Greenwald)
Character Actions: Strides down hallway, snarls at Donnie, pushes between Donnie’s two friends, pulls a face at Kitty Farmer.
Character Insights: Aggressive. Has a problem with Donnie. Has a problem with teachers.
Character Archetype: School Bully/Antagonist


Fifth Character Introduced

Character Introduced: Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant)
Character Actions: Pulls unimpressed face at Seth. Eyeballs him sternly as he walks off.
Character Props: ‘Attitudinal Beliefs’ book. A self help book that will later appear in the film.
Character Insights: Strict. Uptight. Gullible.
Character Archetype: Uptight Teacher/Main Disciplinarian


Sixth Character Introduced

Character Introduced: Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone)
Character Actions: Checks self in mirror & fixes hair. Looks disapprovingly at Seth and Ricky as they sniff drugs.
Character Insights: Insecure. ‘Good girl’.
Character Archetype: Good Girl/Main Love Interest


Fourth Character Reappears & Seventh Character Introduced

Character That Reappears: Seth Devlin (Alex Greenwald)
Character Actions: Openly sniffs drugs given to him by Ricky.
Character Insights: Audacious. Drug User. Rebellious.
Character Archetype: School Bully/Antagonist

Character Introduced: Ricky Danforth (Seth Rogan)
Character Actions: Openly gives Seth drugs, which he sniffs.
Character Insights: Drug user or drug dealer. Rebellious. Ricky’s henchman/sidekick.
Character Archetype: School Bully’s/Antagonist’s Henchman/Sidekick


Eighth Character Introduced

Character Introduced: Principal Cole (Seth Rogan)
Character Actions: Uninterestedly looks at Seth & Ricky whilst they sniff drugs. Walks outside.
Character Insights: Weak. Passive.
Character Archetype: Passive Principal


Character Relationships as Constructed in this Scene:


School Bus       >      Donnie Darko      >       Seth Devlin      >       Kitty Farmer
>       Ronald Fisher
>        Sean Smith


Gretchen Ross       >        Seth Devlin         >         Principal Cole
>      Ricky Danforth

* Character relationships are constructed via character interaction or eye contact with each other.


Explanation of Relationships:

  1. The school bus has a relationship with Donnie, Ronald and Sean.
  2. Donnie, Ronald and Sean have a relationship with each other.
  3. Ronald and Sean have their own seperate relationship.
  4. Donnie has a relationship with Seth.
  5. Seth has a relationship with Kitty.
  6. Kitty has no relationship with Gretchen, as she doesn’t acknowledge her but rather simply walks past her.
  7. Gretchen has a relationship with Seth & Ricky.
  8. Seth and Ricky have a relationship.
  9. Seth and Ricky have a relationship with Principal Cole.

* It also understated that Donnie has a relationship with every character presented in this scene.


This scene is quite remarkable in terms of how much it achieves within a sequence that is essentially only 60 seconds long. Within 60 seconds eight different characters are introduced and distinctly established and at least nine different character relationships are suggested. Not to mention the numerous camera movements utilised and the various ways in which future events are foreshadowed throughout this scene. I loved this scene from the first moment I saw it and I love it even more now after analysing it. I’m not sure if I could ever create a scene like this myself, but it’s a marvellous feat of filmmaking.


Until next time,

Louise Alice Wilson