How do the micro elements cinematography and mise-en-scene contribute to the creation of a tense atmosphere and encourage the audience to empathise with the protagonists in the death sequence of Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko.
How do the micro elements cinematography and mise-en-scene contribute to the creation of a tense atmosphere and encourage the audience to empathise with the protagonists in the death sequence of Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko.
With the 6 minute sequence that I have used, the characters leave a Halloween party as Donnie has noticed something about an old woman’s house, which has been a mystery to him throughout the film. When they arrive at the house, they go into the cellar where they are approached by antagonists. The protagonists, Donnie and his girlfriend Bridget are then dragged out of the cellar. One of them has hold of Bridget and the other of Donnie, Bridget however gets thrown to the floor, which causes her to be winded, and she then finds it difficult to breathe. The antagonist that has hold of Donnie and has a knife, as sits on top of him so that he cannot see to his girlfriend. A car is then seen and the other characters that are at the scene run away, as they think it is the police. The car however is going to fast, and due to Bridget not being able to move, she cannot move out of the path of which the car is travelling, consequently she gets ran over. Donnie then realises what has happened. Donnie is shocked by this, and shoots the driver with a gun. The sequence then carries on to the next day, as a weird cloud formation has occurred. From this sequence I will analyse the cinematography and mise-en-scene contribute to the creation of a tense atmosphere and to encourage the audience to empathise with the protagonists.
First of all I will look at the cinematography used in the sequence and the camera movements. The main protagonist leads the way, this is shown by a tracking shot; however his bike does not have a light, this shows that he is different from everyone else. Zooms are used very often within this sequence; this is to create tension for the audience, and also empathy for the protagonists when they are being attacked. Empathy is shown is various different camera movements, a tilt is used often, this is so that the audience are able to see the situation from different angles, for example, the camera tilts from the ground to the top of the old woman’s house and back to the ground, this is re-establishing where the characters are also showing the audience where something is going to take place. When the antagonists are dragging the protagonists out of the cellar, it zooms out quickly and also tilts to show the antagonists power over the protagonist.
A handheld camera is used once within this sequence, it is used when the female protagonist touches the keyboard, this shows that something is going to happen as the camera work is unsteady. The lowest key on the keyboard is pressed; this creates a sense of gloominess and also suspense.
The speed of these shots and the action that is going on creates suspense and tension within the audience; this is what the director Richard Kelly wanted. When the driver gets out the car, a tilt shot is used, as it shows the rabbit mask. Donnie then shoots the driver, a low shot is used to show where the driver has been shot, and also with the mask next to his head, this shows that the driver, the costume and Donnie are linked. A crane shot is used the day after the event to show the character from a height. The camera then tilts to the sky, which shows a black cloud formation that is moving rapidly. This then shows the audience that something else is going to happen.
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The Shot types that are used in this sequence are mainly Close up (CU) shots, these are used to show the reactions of the characters faces for example when the protagonist walks into the cellar there is a close-up as you see how he reacts to the cellar as it is very dark and cluttered. Also when they walk into the cellar, a point of view (POV) shot is used, this gives the audience a sense of reality as if they are there with the characters, as they can see the same. Another close-up is used when the piano key is struck, however a Medium close up of the male protagonists face after the piano is struck shows that he is very unstable and uneasy. The close up of the female protagonist is then used again, to show she is happy but quite nervous, you also see her reactions when she is grabbed by the antagonist. This makes the audience empathise for them, and it also makes the atmosphere tense. Long shots (LS) are used regularly to show the action from a distance; this gives the audience more to focus on, as they can see more that if it was a close up shot. CU and LS are used mostly together in this sequence, which speeds up the pace of the action, this can be shown when the car lights shine brightly on the female protagonist face as a CU, it then shows the protagonist being ran over which is a LS, therefore this can show empathy and create tension for the audience.
Focus and depth of field were used a number of times within the sequence, this is due to Richard Kelly making the most important things stand out so that they are obvious the audience. For example, before the two main protagonists enter the cellar, they are in the main focus, where as the two people who arrived with them are blurred, this shows the audience that the characters not blurred are going to be involved in the next occurrence. Also when the character in the rabbit suit gets out of the car, the background is blurred, this also happens when the camera is on Donnie. The camera focuses in the on mask, which shows the direct link between him and Donnie. When the character in the rabbit suit is killed, the camera focuses on his shot wound, with the rabbit mask next to him, first blurring the mask and then the shot wound.
Framing however is the same through out the sequence, the male protagonist is always placed left of the screen, however when the roles change in power, the antagonist on top the protagonist is placed left of the screen, showing he is more important and has more power in this part of the sequence, because the protagonist is unable to move as he has a knife to his neck. However when the female protagonist is killed, she takes up the whole of the frame, this shows the importance of the character and also empathy is created for the audience. When Donnie and Frank are introduced to each other, they are both placed in the same part of the frame; this shows that within this part of the film, they are both as important as each other.
Mise-en-scene also helps with the creation of empathy and tension for the audience. The lighting within the sequence is dark, there is no natural light as it is night time, there is only light form the street lamps, this creates the sense of tension for the audience. When the female protagonist is ran over, there is more light, as there is light off the car headlights, which gives the audience a better view of what is going on, and makes them empathise more with the characters.
The setting of the sequence suggests that something is going to happen, as it is an old deserted house, with an abandoned cellar. When the protagonists enter the cellar, it is dark, dingy and full of cobwebs. This part of the sequence does create an eerie atmosphere and tension.
The fancy dress clothing that is worn by the characters shows that they are celebrating Halloween. Halloween is always very superstitious; this suggests also to the audience that something un-natural is going to happen. With the main male protagonist wearing a skeleton costume, this shows a sign of death. The female protagonist however is wearing normal clothes; this suggests that something has happened before they arrived at the old woman’s house, which brought them there in the first place. The antagonists are wearing tight over their faces which suggest they want to hide their identity which create tension for the audience, as they want to see who it is underneath the tights.
The colours that are used within the mise-en-scene are mostly dark colours; black and grey are used a lot with the background and also the clothing. The dark colours relate to death, which is very significant. The colours also show a mysterious side to the film, as the audience are put into a tense situation as they don’t know what is going to happen.
The props that are used are very minimal, as it is very much acted out what is going to happen; therefore not many props are used. The first prop in the sequence is the bikes, this shows a sense of urgency of the characters, and show the audience where they are going it must very important. The piano that is used in the cellar, is played at the lowest key, this shows gloominess, and the tension is built through this low key. When the knife is used is shows that there is going to be a death, or maybe several, as it shows the knife more than once, this creates empathy to the audience, as they do not want any of the characters to die. The gun also creates empathy as the audience know that the main protagonist is going to get into trouble for his actions.
The final part of the mise-en-scene is the facial expressions used by the characters. The male protagonists facial expressions, through out the sequence are very serious, however this is because he is the only one out of the characters that knows something is going to happen that will change everyone’s lives. His eyes always look up even though he is looking straight ahead, this shows that he is scared as he is trying to make a barrier from what he is seeing happen. His posture is also very slouched, which suggests that he is hiding something. In contrast to this, the female protagonist’s posture and facial expressions are very closed and shocked, as she does not know what is going on or what is going to happen. When they first go into the cellar, with it being dark and full of cobwebs, the characters facial expressions show that they are on edge, you can see this as they keep looking behind them, when the antagonists appear however, the facial expressions show signs of speechlessness and also shock.
When frank arrives, he gets out of the car, with a shocked and upset facial expression, this expression shows that he didn’t mean to run over the female protagonist. When the gun is pulled out the male protagonist’s jacket, the facial expression on his face is deluded, where as franks face is very much confused and shocked. When everything is over and silent, the posture of the male protagonist is relaxed, its as if he is happy its over. He however also looks upset as he drops his head to look at the floor, and at the same time dropping the gun.
Overall in the sequence, cinematography and mise-en-scene have a large effect on the tension and empathy within the film. In the beginning of the sequence panning shots are used to create a sense of urgency, this is also show in the death part of the sequence, which creates tension. The camera movements and shots are used to exaggerate the most important parts of the sequence to the audience, this helps create the empathy within the film. This helps keep the audience entertained, yet not make the action to predictable. Throughout the sequence, the mise-en-scene sets the mood of the sequence and also the genre of the film, although this is helped through the cinematography techniques that are also used.