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‘Donnie Darko’ Director Says Tears for Fears Gave Film the ‘Definitive’ ’80s Sound

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As Donnie Darko returns to theaters with a 4K restoration for its 15th anniversary, fans are likely to be as focused on Tears for Fears as the demonic bunny.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the mind-bending 2001 science-fiction film follows the titular character, a disturbed teenager living in 1988 Virginia, who escapes death only to learn the world will end in 28 days — both thanks to visions of a giant rabbit named Frank. Despite its lackluster performance at the box office, it has developed a cult following.

Written and directed by Richard Kelly, the largely instrumental soundtrack also prominently features Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” a No. 3 hit from their 1985 album Songs From the Big Chair and a cover of “Mad World,” from 1983’s The Hurting.

“Head Over Heels” plays over an introduction to Donnie’s school, a scene that almost didn’t get made. Kelly told Consequence of Sound that the idea of a music video sequence dismayed producers.

“We also didn’t have the rights to the song, we couldn’t afford it, and I was spending a whole day burning through a bunch of money in the first week of principal photography shooting that sequence,” he said. “But I knew that it was gonna connect with that song, and I immediately called my editor and said, “Once you get the footage from the lab, please cut it together to the song.’

“They did, and on the Friday of the first week of principal photography, I brought a take of the sequence to set and said, ‘Look at this sequence, guys, look at it, Tears for Fears,’ and everyone looked back at me and said, ‘Okay, this is really good. We get it. We gotta send it to the band.’”

Tears for Fears were enthusiastic, and also agreed to a publishing deal for “Mad World.” The cover, a sparse version of the song that included no drums or guitars per Kelly’s instruction, became a No. 1 hit for composer Michael Andrews and his childhood friend, singer Gary Jules, on the U.K. singles chart.

In press materials for the film, Andrews said many songs on The Hurting could have done the job, but “Mad World,” with all its “self-absorbed adolescent angst, all sad and morose – it was perfect for that climactic moment in the film.”

Kelly calls Tears for Fears a “pretty definitive” sound of the ’80s, and that’s why they were written into the script. Other artists on the soundtrack include Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division.

When it comes to the sound of ‘80s, “there are a lot of iconic musicians and again, I believe most of them came out of the U.K. — a reminder that so much of our greatest music begins there,” Kelly said.

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