Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

The Visible Acousmêtre: Voice, Body and Space across the Two Versions of Donnie Darko

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

The Visible Acousmêtre: Voice, Body and Space across the Two Versions of Donnie Darko

Article excerpt

When the director's cut of Richard Kelly's cult favourite Donnie Darko hit the screens in 2004, fans were presented with a film that does more than simply re-integrate scenes that had been deleted from the original theatrical release three years earlier; the film features new image and sound material created specifically for this version, along with some significant changes to the audiovisual montage.1 Kelly's stated purpose for many of these changes was to help explain the source of the bizarre events that the film depicts, offering some balance to the ambiguity inherent to the original version.2 Key to the increased clarity offered by the director's cut is further development of the relationship between high school student Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the mysterious man known as Frank (James Duval). In the midst of events that resemble a rather typical high-school romantic comedy, Donnie is regularly visited by Frank, sometimes as a disembodied voice, other times as a man dressed in a rabbit suit. Frank guides Donnie on a journey through various temporal disturbances that ultimately ends with Donnie travelling backwards through time. The original film positions Frank as a possible hallucination; the director's cut, on the other hand, develops a substantial relationship between Frank and a cosmic intelligence capable of creating the anomalies that Donnie experiences. In this article I will discuss the changes across the two versions of the film in order to flesh out the triangular relationship between Donnie, Frank, and the cosmic intelligence posited by the director's cut. In examining the intersections between Donnie's world and that of the cosmic intelligence as mediated by the figure of Frank, I will illustrate how the Donnie Darko films make an excellent case study of issues pertaining to the relationship between voice, body and space in cinematic representation.

Central to this article is how Frank can be understood as a model for working through the development of a cinematic figure that Michel Chion has dubbed the acousmêtre. In The Voice in Cinema, Chion initially postulates the acousmêtre as a character within the film's diegesis that possesses powers of spatial transcendence because it is heard without being seen. In later writings he has observed an increasing visibility for the acousmêtre as a result of the coming of multi-channel sound and advancements in voice synchronisation techniques. Finally he concludes that this figure has always pointed towards the fundamental fact that all speaking characters in the cinema, whether visible or not, are markers of the medium's inherently dual nature.

The idea of the cinema as a divided medium is a crucial point for psychoanalytic film theory interested in assessing how films develop strategies of suture to hide the split between sound and image. Feminist work on suture theory has explored how the conventions of sound/image synchronisation have been essential for establishing gender hegemony within classical Hollywood films. Yet such work has tended to view Chion's writings on the voice in cinema as emblematic of the problems associated with this hegemony, and key authors like Kaja Silverman have tended to make an example of the French theorist rather than attempting to recoup certain of his ideas for their cause. More recently, Britta Sjogren has challenged her predecessors in feminist psychoanalytic film sound theory by suggesting that their approaches to the voice in cinema have been too dependent upon reference to the visual. Sjogren calls for an understanding of the speaking body as something distinct from any specific relationship to the image. However, like her predecessors, Sjogren finds Chion's work to be part of the problem rather than pointing towards any solution. I suggest, on the contrary, that the evolution of the acousmêtre traced by Chion provides a way of aligning his thinking about the voice in cinema with that of Sjogren. Ultimately I will suggest that the Donnie Darko films push the figure of the acousmêtre to the logical limits of Chion's theorisation. …

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