Film Latest - - by Dane Hume

Settling the score: how music makes the scene

Settling the score: how music makes the scene

This week brought about a sneak preview of the soundtrack for David Fincher’s new mystery-thriller Gone Girl; a film based on the 2012 book of the same name. The story revolves around the disappearance of Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife of five years, Amy (Rosamund Pike), who in turn finds himself the prime suspect following the mounting pressure from the police and the growing media frenzy.

In a word, Trent Reznor’s newly released contribution to the Gone Girl soundtrack would best be described as mechanical. Titled “The Way He Looks At Me”, the score draws on obvious connotations that something is amiss and that there is a dark, malicious plot being constructed behind the scenes. It is an integral and complimentary part of a film’s aesthetic, and already you get the idea that it is going to play a major role in evoking the senses. Every now and then you will stumble across that one particular scene and score which is so perfectly balanced that you can’t help but feel a build-up of pleasure coursing through your body. Small hairs on the back of your neck rise, as a sleeve of goosebumps tingles down your arms; the rumble of horns and drums shake the room and threaten to pull you out of your chair and into the screen, only to be rescued by the faint whimper of violins.

Films have a unique way of using music to manipulate the audience’s emotions, using alterations in pitch and volume to indicate that something big is about to happen. The audience knows that it is coming and in their heads they have already worked it out, but they can’t quite say for sure yet. It’s like looking through a keyhole trying to get a better idea of the big picture – the suspense is incredible. Music is often used in films to trigger an emotional response. It is a peripheral emotional cue that is used to induce specific mood states from the audience and alter their perception of the scene. Horror films have been known to use harsh and unexpected sounds to catch people off guard and create a sense of fear, but it’s the scenes in films where individuals overcome their struggles which spark the biggest emotional release.

Here are four examples of where the score has matched the scene perfectly, leaving you completely and utterly beside yourself with emotion.


1. Inception (2010) – Cobb comes home

With each volley of strings another event passes and Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) edges closer to his only real dream: returning home to be with his children again. The audience is left unable to blink as they finally get to see it come to fruition, before allowing themselves to shut their eyes when his totem wavers. This is testament to Christopher Nolan’s fantastic storytelling and character development, as you are effectively willing Cobb on throughout the scene.

There is something about the theatricality that violins and similarly stringed instruments that apply emotional gravitas to a scene. Hans Zimmer is a master at this as he noticeably picks up on every instinct, as with each passing step Cobb takes he introduces another instrument, quickens up the pace and turns up the energy.


2. Sunshine (2007) – Capa’s Jump

When the weight of the entire world rests on your shoulders, you stand up and make yourself counted. With the last chance of reigniting the sun before it slowly dies – and with the rest of crew already meeting the same fate – it’s up to Cillian Murphy to detonate the nuclear fission bomb to ensure the fate of humanity is secured.

John Murphy’s Adagio in D Minor builds the scene up slowly as the rising crescendo reminds you that humans do have their weaknesses (when Capa falls), before ending up with the most important leap for mankind in recorded history. Neil Armstrong’s was pretty special, but in these brief few minutes you find yourself motionless. He’s going to do it.


3. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Batman’s sacrifice

As it turned out, it was the final scene in the final film of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy that was perhaps the most emotionally destructive. The people of Gotham begin coming to terms with what they have just witnessed: Batman has sacrificed himself in order to save the city.

Hans Zimmer produced a virtuoso display throughout the trilogy, as his score helped bring the more emotionally-hinged scenes to life. His final contribution “Rise” was a culmination of haunting strings and vocals, mixed with trembling rhythms as the credits start to chime in – when he and Nolan collaborate, it’s artistry in motion.


4. The Social Network (2010) – Eduardo is set up

A film based on the founding of a well-known social media company sounded nothing more than a gimmick upon first inspection, but in reality this couldn’t have been further from the truth. David Fincher is a director who is known for his meticulous storytelling and here is the first instance in which he collaborated with acclaimed Nine-Inch Nails front man, Trent Reznor, to produce a piece of cinema which culminated in its eventual Oscars success.

This is a crucial scene in the film as it highlights just how corrupt the company had become, with co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) discovering his shares were the only ones to be diluted, rendering them useless. Reznor captures the fragility of the scene beautifully with a gentle ballad of strings and piano keys, while Garfield produces a master class of a performance in what would be his final ‘screw you’ to his former friend.


Gone Girl will be released in UK cinemas on October 3rd.


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