When Music Works Against the Composer

Inception, dir. Christopher Nolan, comp. Hans Zimmer

  • Inception, dir. Christopher Nolan, comp, Hans Zimmer
    There are lots of unexpected twists in latest Hans Zimmer's scores. After he declared in 2008 that he is going to withdraw from the film business for a while, his score for Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie, showed amazing inventiveness and creativeness which was superior to Zimmer’s attractive sounding, but otherwise cliché-founding opus. And while it is quite a mystery how the apple of creative and innovative musical thoughts fell right to Zimmer’s head (in fact, there is a possibility that it was written by one of his many associates), his signature also appeared on the score of the Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

    On the other hand, Inception brings out another unexpected twist. Zimmer’s music is otherwise full of syncopations and accents, lush orchestrations and broad thematic works (but also simple harmonies). But this music consists of enumeration of passive musical blocks. In the film which tells the story about dreams and how to influence them, it can not be said that this kind of musical approach is not expected, but it is certainly not expected from Hans Zimmer.

    The passive treatment is more and more common in American film music: the music’s only function is to create atmosphere. There is no thematic work, there is no harmonic development – everything is put into one or two harmonies from which grow few melodic tones. The only active movement is made by dynamics. This is also true for Zimmer’s work in Nolan’s film (I suppose that the idea belongs to director, since a similar approach could be found in David Julyan’s score for Nolan’s film Memento which bears similarly complicated screenplay). On the other hand, it is important to emphasize that there are more than one or two of these melodies of few tones in Zimmer’s score (the word motive would be more appropriate) and this makes the resulting sound somewhat more interesting than in scores which use always the same musical blocks. But the principle is the same: the goal is to create a passive atmosphere which, in this case, justifies extremely complicated story.

    Inception, dir. Christopher Nolan, comp. Hans ZimmerIt seems, namely, that music in Inception doesn't want to be in a way to the viewer’s understanding of many layered dreams and to foreign subjects’ breaking into a dream within a dream within a dream. But it also seems that this scenario – and especially because of the fact that in dreams everything is possible – could be an encouragement for more inventive or more complicated musical approach (Zimmer could, for example, use some polyphony during the merging of four times in four parallel but totally different dreams). Unfortunately, Zimmer stayed at primary level (unlike film characters that, in spite of great dangers, go down to meet different levels of human subconsciousness). The only active participation of music in film’s story is put down to manipulation with viewer’s perception of musical dynamics.

    This is obvious in the big crescendo of film score’s big finale. But in musical crescendo there are only bits of the power of crescendo of Nolan’s film’s ending: although little spinning-wheel-talisman offers two different answer’s on the question weather Leonardo di Caprio’s character succeeded to return to United States and to reunite with his children, turning the music to simple and powerful, but harmonically and melodically almost banal dynamic loop says nothing.

    It seems that composing music in passive blocks works against the composer (and I think, this is not only the case with this score). Namely, if you listen to music outside the movie, on the CD album (which is obligatory film’s nusproduct), it is obvious that it cannot offer visualization of film in the listener’s imagination: it just discover’s its own imperfections.

    © Irena Paulus, FILMOVI.hr, 2 September 2010

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