It is not an unusual occurrence for rock musicians to make the jump to film composing. Hans Zimmer, Trevor Rabin, Mark Mothersbaugh, Danny Elfman, Carter Burwell, Michael Kamen, Charlie Clouser, and Trent Reznor all cut their teeth on rock music before transitioning successfully to film scoring. It made sense that some younger entrepreneurs would eventually roll the dice.
Arcade Fire’s (well, William Butler and longtime collaborator Owen Pallett to be precise) score for “Her” is quirky and endearing with pure earnestness, but bears a non-linear spaciousness that prevents it from locking into a particular time period (though, because of the story, it cannot possibly exist before the Information Age). It benefits from minimalist atmosphere caused by the unfulfilled song ideas that emerge within the cues but are never completely explored to completion beyond a simple melody.
This leaves the listener slightly off balance and wondering where the journey is exactly headed. This creates a chapter-like atmosphere urging the listener to continue turning pages to understand what has been experienced only at the very end. By stressing minimalism, Arcade Fire manages to keep the viewer as close as possible to the action on-screen, as though we are voyeurs or NSA agents studying Theodore Twombly and becoming so riveted, we cannot turn off.
The use of electronic organ and piano is sheer brilliance, as it more than amply evokes the fragility of Theodore’s character and the strength of his humanity. Another stroke of genius on Arcade Fire’s part is avoiding hard percussion in the score until the end. Percussion provides precise rhythm, causing a film to flow with a beat. And if life, and Theodore’s life is anything, it is not perfect, rigid, or adherent to predictability. And when the percussion kicks in, it merely accentuates a feeling of contentment and completion.
The score’s power is in what it does not do – it does not beat you over the head with stringent, poignant emotion. It allows you to empathize with Theodore on your own terms without patronizing the character. And it urges to want to feel so much, that when you reach the end, you are completely drained and would like not to be human just for a moment.
BUT CAN THEY WIN? They probably have the younger vote with nearly two million albums sold and three Billboard Top Ten charting albums in the US. It is entirely possible to see a repeat of 2010 when Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor took home the Oscar in his first-ever nomination. And Arcade Fire is slightly more likely to win over Steven Price, though both are underdogs in this game.
Do you think William Butler and Owen Pallett will win?
Curiously, the soundtrack to “Her” is currently not available for purchase.