by TJ Fink.
All right, I have a confession to make: one of my occasional hobbies is songwriting.
Think of me what you will, but I find the exercise extremely therapeutic. There are just a few caveats: I can’t play any musical instruments, I’ve never taken a class on musical theory, and I have the rhythm of a stoned baboon. Wasn’t born with that particular gene, I guess. Despite this lack of natural talent in the art form, however, it recently occurred to me that music is truly an essential part of my day-to-day; when I step out my apartment door and into the bustling metropolis, those earbuds are going in.
I’m also an aspiring cinephile. I could easily talk all day about the intricacies of my favorite movies—all night too if I take my prescriptions a bit late. What really gets me excited, however, is witnessing that perfect, beautiful storm between a movie and its respective musical score: that is, specific scenes that were already great, but achieved epicness thanks to directors and composers who exude more talent in their smallest knuckle hair than I have in…well, all of my knuckle hairs. I should mention that analogies aren’t really my thing either.
Now, I’m not just talking about movies with good soundtracks; lots of flicks have those. Drive? Pulp Fiction? The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou? Almost Famous? To quote a certain gangster from Home Alone 2, I could go on forever, baby.
No, I’m talking about those fleeting moments that send tingles down your spine and out to your fingertips. The ones that compel you to immediately Wikipedia the cast and crew when the credits roll. I’m talking about these moments.
(Oh, that reminds me. There are spoilers below. Big ones.)
#1 and #2: Sunshine (2007)
Composer: John Murphy
Director: Danny Boyle
“Capa’s Jump” – In the year 2057, we join Sunshine’s crew of Icarus II on a mission to launch a bomb—one mined from Earth’s last natural resources—into our dying sun. In short, these eight men and women are humanity’s “last, best hope” for avoiding extinction via ice planet. As articulated by Mace (Chris Evans), the ship’s engineer, there is “literally nothing more important than completing [their] mission.” This is a big deal, is what I’m getting at.
After a series of deadly mishaps along the way, our potential doom lies in the hands of Capa (Cillian Murphy), the resident physicist and only crew member left with a steady pulse. Despite all that stood in his way, Capa manages to manually activate his sun-bomb in the most fabulous kamikaze fashion imaginable. First, he detaches the bomb from the ship whilst both vehicles orbit the sun. Then…well, this happens:
The scene starts off with a slow build that echoes the weight of each breath, each movement, each decision Capa makes over the next 4 minutes. By 1:15, it sinks in for us—the audience. This is what he was born to do, and he knows it. Then at 1:20 we go back to the slow build, the rising crescendo that starts with a reminder of humanity’s fallibility (i.e., Capa’s fall) and ends with the most important leap for mankind in recorded history (i.e., hurtling ~100 feet between a spaceship and free-floating bomb). By the time Capa takes that jump—a 10-second window that determines the fate of an entire planet—the hairs on my forearms are on end. He’s going to do it. He’s going to goddamn do it, and the intensity of the entire situation is palpable. Enraptured, I’ll sometimes even join his silent scream.
In space, no one can hear you scream “I HAVE TO PEEEEEEEE!!!”
At 3:32, the tension lifts, though of course we know it’s only temporary (he’s still got to manually activate the bomb from the inside, silly!). Speaking of which…
“Capa Meets the Sun” – Bombs don’t set themselves off, and sun-igniting bombs are no exception. Once Capa finally makes it to the manual controls, he only has a matter of seconds to accomplish what I can’t emphasize enough to be the most important thing a human being has ever done in this tangent universe.
Yet while our redemption and continued existence costs Capa his life (as it did the rest of the ill-fated crew), he accepted the inevitability of his death long ago. He hadn’t necessarily expected to witness the sum of his species’ accomplishments: a literal explosion that may or may not save our only home. But he sure had imagined it, and that beautifully homogeneous chain reaction—a reaction born of pure science—gave him peace. As sparks “pop into existence” precisely as he’d described (in the second act?), the instrumental score echoes the same question I scream inside my head between 0:40 and 1:07: “But will it work??” Then, as in the scene above, the tension instantly dissipates as Capa’s answer to extinction defiantly meets the ancient glory of ionized elements on a battlefield he alone is privy to. But the difference here is in the tension’s replacement at 1:08: a peaceful air of grateful resignation and childlike wonder.
But seriously, this movie has much more to offer than a stoned-looking Cillan Murphy.
Capa not only accepts his fate, but he embraces it, welcomes it—he literally reaches out to take it. I’ve watched this visual summation of personal and collective triumph at least 20 times just to research how I personally feel about it, and I’m captivated every time.
After Mace and Capa get in a brief scuffle, the ship’s psychological officer prescribes two hours of Earth simulation time to Mace (the instigator). I can’t find an embed, but do yourself a favor and check out the 11-minute mark on the DVD; the waves make me feel peaceful, too.
#3: Antichrist (2009)
Composer: George Frederic Handel
Director: Lars von Trier
“Prologue” – You don’t need any context here; if you haven’t seen this scene yet, watch it now. I’ll wait. (NSFW)
If you’re looking for a more pristine juxtaposition between latent beauty and abject pain, I can assure you I don’t have a backup recommendation. In fact, I’m literally sitting here at a loss for describing the visceral reaction I have each time I watch this movie. A brief summary, that’s where I can start. OK.
This scene, which sets the pace for the subsequent plot, depicts a young boy accidentally falling out an open window whilst his oblivious parents (William Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) passionately make love in the background. Yes, despite the explicit nature of 0:50 (those are porn actors, by the by), this married couple was not having sex—they were making love. There is a huge difference between these two things.
In general, the scene speaks for itself. Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga” is a beautiful song, and it effortlessly highlights the passion between He and She. The slow-motion shots (1,000 frames per second, Wikipedia says) are breathtaking, and the performance bleeds authenticity.
. . . Because f*ck bottled water, that’s why.
As toddler Nick falls to his death, my inner monologue goes something like this:
“Whoa, this is super depressing. That kid is doomed.”
“True, but isn’t there also beauty in death? Isn’t there a grisly poetry that von Trier encapsulates in these suspended moments?”
“But dude, can you imagine the crippling regret his parents are about to experience? Obviously this is a preventable tragedy that will haunt them for the rest of their lives!”
“You were an English major. Since when are you not into irony?”
“Hmm, valid point.”
“Now shut up and appreciate those slow-motion water droplets.”
Did I mention von Trier was recovering from depression while making this movie? Well, to quote the late Calvin, nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around.