What’s The Score: Oscars Week Special – Her

The third film in the Oscars Week Special series of What’s The Score is ‘Her’, starring Joaquin Phoenix and sort-of Scarlett Johansson.

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I couldn’t find different tracks of the score of this film cut up into cues the way they often are online, and it’s probably better this way – firstly, I’m not sure if this score necessarily deserves the nomination, and secondly it’s one hell of a long film to be picking out cues from.  Okay it’s 2 hours but I have a short attention span. So for this one, we’re going for general comments on the overall score, picking out bits and pieces. The entire score is available on Youtube as a suite, and is actually really lovely to listen to as one continuous piece of work.

Owen Pallet and William Butler’s score (worked on by Arcade Fire, the work tying in to some of the songs on Reflektor) uses a lot of synths and electronic sounds without being cold and sterile, which is sometimes the effect those things have.  Slow building layers of muted, gentle motifs and drones have a soothing warmth to them, while at the same time creating a kind of melancholy feeling.  I love the combination of old and new sounds, like the droning bass strings with the synths – it goes so well with the subject of the film, how (and if) this human relationship would work with one half being a purely digital partner.

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When Theodore is talking to Samantha and goes to work at his job (writing custom-made love letters for people) the music is all on the piano, it’s simple and light, and later in the film Samantha starts to write her own piano music as she ‘learns’ to be more human.

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In the fairground scene, the synths take over briefly with a repetitive and energetic, yet never overpowering score that helps to move things along as Theodore is instructed to move and turn by Samantha via his earphones.

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The slow, tentative music that accompanies scenes of Theodore’s loneliness is church-like, almost mournful even. A little later, the music does take a bolder role in the scene when Samantha and Theodore have what can only be described as phone sex (even though Samantha doesn’t have… you know, she doesn’t…okay). There are insistent strings that seem to sigh, with higher strings dancing around one another with no real melody, soaring as the scene reaches its, er, climax.

There’s a passage where ukelele music plays over the a montage with Samantha and Theodore’s vocals joining in later, which is corny but nice touch – they’re in a cabin instead of the metropolitan city that Theodore lives in, so being away from the tech-focused is reflected in this folksy, simple little duet.

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When he finds he can’t connect to Samantha, the score becomes darker, more tense and relies on the electronics a bit more; harsh, dissonant chords accompany Theodore as he runs frantically to find out what’s wrong.

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Once Samantha and Theodore have parted ways, the score is dominated by the strings and more traditionally harmonic music, like Theodore is getting back to the real world.  The harmonies and chords move around a sustained note, which establishes a sense of hopefully yearning and suggest that for Theodore, there will be life and love after Her.

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