Music From The Motion Picture Inception
WaterTower Music, 2010
REVIEW BY: Josh Allen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/04/2011
Many argue that the perfect movie score suits the mood so well that the moviegoer scarcely ever notices it. Some soundtracks, on the other hand, confront the viewer head-on and reinforce the movie’s intensity, adding a whole new dimension to the viewer’s experience.
Without question, Hans Zimmer’s brilliant compositions backing the psychological thriller Inception falls into the latter category.
As director Christopher Nolan describes in the liner notes, Hans’ score guides the audience through the plot, “pulling them through a potentially confusing tale by orienting them emotionally, geographically, temporally.” (And frankly, given the complexity of Inception’s plot, the audience needs all the help it can get.)
I’ll spare you the infinitely long discussion on the plot’s intricacies (seriously, that conversation could go on for days) and give you only bare-bones elements of the movie relevant to the brilliance of the soundtrack:
Inception explores uncharted territory in the film industry: invading people’s dreams. A ridiculously competent and steel-nerved crew headed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Dominic Cobb, attempts to infiltrate not only a man’s dream, but his dream’s dream, and then his dream’s dream’s dream. Turns out – and of course, this is all scientifically valid – that time passes several times more slowly within a person’s dream than it does in reality.
Anyway, the crew lives within a person’s dream for a set amount of time; when the person begins to awaken, time’s up. Cobb’s team devised a system so that Édith Piaf’s operatic “Non, Je Ne Regretted Rien” plays in the dreamer’s ears to cue the impending awakening.
What does all of this have to do with the soundtrack? (Stay with me, now.) Zimmer ingeniously composed the booming brass (a mainstay throughout the entire score) to mimic Piaf’s piece when slowed down by several degrees. Makes sense, because remember, time within a dream is much slower than in reality.
If I lost you by this point (is there really any question?), then check out this link to a video that explains it a little more clearly. But I digress...
As is the case with his previous works, Zimmer does a masterful job of building tension, and nowhere is this more evident than in “528491.” An ominous double bass gives way to a slowly crescendoing string section that climbs a minor scale until reaching a foreboding climax, when that aforementioned low brass section bellows a single note repeatedly. The soundtrack’s mood shifts frequently to suit the plot’s needs, from the ethereal and mysterious (“Old Souls”) to the heart-pounding and powerful (“Dream Is Collapsing”) to the gentle and emotional (“Waiting For A Train”).
Towards the end production, Zimmer pulled one more rabbit out of his hat when he threw guitarist Johnny Marr (of The Smiths, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs) into the mix, adding a modern touch to the score. Marr’s accents are employed to add force to some scenes, as in “Mombasa,” which accompanies the movie’s most impressive chase scene. In addition, his riffs become representative of the psychological entanglements that haunt the main character as in “One Simple Idea.”
Hans Zimmer has elevated his status as a movie score composer into the realm of the elite, sharing space with the likes of John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Elmer Bernstein. The Inception soundtrack is an example of a virtuoso at work, and its excellence is part of what made Inception the movie such a phenomenon.