Film scores

Soundtrack review: Still Alice (Ilan Eshkeri – 2015)

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“Still Alice” is a drama about a renowned linguistic professor who discovers she has Alzheimer. She is portrayed by Julianne Moore who just won the Golden Globe for her role.

The score for this film was written by Ilan Eshkeri who also composed the music for “Stardust”, which I really liked. The entire score is only 19 minutes long and has 13 cues. Usually this doesn’t encourage me but the subject of the movie is bound to bring a good score.

Right away “Still Alice” welcomes the listener with British elegance; the strings and the piano politely but decisively invite each other in, with a couple of short but very beautiful pieces. Even if both “L.A. drive” and “No secrets” are shorter than one minute and merely serve as intros they are beautiful and leave me longing for more.

“Running” might be the moment she finds out about the disease. I am trying, listening to this cue, to imagine the character’s thought process… it starts with her being happy and carefree, then suddenly the music quiets down to the point where it sounds like the lifeline on a hospital monitor… just echoes of strings, almost static, expressing anxiety and shock, before a few piano notes punctuate the final seconds and Alice takes a decision.

This score feels very lonely. I am sure the composer wanted to show us just what the main character feels and how she perceives these changes. The cues are very short and they are just flashes of intense emotions. I love the piano and I love the strings. The music is beautiful and emotional and I hear a constant dialogue and contradiction between the moments when the disease manifests itself and the moments when she feels well and hopeful. When she is still herself the piano and strings are loud, while the moments of confusion are marked with strings that sound almost broken and out of synch. “Lost phone” and “Pills” are the most hopeless cues from “Still Alice”.

I am clinging to pieces like “Speech” as if they were a refuge. This is the kind of cue that just gets to me. I am a sucker for a beautiful piano and violin theme. I miss a theme like this whenever the darker moments come. I managed to connect to the music in such a way that I emulate those emotions.

It’s amazing what a good composer can do in just 19 minutes. The music is rich and dense and I don’t need more to be convinced. I end up listening to a lot more than 19 minutes because I keep feeling the need to return to some cues and most of them feel longer than they are. I get lost in a track like “Toothpaste” and I can’t believe it was only 90 seconds long. In “Souls rising” the piano takes over and makes a heartbreaking confession.

The score ends just like it had begun, elegant and heartfelt. There’s no change of tone, no overly dramatic music. After all, despite everything that’s happened, she is “Still Alice”…

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 9 / 19

Album excellence: 46%

Highlights:

Running

Beach

Speech

Toothpaste

Souls Rising

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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