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Soundtrack review: The revenant (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner – 2015)

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“The Revenant” is a 2015 American epic biographical western revenge film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu set in 1823 Montana and South Dakota. The screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu is based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name, which was inspired by the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson.. While exploring the uncharted wilderness in the 1800s, legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back home to his beloved family. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, Glass treks through the wintry terrain to track down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the former confidant who betrayed and abandoned him. I will rush to see the movie soon as it comes out but what I really couldn’t wait for was the score. Ever since I heard of the movie all I could think of was Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, like a mantra… Instead it’s Ryuichi Sakamoto writing with the help of two extra musicians Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner I don’t care what name is on the album… the score must be in the sound of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis or I will be very disappointed. I know Sakamoto thought an how psychedelic his music can get.

I need to have a little patience and appreciate the weight and beauty of the “Main titles” even if the atmospheric element is lacking. This theme is as empty and heavy as I expected only it takes place somewhere confined, not out in the open. Maybe it’s an inner monologue… the music then slowly opens up; or rather it isn’t the music that’s opening up but the glass wall that was keeping me from feeling like part of the story. The borders keeping me from feeling this music are rapidly dissolving and I am starting to feel the cold wind on my face. In the opening cues we still are in more of a space musical setting rather than an earthly one. I need to free my mind of the constraints of the story. I need to let this musical poem caress me, make its way inside me and bring out what it finds. I couldn’t possibly have imagined Japanese influenced instruments working here but “Goodbye to Hawk” almost brings me to tears. It barely uses a couple of touches to make me feel that way.

The atmospheric element in “The revenant” is more melodic and more complex than I would have expected. It’s also not as distorted as I envisioned it. I came in here with my mind set on the western vibes and I discovered something deeper, more powerful, something that only develops once it gets inside. You need to have an open mind and an open heart to fully appreciate this score but what Ryuichi Sakamoto did here is creating a unique ode to loneliness and self-discovery. He and his collaborators also kept the music at a level where it can be listened to repeatedly. It won’t become too affecting, it won’t drain you emotionally, and instead you will find new reasons to listen to it over and over again. I can’t wait to hear it in context. The last big release of 2015 ends this extraordinary year on a quiet and poignant note.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 71 / 71

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:

The Revenant Main Theme

Hawk Punished

Carrying Glass

First Dream

Killing Hawk

Discovering River

Goodbye to Hawk

Discovering Buffalo

Hell Ensemble

Glass and Buffalo Warrior Travel

Arriving at Fort Kiowa

Church Dream

Powaqa Rescue

Imagining Buffalo

The Revenant Theme 2

Second Dream

Out of Horse

Looking For Glass

Cat & Mouse

The Revenant Main Theme Atmospheric

Final Fight

The End

The Revenant Theme (Alva Noto Remodel)

 

 

 

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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