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Soundtrack review: The vessel (Hanan Townshend – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The vessel (Hanan Townshend – 2016)


“The vessel” is a 2016 film produced by Terrence Malick. Ten years after a tsunami destroyed a small-town elementary school with all the children inside, a young man builds a mysterious structure out of the school’s remains, setting the town aflame with passions long forgotten. Martin Sheen plays the title role and Malick’s composer of choice Hanan Townshend wrote the score. I am excited about this because lately every one of his compositions got a perfect score from me. His special brand of depth and sadness always gets to me.

I reach a familiar and comfortable place from the first notes of the “Opening titles”. This is the kind of minimalistic and poignant music that fits me best. The slow guitar and the dark undertone come like a warm blanket over my shoulders and I just want to wrap it tighter. Then the haunting female voice and the ethereal motifs come in and I just lose it. I adore this cue. This kind of film music brings emotions so real and so raw that it’s almost too much. There’s a full album’s worth of intensity in just the opening cue.

I am amazed at how this composer knows how to express musically the deepest inner thoughts of people, characters. His composition is an exploration of a tormented soul which still believes he can do some good; it’s a special brand of sadness and loneliness, the kind that can become unbearable if you are not in the proper state of mind. I am always ready for a score like this, so superbly minimalistic and stripped to the bare. There are moments of quiet revolt in the music which make me thin of words that break a heavy silence. There’s a cue called “Fallen” that just makes my heart sink and in the same time I can relate to it, I love it, I feel it. I can’t understand how I can listen to an insert like “Prayer beads”, a small organ based cues and almost feel those beads materialize in my hand.

“The vessel” is a feast for ambient music dreamers. Every cue is like a dream, quiet and out of this world. “Underwater” gently strikes a chord inside me while “A sign from God” makes me feel alone and at peace. The music flows and is never heavy no matter how sad it gets. This is a very spiritual score as I feel the composition comes inside me and takes my emotional shape. The music also reminds at times of the way Nick Cave and Warren Ellis use the strings in their scores.

Hanan Townshend creates a special world, lonely but comfortable. The music evokes images to me of lakes, mist, a gentle wind and an even gentler rain. The story is provoked by a disaster of nature but the healing can come from the same side. “The vessel” is an album to play when you want to remember, when you want to heal and when you want to find once again the faith you thought you had lost, be it in someone or something. Do not miss this one.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 47 / 61

Album excellence: 77%


Opening Titles

The School

Come With Me


Prayer Beads

Sanctus (The Resurrection)


A Sign from God


The Vessel

The Blue Dress


River of Water

Finale, Pt. 1

Finale, Pt. 2


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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