I stayed away from all the hints and hype about INCEPTION. I didn’t read any early reviews of the film or any interviews with Hans Zimmer before I heard the score so that I could approach the movie and the music with fresh eyes and ears.
To explain the plot, this blog post would be an unwieldy length. Let’s just say that the dream-snatching and implanting film is one trippy ride. “Trippy”…that’s the word I used to describe it on Facebook and Twitter and the word I keep coming back to. I can’t think of a better one. And while the film isn’t the Second Coming that some critics have portrayed it, it is thoroughly enjoyable, thanks in no small part of Zimmer’s score.
INCEPTION is Zimmer’s first solo score for Nolan after working with James Newton Howard on BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT. This time around, the composer went back to the film’s, ahem, inception—the script—for inspiration, composing the entire score before seeing the film. Perhaps it was that freedom from the images onscreen that allowed Zimmer to take some risks.
We get hints of the score’s main theme, a belching two-note motif in the lower brass, over the studio credits. But the theme emerges full-blown as Cobb (Leonardo di Caprio) explains to Ariadne (Ellen Page) that the “Dream Is Collapsing”. The electric guitar ramps up the sound over pulsating quarter notes in the low strings, and violins pick up the tempo with eighth notes as the lower brass signal a musical apocalypse. If there is a Judgment Day, this is the kind of music I imagine accompanying it. The effect is primal and frightening as we realize that our dreams may not really be our own.
With its short melodic, rhythmic and harmonic cells, the score is Herrmann-esque in its economy. In the score’s quieter moments, the gently pulsing electronics echoe the sounds of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for BASIC INSTINCT. Zimmer works in a major plot device, Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne regrette rien,” into the harmonic structure. Shimmering strings and electronics provide the backdrop in “Old Souls” for the lovely piano love theme for Cobb and Mal (Marion Cotillard). With its pulsating accompaniment and Johnny Marr’s (of the Smiths) electric guitar, the exciting “Mombasa” captures frenetic energy and danger as Cobb is chased through the crowded city streets.
Zimmer has said in interviews that the score needed to merge with the film’s sound design, and it does feel like an organic element. But kudos to Nolan for allowing the music to play such a crucial—and prominent—role in the film.
Readers of this blog know my dislike of electronics and rock in film music, even when the score calls for it. It’s just a matter of personal taste. But Zimmer successfully blends the two with the orchestral complement and ambient sounds to create a surreal, and surprisingly emotional, musical vision. Listen to the score on headphones to capture all the nuances in the music.
INCEPTION is one thrilling and trippy (oh, there’s that word again!) musical ride.