Monday, July 5, 2010

Music in “Remember Me” -The Marcelo Zarvos Score-

Here is a wonderful article about Marcelo Zarvos and how the score adds to and enhances the viewing of Remember Me written by frequent guest blogger, Jessegirl.

by Jessegirl

The instrumental music written for the film “Remember Me” is an exquisite achievement. It is used with subtlety from beginning to end, and moves us through the story with unassuming delicacy. It supports instead of being intrusive. The score sets the mood yet never overwhelms it, and works on the subconscious mind more powerfully because of this. The technique is almost cunning seduction, trapping us in emotions the actors have set in motion. We are mostly unaware of this process. It is a rich tapestry of sound.

The only exception is the Requiem—I Know You Can Hear Me—which ends the film. This piece, a frank tribute, can only honour the dead and express grieving with enormous majesty. Zarvos was astute enough to know that the end of the story demanded undiluted yet authentic grandeur. And he delivered, with a hauntingly beautiful melody.

Marcelo Zarvos is a Brazilian pianist and composer, making a name for himself in indie films. He has worked with Allen Coulter on Hollywoodland. The extensive use of his primary instrument is evident in “Remember Me”

Zarvos draws you in with lots of pensive piano, understated horns, harp, and deep undercurrents of strings. A musician could identify each instrument and its place in this but I will do what I can to describe the effect of the whole on the audience. As one unqualified to speak to musical techniques, I leave it to others to analyze such things and comment on their purpose; I hope to throw light on how the music helps hook us, then reel us into the story.

“Caroline” and “Tyler”
Caroline’s motif is not the light-hearted tune we’d expect for a child. It has dainty moments, the skipping piano, the fragile harp, but the serious child with issues is uppermost. In the music we can see this solemn girl who zones out and escapes to her own world. It is a sad theme for a pre-adolescent child and illustrates her sensitivity. Caroline is a reflective girl, an observer who seems to laugh like a regular child only with her brother.

Tyler’s theme contains heavily plucked strings, a thudding piano, a plodding cadence. The whole thing is suffused with absorbed reflection. One can almost see Tyler in the diner scribbling in his journal, lost in his thoughts. The music illustrates Tyler’s near constant state of preoccupation. Although he is not an introvert, he is held in the formless yet dense grip of introspection. The music both demonstrates Tyler as a figure mourning his brother and his broken family and also foreshadows his own death. You cannot see this film more than once without being alert to this coming doom, both musically and visually, through constant clues. The effect is devastating because as you watch Tyler slowly come to life and come out of the shadow of his brother’s death, you know he is moving closer to the death fate has in store for him.

“Morning Montage”
The morning of...
We follow Tyler out of the apartment. Then we see all the other characters and how they start the morning of September 11th. They are all happy or more contented than we’ve seen them through the whole movie. Especially Tyler. The piano and that little flute [?] follow him rather trippingly, almost skipping, a light, sweet but not saccharine melody. Again, intermittently and rarely, tiny musical phrases of sadness break through. The sad and the sweet mingle strangely. We don’t really know yet. We follow the characters, especially Tyler, his face smiling, his body lithe and free, as the piano notes bring him closer to his destination. The score is a light, delicate touch, stroking us. Fingers gentle on the keys, almost happy. But our hearts are beating faster, as the ‘clues’ unfold relentlessly. Tyler in the elevator going to the 90th floor. His father uncharacteristically taking Caroline to school, and being twenty minutes behind schedule because of it. The final clue written on the chalkboard. And now we know.

Then he enters his father’s office and three ominous notes—some kind of low horn sound—usher Tyler in. The piano has slowed down and the ‘horn’ and those three notes keep repeating. And what is Tyler’s demeanour as these foreboding notes intrude? He is full of grace, his body slowly inhabiting the office, nibbling on a small treat—last meal of the condemned—and as he sits at his father’s chair, he sees his father’s love in frame after frame in family photographs. His face becomes more and more serene as he realizes the meaning of the screensavers. At the end, Tyler’s face bears the glow of ineffable beauty, the kind love reveals. He interacts with Janine, calm permeating him entirely. Touches her arm in tender camaraderie. Gets up. Moves towards the window, a quiet peace evident in his whole being, his body unhurriedly approaching the window to look out at the blue sky.

Those three ominous notes are at odds with Tyler’s tranquility. They would be strange if we hadn’t noticed the clues because they do not mirror his insouciance. They seem like the underlying perversion, the lie interfering with our now carefree boy. He is oblivious. He cannot hear them as we do. He only knows that he is loved. And that is enough.

By now our hearts are thumping wildly. We are paralyzed. We know. We hear. And, as the camera slowly zooms out to reveal his location, those three notes, sounds heralding doom, stretch back slowly with the camera, and finally the visual and the musical merge. There is a moment of silence, a pause before destiny careens in. Then cacophonous city sounds emerge and grow louder, a harsh racket mocking Tyler’s calm.
And then both sight and sound are taken away from us; the screen goes blank. Our hearts have stopped.

“I Know You Can Hear Me”: The Requiem
The bell tolls. It tolls for Tyler. It tolls for the many who died that day in those buildings. The requiem has begun. What else could come after the blank screen? Only this. Strings, muted horns, piano all proceed at a funereal pace at first, measured out in heartbreaking increments. This is when Tyler’s loved ones realize he is gone and it is time suspended in numbing recognition. His journal in the ashes is symbol—for it would not have survived ground zero—and is the visual for Tyler’s voice-over, his last words. Words from the dead. His voice rang so pure, so the Greeks would say. The music and the voice-over are both heart-rending without once being over the top, as so many Hollywood end pieces tend to be. And because of that, the exquisite melody is even more effective, as we absorb the gut-punch of pain. Tears come for many, but we have not been jerked around. We have been led, expertly, down the road of tragedy. And that is quite different.

Then the requiem deepens, as it must, sombre horns permeate every note. Everything slows down as if time has stopped. We see the characters’ grief. But we also see them continuing with their lives. Nothing is the same. Two three note sequences repeat and they tell us, point blank, that sorrow must rule now. He is gone and nothing is the same. And Tyler’s fingerprints on his loved ones have changed each of them. They forge new bonds, Caroline and her Dad at the museum. Aiden, his arm now tattooed with Tyler’s name, has become studious. They continue to work, as Diane does, carrying with her the devastating pain that comes with losing two sons, yet bravely carrying on. Tyler’s life changed them all forever.

Another musical shift comes when the piano pounds out in triumph as we follow Ally onto the subway train. She sits there, pensive, but that piano, like Tyler’s last smile, is inside Ally now. Her own serene smile echoes his. He is inside her. The piano is used like percussion, insistently hammering, as if it were Tyler’s own beating heart.

Finally, as the subway train blurs, we leave Ally as she continues her own journey, the piano keys are hit harder and harder, the whole melody is interwoven more emphatically. It is almost exultant, but not quite. Hollywood would present trite victory; Zarvos gives us the bittersweet reality. The score during the end credits is real enough for us to know that the angels taking Tyler do so with sad finality, knowing under any other circumstances it would be wrong. They are spiriting him away from the sister who needs him, the mother who would rather die herself than accept his absence, the father who would have died in his place if he could have, the lover who must keep her love for him contained, the friend who must now grow up and know what sorrow really is. The angels are taking Tyler to the embrace of his brother. They would rather not but it is all they can do.

Many audiences sat, riveted, even after Ally’s train sped off and the credits began. It was too soon to leave. Zarvos' end piece isn't over with Ally's smile; it is the requiem that continues and we feel compelled to listen. I think, actually, that the music, unlike the visuals, keeps the sombre tone, then soars when that piano pounds in—Ally’s smile—soars, and you just can not get out of your seat until the requiem is over. It's as if you have to stay until the angels have carried Tyler away. It doesn't feel right to go. You are struck by the tragedy, but you are travelling with Tyler as far as you can possibly go. Three thousand angels carried away three thousand souls that blue-skied day. We didn’t see them because the air was filled with soot and ashes and violation. But Zarvos helps us hear them.

Sometime during the piano’s insistent beat, the requiem turns into the sound of resurrection. It is not clear exactly when that happens, because Tyler’s absence is too painful. But, Zarvos’ score, its repetition, has turned imperceptively into a musical homage. You listen as the dead are honoured. You know you have heard Tyler ascend. Are Tyler’s shadow wings on Ally’s back that morning unconscious precognition that he will be flying away soon?

When he is gone, then you stand up.

Your actions might alter when you are with others, that friend who isn’t as touched as you are, the husband who needs to go to the can. And if the rest of the audience squeezes past you and disturbs you, the spell is broken. And you wonder why these others around you must disturb the heart of the film. It feels a mite rude. Is it just that they’ve drunk too much Coke and have to pee?

It is actually odd that anyone gets up before the Zarvos end piece is over. One can only presume that self-consciousness comes into play when the lights come up, which they do while his music still plays. People, perhaps, don’t want to be seen to be affected by the film; they want to collect themselves, contain the strong feelings which threaten to emerge for the public to see. Heaven forbid that anyone should see them cry. Or perhaps that’s just what they always do when a film is over and habit automatically takes over. Some have not been moved; have managed to skim the surface of the film. I admit, this puzzles me.

And some audiences remain. To me that is the time viewers can pay homage, give back some of what they’ve been given in the preceding two hours. The filmmakers’ names slowly appear and vanish, one after the other, and you know you are incapable of doing anything except stare at the letters as they come and go, because you are in mourning. The music keeps your body there, paradoxically anchoring you while it allows you to fly away with memories of Tyler, of the three thousand. It allows you to absorb and solidify with its weird majestic melancholy.

I have spoken to only part of it, but there is an honesty embedded in this movie score. There is nothing hollow or pretentious about it. It reflects the way the whole film was made, embodying genuine feelings and characters so real they draw you into their lives in a natural way. Apart from the end piece, which must deal with heaven, the music in “Remember Me” allows the story to unfold effortlessly and is imbued, like everything else about the film, with a bold integrity.

Bravo, Marcelo! Masterful.


Heidi said...

Jessegirl-DON'T STOP WRITING! You are so gifted...I swear every time I read something you wrote I get teary-eyed. Love this explanation of the beautiful. :)

I so wish this movie would get an award I mean more than the Teen Choice Award it's been nominated for. But I guess we have to take what we can get.

WhyIstheRumAlwaysGone said...

Hi jessegirl! I'm trying hard to finish the translation of this beautiful piece asap. We all love the score, everyone I know is deeply moved by this haunting music. I can't wait to read the reactions of the French readers when this is posted!

LTavares2010 said...

Marcelo Zarvos is Brazilian, like me, but I am going to be impartial. He is a very sensitive musician, talented. I had noticed his beautiful work in Hollywoodland and now in Remember Me he surpassed all expectations. Soft melodies, sentimental, dramatic without being melodramatic, intimate, relaxing, comforting, inspiring. I feel mesmerized by every music of the soundtrack, every time I hear and I relive every emotion that film caused me and still cause. Incredible job of Zarvos. He is a great composer and did a soundtrack worthy of many awards.

Jen L. said...

Ah, Jessegirl, you did it again.
You wrote so heartwrenchingly beautifully about the score. You literally brought tears to my eyes with some of your insights here. And you're right, on every note.
Whenever I come to this site, I have to do it with the sound off, because the sound of the "Morning Montage" instantly shoves my heart into my throat; it was so perfect, so moving, and still is. Zavros wrote a hauntingly, simply beautiful score for this movie. He totally GOT IT. (Unlike so many critics, and others.)

I was one of the ones, like you, who was so floored, so dumbfounded, so flattened that I had to sit in my seat until the very last credit had rolled. Literally couldn't stand until it was done. And yes, there was a gravity to it, almost like paying respect to Tyler, to the memory of the 3,000 plus people who lost their lives that day, as this movie was a love letter to them, and all of New York.
I live here, I was here on 9/11, and I have to tell you that Allen Coulter nailed it -- the horror, the feeling of suckerpunched tragedy, without being over the top or disrespectful in any way. How everyone kept looking UP, in total horror and shock... I remember that so clearly, even now.

This score was a triumph. The movie was too, it's just that people haven't grasped that yet. You have, Jessegirl. Your words about this film have been so heartfelt, so eloquent. As I've said many times before, I really, really hope the makers of the movie see some of the posts from viewers here -- particularly yours -- to know just how much they genuinely MOVED people with this project.

Love to you, Jessegirl, as always. xoxo

jessegirl said...

Thanks Heidi. I'm not a musician so I felt so unqualified, but tried to speak to what I felt I could, in all honesty.

LTavares...Cool that he's Brazilian. I have to check out his other work too.

Thanks, Jen. Your comments always make me feel good and that's so important, whether you're a screenwriter like Will, or just me. I always enjoy our discusssions and comments.
I'm pretty sure some of the people who made RM see some of this; so don't worry on that score. That heartens me so much.
Jen, I'm writing another--sigh--article and I wondered whether you'd mind if I quoted you, something from the Brevet post, where you mention your reaction to RM. If you want you could email the administrator here and she'd pass along your message. We could take it from there. ~jessegirl xxoo

And Rum, you are an amazing linguist and I thank god I've run into you.

Jen L. said...

Jessegirl - I can't figure out how to email the administrator right now! (It's late here, I'm tired... blah blah blah) But of course you can use a quote from me -- I'm flattered. Quote anything from me any time, consider this my official permission since I don't know how else to give it to you. Thanks for even asking.

I'm a writer too, but I write fiction. I can't begin to tell you how the things you've written about this movie have dug into me when reading them. You have a true gift, dearie.

Ah hell -- if you ever want to contact me, my email address is I have nothing to hide from anyone, and I feel such a strange kinship with you, I'm throwing it out there. Live in the moments, right? ;-) ~Jen xoxo

jessegirl said...

Thanks, Jen....FYI it is fiction I write (one huge unpublished novel and two sequels in the works now), as I have a day job. But, when I get passionate about something--as in RM--my writing knows no borders. Hah.
Kat kindly posts my RM pieces, which seem to pour out of me for a yet unknown reason. (The administrator's email is under the disclaimer: I'll get in touch.

Leo said...

I searched long time for this specific song - I Know You Can Hear Me - and your post gave me first answer so i am thankful. Cheers, good work recording tracks of movies soundtracks.

Αμάντα said...

hey... it's a great page! well done! i would like to find the partiture of his songs... can someboby help me please? thank you very much!

kat said...

Try . This score and others are on there along with the sheet music to the Remember Me score.

Anonymous said...

I cried so many times, I read this almost every day . And while I am reading this, and listen the soundtrack at the same time, tears can't stop rolling down my face. I remember all those I lost, and all those I love but are far away . This is the most beautiful review ever.

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