Soundtrack: The Tree of Life
Composer: Alexandre Desplat
Label: Lakeshore Records
Release Date: May 24, 2011
2010 was both a busy and highly successful year for Alexandre Desplat. Between scoring for The King’s Speech and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the French film composer had quite a workload last year, and, from the looks of it, 2011 won’t be any different; as it is, Desplat already has several high-budget productions to compose for on his horizons, with Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life among them.
Much like the film itself, the soundtrack to The Tree of Life doesn’t give its listeners much to go on; indeed, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to feel that each and every piece on this album is holding something back — a secret, of sorts, that we might never learn. But, in the end, it is this sense of ambiguity that is the soundtrack’s biggest asset, inviting its listeners on a journey to discover an undiscoverable truth. And what a beautiful-sounding journey that is.
On the whole, the soundtrack to The Tree of Life is a mostly orchestral compilation, relying heavily on strings and keyboards to carry most of its melodies. Thus, it’s not uncommon to hear a piano crescendo take the lead on one piece, while, on another, the melody is carried by a lone violin. Fortunately, however, the soundtrack’s use of its leading instruments is mostly competent in that this principle cast is never overpowered by other sounds; each are given an equal chance at dominance, even in instances where two voices are “competing.”
The soundtrack’s primary motifs and themes are established early on, and resonate well when they ultimately return. “Childhood,” the album’s first number, is a haunting opening, rife with piano crescendos that create a memorable tone. This, coupled with a slow tempo, allows listeners to appreciate every chilling note, for a similar sound returns in “Temptations,” the penultimate piece.
A chilling theme is persistent throughout the soundtrack. “Emergence of Life,” for example, features a pulsating composition that sets an unsettling though altogether brilliant mood, while “Awakening,” though quite slow and a bit too familiar, has a memorable closing that is the stuff of which revelations are made of.
But other sounds are evident here as well. For example, “Circles,” with its eclectic — yet excellent — arrangement of notes, showcases a variety of themes that will evoke myriad reactions from its listener: at times he may feel moved, and, at other times, he may succumb to the suspense. And, too, the song is well-paced, with frequent changes in tempo and mood to keep the listener engaged over the 11 minutes.
“Motherhood” is another strong number, and, though it is a relative departure from the themes created by the rest of the album, is still is able to stand out by way of its unique sound. Additionally, the musical competition between the strings and piano here is riveting, with each instrument contending for dominance in a manner that is both compelling and elegant. “City of Glass,” too, is a high point of the album, with an eerie yet decidedly beautiful composition that makes for a virtually flawless arrangement.
Still, not all tracks are created equally, and, invariably, there are a few weak points spread across the soundtrack. In particular, “Light & Darkness” isn’t all too memorable, and, while it is heavy on strings and screeches, the piece is altogether lacking in originality. With that said, however, the second half is more evocative than the first, which is simply a little… boring, to put it bluntly.
The soundtrack does culminate in a predictable — though fitting — end. “Skies,” fortunately, features a whimsical sense of musical mystery that makes for a satisfying conclusion to a strong soundtrack. Indeed, most of what is here is quite good; of course, though there are a few points where this quality falters, Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack is an admirable complement to the The Tree of Life’s subject matter, and is an eclectic compilation of mysteriously memorable music.
Track Listing (with individual ratings):
- “Childhood” (3:42) – 4/5
- “Circles” (11:23) – 5/5 (recommended)
- “Clouds” (3:00) – 3.5/5
- “River” (3:35) – 4.5/5
- “Awakening” (3:30) – 3.5/5
- “Emergence of Life” (3:56) – 4/5
- “Light & Darkness” (8:17) – 3/5
- “Good & Evil” (3:16) – 4/5
- “Motherhood” (2:04) – 5/5 (recommended)
- “City of Glass” (3:38) – 5/5 (recommended)
- “Fatherhood″ (2:49) – 4/5
- “Temptation” (6:47) – 3/5
- “Skies” (5:18) – 4/5
Overall Rating (not an average): 4 / 5 Stars