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THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES
Serious score that treads the line between beauty and tragedy
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Lakeshore Entertainment, LLC; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
Ukranian director Vadim Perelman's follow-up to the wonderful House of Sand and Fog is The Life Before Her Eyes, and it's another heavy piece, examing how the life of a woman was shaped by a school shooting, with two separate timelines seeing her played by Uma Thurman today, and Evan Rachel Wood fifteen years earlier. Perelman seems to be building a fine career for himself (his next film will be the biggest challenge so far - Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged) and composer James Horner is clearly enjoying the experience, being inspired in very different ways compared with most of his assignments.
Like his previous score for the director, The Life Before Her Eyes is an unobtrusive, subtle piece, benefiting from a fiercely-pounding heart of an emotional core, but avoiding the overwrought theatrics which can sometimes blight Horner's efforts. Everything here is scaled-down - the score's played entirely by a piano, guitar and synths - and such chamber-like proportions will always identify the truly fine composers, since they can't hide behind orchestrators and other helpers; Horner acquits himself with aplomb.
The idea of using a piano (the most domesticated of instruments) to connect a character with the audience is not a new one, but remains as effective as ever when done with skill - the sound world created by the synths can be slightly abrasive, unreal almost, but things are always pulled firmly back to terra firma when the piano is heard, which is frequently. Sometimes it provides accompaniment, at others it takes the lead - such as when the main theme is introduced in "Becoming Close Friends", a piece full of contrasts, between the warm piano and cold synths; between the heartbreakingly beautiful melody and the unmistakable portent of tragedy in the harmony. This is clever, mature, grown-up film music.
The other key idea from Horner is using an ethereal synth female voice on regular occasions - this in itself offers another contradiction, with the familiar comfort of what at first glance appears to be a real singer playing off against the inherently more distant relationship when the electronic nature of the performance becomes apparent. This is a nice addition to the score's sound world, and becomes a key part of it. The score could perhaps be best-described as "meditative" for a lot of its running time, with Horner exploring ways of using his limited instrumental arsenal to cast light on the tragic events unfolding on-screen. At times it is so subtle I can imagine that many listeners will simply be unable to connect - it is hard to say why I find the gentle synth work of "Two Lives Slowly Converging" so utterly captivating, but that's what it is.
As if so often the case with Horner albums, everything comes together beautifully in the extended final cue, "Young Diana's Future - A Future That Could Have Been..." (one of the most wonderful Horner track titles, even by his standards a glorious piece of extravagance). The dreamlike dramatic arc within its twelve-minute length shows that a far greater thought-process goes into Horner's music than most other film composers', the execution of the closing gambit being handled flawlessly. For those people who love Horner's large-scale orchestral rollercoasters, I can see that music like The Life Before Her Eyes might be a difficult listen indeed; for those listeners more readily-accepting of more subtle music, the emotional rollercoaster here will be enough to impress. This is his finest album since The New World, a wonderful example of his skills, and highly recommended.