Scratched Into Our Souls

‘Inception’ | July 22, 2010

It’s the movie everybody’s dreaming about: Inception, the newest mind-fuck of a film by the brilliant mind of Christopher Nolan, featuring an all-star cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Paige, and Marion Cotillard, is the talk of the summer box office.

I probably don’t need to tell you why Inception is the best movie of this year so far, and I’m certainly not going to get into any talk of understanding the ‘truth’ of the ambiguous ending as that would be missing the point of the film entirely. But, I do want to think about the role and function of music in the film itself, as it leads to some interesting discussions. 

Firstly, there is the soundtrack by well-known German composer Hans Zimmer, whose score for the film is his best in years. The score heightens tension through the use of crashing chords, explosive dissonance, and basically every film-score trick in the book. The best song, however, is “Time,” the restrained number that closes out the final minutes of the film, with gorgeous chords and sustained notes that actually make time feel as if it has slowed down in these final moments (evidence used by some to suggest that the final moments are in fact still a dream). Swelling strings pull at our hearts as DiCaprio’s character has finally managed to let go of his burdens and in so doing is able to live out moments he had dreamed of, returning to his children and a life in America.

The recurring motif of clanging, dissonant chords played by horns that are instantly recognizable is actually a musical trick meant to mimic a slowed-down version of the powerful horns that dominant the instrumentation of the song “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf. This song holds huge significance to this movie, as Nolan had written it into the script before Zimmer had ever been brought aboard to score the film. Interestingly, this song is used as a type of diagetic music (music which the characters in the film can hear) whose sounds are used to create the nondiagetic music that the audience hears (music that the audience can hear, but the characters cannot, like the score to a film). This is a clever trick that cements the song’s importance to understanding the meaning of the film.

Another important thing to note is that music for the characters adds dramatic tension for them, as it becomes a ticking countdown towards the ‘kick,’ the moment in which they awake from their dreams. Perhaps it is only an interesting coincidence and a great bit of trivia that the song was actually sung by Marion Cotillard in her Oscar-winning role as Edith Piaf in the 2007 movie La Vie En Rose.But it is certainly not a coincidence that Christopher Nolan chose this song to be in his script; the title actually translates to “No, I Have No Regrets.” If you’ve seen the film, your head is probably spinning with the significance of this line, as the movie repeatedly finds Leonardo DiCaprio being reminded of his fear that he will “become an old man, filled with regrets.”

Listen to “Time” and “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” below (and brace for the kick):

Listen: Hans Zimmer – “Time”

Listen: Edith Piaf – “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien”


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    About Me: Chris Robinson

    A budding writer and avid music fan from Los Angeles, California, I am a recent graduate of Music History from UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music. I've written for the UCLA Daily Bruin, graduated valedictorian from high school, and enjoy many different types of music, from The Beatles to Beethoven, and everything in between. I wrote my senior thesis on lyrical misinterpretations in popular music, focusing on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

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    All music posted on this blog is for sampling purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Go out and buy their music, attend their shows, and buy merchandise.

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