There are composers who excel in every genre they are working in and so is Alexandre Desplat. Having scored smaller French dramas at the very beginning of his career, he worked himself up to the A-list of Hollywood composers in a comparatively short time, becoming the go-to composer for renowned directors such as George Clooney and Ben Affleck. He’s shown that he is more than capable of writing music for big summer blockbusters by providing an intelligent action score for Gareth Edward’s “Godzilla” and by being chosen to fill in the giant steps of John Williams for the finale of the “Harry Potter” franchise as well as the upcoming “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”. This year alone, he’s been working on eight projects as different as possible (more on his “timetable” for 2016 soon!), one of them being the period drama “The Light Between Oceans”, set to be released in September and starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. It marks his first collaboration with director Derek Cianfrance who already wanted Desplat to write music for his previous two directional efforts, “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines”, an assignment that unfortunately never happened due to scheduling conflicts.
Now, the ever-working Desplat (seriously, looking at his recent output, one can get the impression that he even wants to top the never-sleeping Lorne Balfe!), is back scoring a movie that really cries out for Desplat as composer. With “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”, “The Painted Veil” and “The Tree of Life” – just to name a few examples – the French composer has earned himself a reputation as one of the most versatile composers to write music for period dramas. “The Light Between Oceans” continues that trend, Desplat doing what he does best while staying in his comfort zone – which is not necessarily a bad thing: Film music critics have been raving about the newest entry in his filmography even before ist release date, describing it as one of the best scores of the year so far, with James Southall (Movie Wave) even calling it a “Desplatsterpiece” (see what he did there…?).
The movie itself tells the story of war veteran Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabel who are living off the coast in Australia. After rescuing a baby girl washed up on a rowboat, they both decide to informally adopt and take care for her. As time goes by, the couple has to face the consequences of their actions by visiting the mainland and finding out about the girl’s true identity.
As I said before, Desplat didn’t chose a specifically fresh or innovative approach for the music, it is pretty much in the same vein as for the previous kind of movies he’s scored: The score is mainly dominated by piano and string work, added by exquisite woodwind writing and some electronic bass to provide an emotional depth while remaining quite simple in the variety of instrumentation.
In the opening cue “Letters”, Desplat introduces the theme for Isabel, the film’s main character played by Vikander, which is performed on solo piano and lays the groundwork for the entire score, already foreshadowing what to expect from the rest of the music. It is a quite elegant melody that works really well within the context, especially when it is accompanied by warm strings and woodwinds.
More often used is the secondary main theme Desplat has obviously written for Tom, the character Michael Fassbender is playing. The composer subtly contrasts it from Isabel’s theme, it feels darker and paints the picture of a broken man who cannot escape his past and his inner demons. Musically, this is reflected by the thoughtful orchestration which adds an interesting counterpoint melody written for horns.
In addition to that, Desplat hints a dreamy love theme for the two main protagonists which directly leads into Isabel’s theme (“At First Sight”) as well as a quite innocent-sounding melody for their daughter in “Lucy Grace”.
Desplat’s score is generally low-key but incredibly emotional at the same time; and while it is not generally joyous or overly romantic – the music is way more serious and sometimes evokes a feeling of sadness and longing – it remains truly beautiful on the entire album. “Each Day We Spent Together” might be a great example for this specific style as it showcases Desplat’s oustanding sense of complex emotions and storytelling by contrasting the thoughtful piano tunes with an indecisive string melody. Only at the very end, the conclusive “The Light Between Oceans”, the composer allows the listener to enjoy a richly orchestrated, warm and almost “sunny” arrangement of Isabel’s theme which simply puts a smile on your face.
If you did not like Desplat previous efforts similiar to this work (speaking of period dramas!), for example the wonderful “The Painted Veil” or last year’s “The Danish Girl”, it is pretty obvious that this album – which is clearly written in the same style – won’t keep your interest. It’s almost like looking back at all those scores that the composer has written so far and putting the best of it together in one single score. Surely, it is not an easy listening experience – Desplat’s sophisticated writing here is actually quite complex and emotionally challenging – but if you really look below the surface, you will find a conventional but magnificent entry into the composer’s ever-growing discography. As such, the album is indeed one of the intellectually most demanding scores of 2016 (well, at this point…) and marks only a further proof that French composer Alexandre Desplat is one of the best film composers working in the movie industry nowadays.
Music composed, conducted and co-orchestrated by Alexandre Desplat. Additional orchestrations by Jean-Pascal Beintus, Sylvain Morizet and Nicolas Charron. Album produced by Dominique Lemonnier, Skip Williamson and Brian McNelis.
3. At First Sight
4. The Dinghy
6. In God’s Hands
7. The Rattle
8. To Resent
10. A Wonderful Father
11. Lucy Grace
12. Path of Light
13. The Return
14. Hannah Roennfeldt
15. Still Your Husband
16. To Forgive
17. Each Day We Spent Together
18. To Be Loved
19. The Light Between Oceans
Available on Lakeshore Records.