The Revenant is a film which relies much more on sound and vision than dialogue. Indeed, DiCaprio’s Oscar was awarded – if you’re cynical – for two hours of crawling, grunting, and eating the occasional raw fish. Given that soliloquies weren’t the point – surviving bear attacks and abandonment were – it’s unsurprising that a lot of the heavy lifting is done by stealth, by the soundtrack.
Resolutely electronic musician and director John Carpenter has said the audience shouldn’t be aware of what a soundtrack is doing, and it seems the trio of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner have taken this to heart. There’s a mixture of approaches in the soundtrack for The Revenant – from drones and almost-noise to strings – but when heard in context, it’s subservient to the image, a waiter at your elbow, unnoticeable until necessary.
For the most part, there’s a kind of ascetic, restrained feeling, a mirror to the film’s harsh, cold setting. There’s hints of single-fiddle folk-tunes, dragged out to contemplative, almost-stopped lengths, but there’s more fulsome moments, too. The ‘Killing Hawk’ cue mines the emotive vein popularised by Arvo Part – indeed, some of the string prods are reminiscent of that composer’s Te Deum, isolated moments of touched-nerve consideration, heard through reverberation. A grinding, mechanistic sound is behind it all, a sound of decay, and when, midway, a series of bow-knocks appear, it’s as if an enormous flock of birds have been startled, rising away in protest. Throughout, there’s a sense of rushing winds, a reminder of the perilous environment.
There’s certainly references here to Sakamoto’s previous film work throughout. The bass-heavy, percussive nature of ‘Goodbye To Hawk’ recalls the composer’s work on John Maybury’s 1998 film Love Is The Devil: Study For A Portrait Of Francis Bacon, and this certainly is no less unsettling than any other of the composer’s works.
The language of this album is fairly standard as far as film music goes, particularly that for a serious film. As a collaboration, it appears much more unified than something such as the Clint Mansell/Kronos Quartet collaboration for Requiem For A Dream – where there exists an obvious stylistic juxtaposition to create tension. Sakamoto, Noto and Dessner have created a monolith which serves its master – a very sparse, rather long film – well. It can be heard separately, yes, but it lacks the shape of a concerto or symphony, which is its nearest non-filmic neighbour. But as a suite of pieces using a combination of approaches, it is worth hearing.