Hildur Guðnadóttir & Jóhann Jóhannsson
Mary Magdalene [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
I wanted to like the film but I’m not sure it’s really up to much – despite stunning cinematography, this mesmerising score and the strong performances of its leads. That’s not quite enough to get it over the line, alas. It drags. It doesn’t have the kick nor the (same level of) grit that Garth Davis’ LION possesses.
And as I think all of this I should acknowledge that “religious movies” – for want of a term – are so rarely my bag. But, oddly, I quite often like the accompanying scores. Take Noah for instance (please, take it!) Dreadful film in almost every way – and by a filmmaker whose work I usually like very much. Its one thing close to a saving grace was Clint Mansell’s score – which I enjoyed for years before I ever plucked up the courage to watch the images that music was made for.
It appears to be the case here – with Hildur Guðnadóttir and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for Mary Magdalene.
Yes, I started listening to this before I saw the film (and yes, the film had a troubled run, arriving without distribution on the back of Weinstein’s scandal and looking lost as a result). But the music was always going to be of interest, I’m a fan of the recent works by Guðnadóttir and of course by Jóhannsson (and R.I.P.)
This was either the final or penultimate score that Jóhannsson worked on – if I have the chronology right this is his final set of writings and recordings though another film score was released into the world after his passing.
I’m reminded of the one religious film that I do like when it comes to listening to this score. Much like Peter Gabriel’s “Passion” (for Scorsese’s Last Temptation) the music for Mary Magdalene can be listened to on its away – away from the images that inspired it. And there’s a slight similarity in the composing style, the mix of organic and electronic, occasionally jarring textures to juxtapose the serene, erm, heavenly melodies and motifs. The opening cue, Cana, and the beautiful follow up, The Mustard Seed, are our scene-setters here, and the way the voice is buried beneath the keys, slowly rising up as a texture, well that’s Gabriel-esque, for sure. Also, later in the score, there are more abrasive moments that remind of Temptation’s more sinister passages (The Goats).
But the stateliness (The Dress) and the so perfectly crafted angelic movements (Messiah) speak to both the individual and collaborative styles of the two composers here. Hildur and Jóhann had history dating way back before this soundtrack assignment.
And where I couldn’t quite ever put my finger on what was wrong with the film – beyond it dragging, missing a vital spark – the soundtrack is compact, thoughtful, exquisite. It moves swiftly, it engages, it beguiles, it’s utterly beautiful (Leaving Home) and clever in its layering of instrumental and vocal parts (End of a Journey).
There are short cues that linger in the mind long after (Ravine, Rooftop) and longer pieces where the strings sear and soar and could be lifted out of this context, repurposed no doubt, or certainly enjoyed as a type of spiritual, uplifting, relaxing, meditative music (Crucifixion, Resurrection).
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