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Soundtrack review: Her

Like any one of the great break-up albums, Arcade Fire's saturnine score will be many things to many people.

Ever since I was consumed by the mesmerising (500) Days of Summer during my late teens, I’ve been waiting for another film to come along and reshape my world.

You know the sort. Those once in a lifetime affairs that seem to understand who you are more than you do. I was sure Her would fit that mould, and do you know what? I was right.

I’m telling you this because I believe in full disclosure. I want you to know that I approached the movie expecting everything about it, including the soundtrack, to be nothing short of miraculous. Of course, I understand that such an admission might leave you wagging your fingers in disagreement, scornfully rebuking me because of my self-confessed ‘bias’.

Still, the fact that my expectations were so high actually meant that in all likelihood Her would only succeed in falling dramatically short. It would become a victim of my hype, and I would have no choice but to shun it for eternity for promising so, so much, and ultimately delivering so little.

Love’s lament

In hindsight then, the fact that Her not only met, but actually surpassed my wildest expectations is a testament to how good Spike Jonze’s latest effort truly is, and as you’d expect from a band that’s won 16 awards throughout a glowing career, Arcade Fire’s transformative soundtrack was fundamental in ensuring it hit those heights. 

Scored as the band were working on their fourth album, Reflektor, the Her OST clearly echoes the group’s latest effort. 

For some illusive reason, however, when I first heard Reflektor, I couldn’t muster a single drop of excitement.  Sure, it was good, and had one or two notable highlights, but that was it. It didn’t hit me as hard as The Suburbs, or seduce me in the way Neon Bible did. It was a palatable effort, but nothing more.

After seeing Her, that changed. A veil was lifted, and Reflektor, which before release actually featured songs that were eventually pulled for use in the soundtrack, became a conduit for Jonze’s melancholic vision. 

It’s a vision that offers a glimpse into a future of distant love, lost souls, and the disturbingly relatable slow-twisting knife that is humanity’s self-inflicted loneliness. Crucially though, it’s a vision that’s beautifully reflected in Arcade Fire’s tremendous score.

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Delicate, hopeful, and morbidly romantic, the soundtrack serves as a window into protagonist Theodore Twombly’s emotionally dissonant reality.

It’s purposeful and coordinated, taking us on a slow-burning tour of our lead’s ever-evolving relationship with Scarlett Johansson’s sentient Operating System, Samantha. Tracks such as Sleepwalker, Milk & Honey, and Loneliness #3 introduce viewers to Theodore’s lonely, melancholic future, using soft ambient tones, which wash over the senses with wave after wave of somber introspection, to tap into the character’s very soul.

As the relationship shifts gears, so does the score. Owl and Some Other Place beautifully capture love’s unavoidable doubts, while the glittering Morning Talk/Supersymmetry, We’re All Leaving, and Dimensions, each filled with a heartwarming poignancy, complete the circle as our protagonist finally re-embraces life. 

“Delicate, hopeful, and morbidly romantic, the soundtrack serves as a window into protagonist Theodore Twombly’s emotionally dissonant reality.”

Even as a completely separate entity it still manages to captivate. Like an age-old comfort blanket it promises to hold your hand as you navigate life’s twists and turns, refusing to shy away from the coldness of the world while delicately highlighting those moments of beauty that are so often overlooked.

Now, I’m well aware that the above sentence might read like pretentious, self-indulgent waffle, and you might even think that I’ve completely misinterpreted the score’s – as well as the movie’s – quite obvious message.

That, though, is exactly the point. You see, what’s become increasingly apparent as I write this review is that, like any one of the great break-up albums, Arcade Fire’s saturnine concoction will be many things to many people.

Some will revel in its hidden happiness, finding solace in subtle inflections laced with hope. Others will bathe in its cloudy, deliberate sadness, soaking up every note, every sorrowful key change, as they dream of a past, present, and future they once knew.

That ability to stir forgotten emotions is where its real magic lies, and, regardless of whether you’ve seen Her or not, I promise that you’ll find yourself inexplicably drawn to its soundtrack.

It is a masterpiece of modern composition, and a companion piece like no other.