Setting the Tone
To create the score for the emotional journey in "Prisoners," Villeneuve turned to
Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson. His particular type of dissonant electronic music
appealed to the director, who asked Johannsson to create something stark, rather than symphonic.
The composer approached the score by combining an orchestra, with a large string and
woodwind section, with two lesser-known instruments: the Ondes Martenot, which is an early
type of synthesizer; and the Cristal Baschet, which produces sound with oscillating glass
cylinders. The blend of sounds generated what Johannsson describes as "music with a delicate,
glassy surface, heightening the tension of the film.
"I wanted the score to be a voice that worked in counterpoint to the action on screen," he
continues. "Even though the movie is a very suspenseful thriller, the music is often lyrical."
The director felt that the music enhanced the emotional resonance of the film throughout.
"Johann's work is beautiful and powerful, very graceful, classical but with its own identity,"
Villeneuve states. "He did a wonderful job composing something that would elevate the human
spirit amidst the melancholy of the story, giving the audience comfort even as it evokes feelings
of sadness and desperation."
As desperation causes the characters in the film to unravel -- each in his or her own
way -- the filmmakers hope that "Prisoners" will provoke moviegoers to question their own
behavior when confronted with the unthinkable. The answers the film provides are not easy, but
it is the cast and filmmakers' desire that they will elicit self-reflection and conversation.
Jackman allows, "There is rage inside of a man forced to protect his family. It is a rage
you hope you'll never have to face, but once it arises, you have no idea how far you'll go to save
your child. Would I go as far as Keller does? I don't know. That is the point, and the power, of
For Villeneuve, the movie examines how extraordinary events in life can come out of
nowhere and tear the fabric of a family to shreds in an instant. "It happens to people we love
most in life, the sources of our heart and our safety," he says. "I think that this story, told in a
beautiful script and interpreted by the most skillful actors, comes from a very human point of
view. I hope audiences will see a powerful, complex drama told in a very exciting, intriguing
way, and that they will continue to think about it, and to talk about it, long after they leave the
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