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The Music
But the art of making a movie is not just visual but also aural – with music and sound as vital to the experience of THE TREE OF LIFE as color, texture and mood. Voiceovers bleed into the orchestral score by Alexandre Desplat and vice versa, forging a sonic environment in which all the everyday noises and grand melodies of life carry equal weight, and become another source of wonder and mystery.

"The film can be seen as a requiem to a lost son,” says Green. "And the music is a reflection of that idea. Many of the compositions are requiems, from the opening Tavenor, to the Preisner over the early universe sequence, to the Berlioz over the future.”

But the absence of music also played a pivotal role for Malick. As Gardner describes, "Silence is as equally powerful as music to Terry. He uses it like a single instrument, but with the impact of a full symphony orchestra.”

Enhancing that experience is the work of French composer Desplat, noted for his sensual, moody scores for such films as THE KING'S SPEECH and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, who was instantly drawn to the themes of THE TREE OF LIFE.

In early conversations, Desplat understood that Malick wanted something "trance-like and meditative” for the score, that he wanted it to be as natural and innate an element as the trees, grass and stellar implosions. "The main thing Terry told me was that the music should be flowing like a body of water throughout the film. So there was a river-like feeling to what I tried to achieve,” Desplat says. "The music had to be very organic and earthy so we used only live instruments and no electronics. There is a lot of piano, which is very simple and basic. And even though the movie is very spiritual, I didn't want the music to ever be New Age-y. I wanted a timeless quality, a shimmering quality, where vibrations arise from the sounds of nature.”

He worked with Malick, who speaks fluent French, in unorthodox ways. "We worked by talking about everything, about philosophy, poetry, visual perceptions, many various things,” he explains. "We talked about light, silence, nature, childhood innocence.”

Malick had already chosen existing music from several composers, including the 19th Century French Romantic Hector Berlioz – known for his mix of emotional turbulence and elegant classicism – and the 20th Century Hungarian Gyorgy Ligeti – whose is perhaps most widely known for pieces used in Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY. Desplat used their work as cues to inspire his own.

Desplat then recorded about two hours of score with the London Symphony Orchestra, without any picture. "Terry had shown me chunks of the film, so I had a sense of the pace, the fluidity, the density, but I did not want to follow it literally,” he explains. "When the score was recorded, I put it in Terry's hands to edit all the layers as he wanted. He could play with it as another part of his toolbox.”

Like everyone involved in THE TREE OF LIFE, Desplat trusted that somewhere in this river-like process, unexpected and unrepeatable moments would break the surface. Concludes Desplat, echoing his compatriots on the film, "I trusted in the idea that Terry is always an alchemist, who will find just the right mix to turn mercury into gold.”


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