Home > Reviews > ADORATION – Mychael Danna

ADORATION – Mychael Danna

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’m listening to Adoration for about the sixth or seventh time, and I still don’t know whether I like it or not, which puts me in a quandary. Sometimes, in film music, you listen to a score and you know that, on an intellectual level, the score is wonderful. You know that the textures the composer creates with his instruments are perfectly intricate. You understand that the mood he brings to the film through his music is exactly what was needed to convey the emotions on screen. You know that the level of precision and technique the performers have is superb. But yet, despite all that, you find yourself completely unable to warm to the score. While listening to it, you find your mind wandering – not out of boredom, but because you are not engaged by what you hear. You’re not enjoying listening to the score, and are connecting with it on a purely academic plain. I’ve had this happen to me many times before, with the majority of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman’s output, and on more recent scores like Osvaldo Golijov’s Youth Without Youth or Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood; and it’s happening here with Mychael Danna’s score for Adoration.

The film is the latest effort from Canadian-Armenian director Atom Egoyan, with whom Danna has worked on acclaimed films such as Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Felicia’s Journey and Ararat. It has a typically labyrinthine storyline, centered around a young boy named Simon who, while undertaking a class project about a suicide bomber who blew up a plane with a bomb inside his pregnant girlfriend’s luggage, manages to construct a convincing online lie, and makes people all over the internet believe that his parents were the bombers and he was the unborn child. However, as the lie spins out of control, Simon gradually learns some actual truths about his family’s dark history. The film stars Devon Bostick as Simon, and features Scott Speedman, Rachel Blanchard, Noam Jenkins and Arsinée Khanjian in supporting roles.

Just as the film is rooted in feelings of isolation, loneliness and uncertainty, Mychael Danna’s score is equally concerned with the concept of remoteness. His music is written mainly for instruments working alone: solo violin, solo cello, solo viola, solo piano, occasionally accompanied by a small string section and glassy, metallic percussion. No brass, no woodwinds. The whole score has a sparse, withdrawn feeling to it, as though it is scared to raise its voice or elicit an emotion. Danna is not the most florid composer at the best of times, but Adoration really takes musical detachment to its farthest degree. Perhaps this is the reason Adoration is not a score with which many will connect; for the majority of the score it’s intentionally keeping its emotions in check, but when it does make you feel something, it’s a cold, heartrending emotion that you don’t especially want to feel.

A solo cello dominates the opening moments of “Promise” playing a grim dirge full of weight and bass; this is not the John Williams, Seven Years in Tibet, majestic kind of cello – this is heavy, enveloping music that creates an overwhelmingly solemn mood. “I Was On That Plane” is more nervous and edgy, with tremolo violins skittering above an undulating cello to create a definite sense of palpable discomfort. Frosty glockenspiels tinkle above the circular cello motif in “There Is a Way to Find Out”. The mournful lament theme returns in “Feel the Baby Kicking”, joined by violins which seem to weep with anguish. And so it goes on…

Stark piano chords combine with thrusting cellos in “It’s Going to Cost You”, a cue that raises the tempo a little, but makes the listener even more uneasy than before. Scratchy pizzicato techniques combine with piano improvisations to make “Fiction” a quirky, peculiar dance. “Something I Had To Do” and “Martyrs” are probably the score’s most impressive cues, with the former being especially notable for the way it somehow manages to make a pretty toy piano music box theme seem surreal and anxious when combined with the morose string chords surrounding it, before eventually growing into a bitterly powerful statement of the main theme that sounds like it has all the weight of the world pressing down on its musical shoulders.

Parts of Adoration reminded me a little of some of Ennio Morricone’s more impressionistic string writing, especially from some his Euro-drama scores from the 60s and 70s, or even his concert-hall works. However, whereas often, even in his more avant garde scores, Morricone still managed to include a memorable thematic center or a more inviting element in his music, Danna consistently refuses to do that here. I kept waiting for an emotional catharsis that never came, a moment of warmth to melt the ice of a score which, sadly, ultimately remained aloof and unreachable, reveling in its own misery. The only real moments of thematic beauty are the gloomy piano solo at the beginning of “They Were Gone”, and the more full-bodied pair “That’s What Makes Me Special” and “Scroll”, in which the main dirge is fleshed out by a more expansive string accompaniment, but even these are stretching the definition of the word ‘beauty’ to its limit.

So, basically, I’m torn. On the one hand, I absolutely admire Danna for creating a score which is technically superb, intellectually challenging, and wholly appropriate for the film it accompanies. On the other hand, I can honestly say that I didn’t actually like listening to the score, such was its overwhelming mood of starkness, sadness and depression. Clearly, there are many people who find a deep emotional connection to this type of music, and revel in its aura of despondency. Unfortunately, I was not one of them, and as such can only recommend it to those who like this kind of thing, and who know what they are getting themselves into; those who DO like this kind of thing can probably add a star to its overall rating.

Rating: ***½

Buy the Adoration soundtrack from CD Baby (it is not available through the Movie Music UK store)

Track Listing:

  • Promise (3:52)
  • I Was On That Plane (2:24)
  • There Is a Way to Find Out (1:05)
  • Feel the Baby Kicking (2:35)
  • It’s Going to Cost You (1:41)
  • Fiction (2:05)
  • Ornament (1:40)
  • They Were Gone (2:54)
  • Noble Cause (1:10)
  • That’s What Makes Me Special (2:36)
  • It Would Be Like This (2:33)
  • He Was a Monster (1:33)
  • Something I Had to Do (4:49)
  • Martyrs (5:56)
  • You Have to Believe Me (2:17)
  • Scroll (2:31)

Running Time: 41 minutes 41 seconds

Danna 884502032161 (2009)

Music composed and arranged by Mychael Danna. Featured musical soloist Eve Egoyan. Recorded and mixed by Ron Searles. Album produced by Mychael Danna.

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