Clint Mansell and Darren Aronofsky are a fierce duo when firing on all cylinders; Noah sees both of them in their natural element and it’s a sight to behold. Did I mention Kronos Quartet is back as well?
Given that his last two scores for Aronofsky were 2008’s The Wrestler (in which the music was not as central to the story as the rest of his works) and 2010’s Black Swan (which was based on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and some argued not entirely “original”), Mansell has been penning his best stuff for other directors. 2009’s Moon remains a personal favorite in its perfectly understated and haunting compositions; 2013’s Stoker is a masterful and playful composition for a movie with exactly the same underpinnings; and many have highlighted his recent scores for Filth and Last Night as similarly impressive works. This growth must be good for Mansell, who began his career tightly bound to Aronofsky with stellar scores for Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountian, but has since branched out and shown that he is capable of operating independently. Mansell’s gift has always been the tight relationship his music fosters with the script and the relatively concise, album-like quality of the score, but he’s never been entrusted with so big a production as Noah ($125m). So how does it stack up?
At first glimpse, Noah looks like it’s Clint Mansell being forced into the typical Hollywood mold. The score is twenty two tracks over 80 minutes, with most of them falling around the 2-4 minute mark. Lovers of instrumental music and scores often bemoan when composers are reduced to a series of cues, and before the score even starts, we’re concerned about exactly the same phenomenon. However, as Noah unravels, this is less of an issue as we originally suspected. Mansell pulls from a now wide breath of expertise and weaves together a variety of styles to make the score less a delineation of album tracks (as we saw with something like The Fountain) and more than a quick rifling of cues; Noah lands somewhere in the middle of the road, but this works rather well for the half-tense classical theatrics and half-ambient haze. Stylistically and conceptually, the tracks bleed into one another in a Zimmer-esque fashion that has proven quite successful in the past half decade and what we’re witnessing is Mansell successfully placating studio execs while also giving his fans something to celebrate.
It would be an injustice to discuss Noah without mentioning the synergy with the film itself. Thematically, Aronofsky returns to familiar ground with a story that is heavy on fantasy while still being focused mainly on the internal psychological struggles of man (spoiler alert: it turns out Noah’s a bit of a crazy bastard, but you should have seen that coming if you’re familiar with Aronofsky’s work). Mansell’s earlier scores were less subtle with his emphasis on the psychotic — and arguably Aronofsky’s characters have grown more nuanced and less one-dimensional as time goes on — but as he grows older, there’s a gentleness buried beneath all that madness. And how apropos it is; Aronofsky and Mansell don’t deal with characters who are actually evil, there’s simply just a general ambiguity in what is right and what is wrong. Aronofsky lives in the grey area, and that is where Mansell always does his best work.
Occasionally he drags the Kronos Quartet along for the adventure, and then we’re treated to something otherworldly.