The power of the film score

Music adds immensely to the emotional potency of film.

Tyler Davis, Writer

If pictures are worth a thousand words, then it would follow that films, with their thousands of frames, are worth millions of words. What would these images, with all their endless words, mean without the power of music behind them? What would films like “Star Wars,” “E.T.” or “The Lord of the Rings” be like without their universally recognized scores? This music is deeply emotionally resonating. These scores have embedded themselves in the American psyche. They instantly bring to mind the characters and the stories we fell in love with.


Recently, I was watching a film called “Road To Perdition.” The film tells the story of a mob hitman and his journey with his young son to once and for all free himself from the grip of the mob, and keep his son from falling into the same violent life he fell into. The movie is beautiful in virtually every way, but what impacted me most was its score. Thomas Newman’s beautiful orchestral arrangement somehow communicates musically exactly what the film itself communicates visually and story-wise.

In an interview with Medium, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard talked about music and how it can sometimes seem to defy the first law of physics. It feels like it comes from nowhere. Music’s power is mysterious and not easily explained. This impact it has and the emotions it conjures up feels magical. When many fans excitedly watched the trailer for the new “Star Wars” film, the emotions that welled up when John Williams’ soundtrack came in were overwhelming.

Music from films such as the “Indiana Jones” trilogy — you heard that right, there are only three — fill viewers with a sense of adventure and excitement. These wordless pieces of music carry the stories they backdrop, make us feel love for heroes and fear for villains. When the menacing sound of the “Jaws” theme plays, we instantly know there is something terrifying coming. The shrieking violins of the infamous soundtrack from “The Shining” fills us with dread and unease. The industrial/electronic score from “Requiem for a Dream” has become the go to music to use to create a sense of epicness in movie trailers. It works every time.


Both images and music are powerful on their own. However, when these two art mediums come together, we get something extremely powerful. It would be unthinkable to live in a world where these pieces of music did not exist. They add immensely to the stories told in film. When “Road To Perdition” climaxes and we see the selflessness of the father in his desire for goodness and redemption in his son, the title theme packs the final punch. It communicates the love and passion we see visually and takes it to a deeper emotional level.

Music has always been one of the most deeply impactful art forms in the world. God seems to have a very high view of music. Music is throughout scripture. It is no wonder that God can use film scores to touch the hearts of viewers. Themes of redemption and love are often found in the films these scores accompany. These themes find their way into the DNA of the music.

Music is mysterious and sometimes unexplainable. But there is no doubt that many of the films we all love would be completely different and less impactful if they did not have these beautiful scores. They would not carry the same weight. That is not a world I would want to live in.

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