Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Nolan’s film “Inception” features this song in a significant way.

By knl9j Mar27,2024

Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ underpins more than the plot.

Fourteen years after its premiere, Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ remains one of his most popular and highest-rated pictures. Because its clockwork is so detailed, it gives viewers visual hints and rewards. The song ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ by Edith Piaf plays as the protagonists are about to give up a dream. Many of the film’s issues, such the protagonist’s inability to leave his wife, are reflected in its lyrics.

Hans Zimmer picked the song for his soundtrack because of its relevance, according to The New York Times. The singer modified two notes in one measure: “I extracted them from a recording. I adore technology, so retrieving the original master from the French national archives was fun. It took a crazy French scientist to remove that one cell from DNA.

Zimmer states “All the score’s music is subdivisions and multiplications of Édith Piaf’s theme speed. I could glide in half or a third of time. Everyone could travel anyplace. I may tumble through time at any time.” Not only did the plot and visual cues reinforce the subject (pay attention to its final appearance, which reformulates the climax), but the soundtrack indirectly contributed too.

So essential was the song to Nolan that it almost clashed with Marion Cotillard, who played Mal. Before ‘Origin‘, the actress played Piaf in ‘La Vie en Rose’ in 2007. Despite being in the script from the start, Nolan considered removing it owing to this coincidence, but Zimmer convinced him to keep it after manipulating it on the soundtrack.

Hans Zimmer is influential, and I’ll say it again. Perhaps it’s because he’s steadily built his reputation over the last three decades by working on many of Hollywood’s biggest movies, or because his composing company Remote Control Productions has launched the careers of many modern composers, including Harry Gregson-Williams, John Powell, Henry Jackman, and Steve Jablonsky, all of whom share his style. A Zimmer score is easily recognizable today. Watch any action/thriller trailer to hear it. Zimmer acknowledges its popularity. The instantly recognizable note shocks cinema halls nationwide. BWAAAAAA.

Inception, one of my adolescent blockbusters, explored dreams and followed Leonardo diCaprio’s Cobb as he tries to return to his family by doing one last insane mind-heist. True, its mind-bending special effects, pulse-pounding action, brilliant dialogue, and shockingly hilarious moments (typically from Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s characters) left everyone satisfied, at least on the second viewing, provided they understood the plot.

Chris Nolan’s convoluted plots in Memento and Inception deserve praise. An ostensibly groundbreaking film deserved a groundbreaking score. Zimmer, who had scored two of Nolan’s three massively popular Dark Knight films, naturally created a grandiose electronic soundscape to complement Nolan’s visuals, giving dreams an alien sense.

This was the first score I wanted to own on a CD and listen to often, followed by The Last Samurai, a different musical animal (and next week’s review). The DVD was a birthday present, and we watched it on vacation a few times.

The supplementary features included soundtrack samples. I listened to them often. Perhaps I wanted the soundtrack on my iPod to listen to it outside my room, where my laptop sat. If I enjoyed a movie, I would hunt up the soundtrack to download and listen to it again to remind myself. Zimmer, thanks for exposing me to soundtrack albums—I’ve kept this habit.

Zimmer’s scores are so listenable because he arranges the soundtrack album’s music into a “concept score,” where all the tracks are smoothly edited together to create the effect of a long symphony of film music, regardless of chronology.

I don’t like this strategy because when I listen to a score, I often try to locate a moment from the film that moved me, and if it’s out of sync, it’s aggravating. The album score may not be the fullest version of the film music, since some significant sections may have been cut out for continuity. The album score for Inception gives you a distinct sense of narrative, thankfully.

Then the music gets real. Zimmer created the epic electronically processed horns by sampling and editing Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je ne regrette rien’, slowing it down to match Cobb and his team’s perception of time as they enter dreams within dreams. A brilliant idea. The film uses ‘Non, Je ne regrette rien’ as a warning before a dream expires, but the score doesn’t include it.

First introduced in the opening cue ‘Half Remembered Dream’, the horns start quiet with simple chords, then recur two notes, crescendo, then fade out to high strings. ‘We Built Our Own World’ effectively builds suspense with electronic sounds and sweeping orchestral notes fading in and out.

‘Dream Is Collapsing’ introduces the film’s first ‘action sequence’ music, based on an ostinato on a guitar, with staccato strings, larger, louder quaver strings, and the full orchestra joining in for a sequence that seems to spiral out of control, leading into a descending chromatic bar, before the two horn notes from ‘Half Remembered Dream’ burst back onto the scene in a devastating manner. Everyone feels like the world is falling apart.

‘Radical Notion’ adds more horns, fading in and out, to show the dream world’s potential. Another tension-building music with heavily synthesized violins and percussion climaxes violently, mirroring the pictures. ‘Old Souls’ breaks up the crescendos and horns with more artificial elements and a piano melody. This music seems to reflect Cobb and his wife dreaming of 50 years together and aging.

The sluggish pace and subtle tragic aspects reflect their dissatisfaction together, while the crescendo at the conclusion suggests their relationship’s dissolution. ‘528491’, which soundtracks one of the film’s closing moments, appears mid-way through the album, which throws the sequence out of rhythm. Again, it rises to an inexorable crescendo with excruciatingly loud horns, which are tiring me out. Exciting, yet repetitious.

‘Mombasa’ is a highlight of the album, featuring a frenetic, frantic action scene with ’21st century tribal drums’ providing a relentless ostinato, the electric guitar providing the 8-note melody that goes through several variations, high staccato strings, and processed horns.

From the score up to this point, one might think the whole album is thunderous action sequences and ear-shattering crescendos, even with the much-needed pace changes, but ‘One Simple Idea’ finally slows down the action for a more introspective, reflective feel. This music represents Cobb and his team’s “preparation” before each heist, using a simple 6/8 guitar ostinato, processed electronic elements, and the occasional string wash to add a human touch to the artificial electronics. The tune builds tension again, leading to another crescendo with a lull before the storm.

Two tracks—‘Dream inside a Dream’ and ‘Waiting for a Train’—represent the film’s closing action sequences, in which Cobb and his squad attempt the unthinkable. ‘Dream inside a Dream’ initially uses instrumental elements from ‘Dream Is Collapsing’ to excellent effect, mirroring the unstable dream realms of those two pieces.

Horns and tempo shifts dominate the next few scenes as each character sets up the film’s concluding act (expressed in ‘528491’). The longest track on the album, ‘Waiting for a Train’, revisits ‘Old Souls’ languid rhythm and melody with a sense of impending dread. As Cobb reconciles with his wife’s spirit and confronts her hold over him, the music darkens and provides much-needed orchestral emotional relief. After that quiet moment, a sample of ‘Non, Je ne regrette rien’ is played at 7:04 to remind the characters and audience that their time is running out before everything collapses with a reprise of ‘Dream Is Collapsing’, with horns blasting at everything.

Interestingly, the album ends with two of its quietest tracks, which are my favorites since they let my ears rest! ‘Paradox’ begins with high strings and a new melody, depicting Cobb’s tragedy and his option between honoring his wife and returning to his family. As Cobb is lost in limbo for what may be eternity, the strings and horns play a haunting elegy for him until the track becomes as dark and discordant as the album.

Thank goodness the last music and film end on a hopeful note. ‘Time’ is the album’s most recognized solo track and Zimmer’s second most popular solo track, according to iTunes. Starting with 8 simple piano chords, the tune gradually adds instruments.

After low double bass and percussion, a cello counter-melody, quiet voices, and a higher string counter-melody appear. After more percussion, staccato horns, and a guitar riff (performed by Johnny Marr of The Smiths), the tune opens out to the whole orchestra, marching forth with a passionate and conclusive sense. The final minute returns to those simple piano chords as Cobb is reunited with his family and all seems fine.

Inception’s score was significant. After the largely computerized The Dark Knight, Zimmer’s style became the go-to for huge action movies. When people think of 21st-century blockbusters, Zimmer-esque scores come to mind. Zimmer’s score for Inception changed cinema music forever for our generation, for better or ill.

By knl9j

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