It’s not often that a film score like Interstellar comes along and when one does it’s usually written by Hans Zimmer. Granted, I don’t watch as many movies as I used to
and age and parenthood has affected my choices, but I have become better at spotting something special. From the first musical murmur in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, I felt an instant emotional connection to this story, a receptiveness to the feeling they were creating, and it was no accident. In fact that moment was perfectly crafted, from the use of the organ, to the choice of the cadence and the clever yet subtle build-up to that majestic major chord.
Zimmer has an uncanny and consistent ability to tap straight into those deep and primitive feelings that we all share. Think of the power of the Gladiator score, the tenderness of True Romance and the poignancy of Thelma and Louise; the score to Interstellar is an ode to wonderment. And it was a long time coming. Frequent collaborators, Nolan and Zimmer worked parallel on Interstellar for two years. The kernel of the score was said to have come into being from a simple desire of Nolan’s to communicate fatherly love. From this kernel, Nolan drip-fed Zimmer more information, more colours and shades of the story he wanted to tell, which was not, in the end, a story about space. It’s a story about love, hope that we’re more than just an assemblage of cells and faith, that what lies in wait on the other side will somehow help us make sense of it all. With universally spiritual themes like this, it’s no wonder that Zimmer turned to the noble organ and traditional religious tonality for inspiration.
Zimmer’s score for Interstellar has been compared to Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack. And it’s a fair observation; most likely intentional. In terms of instrumentation you can see the genesis for the arrangement of some of the motifs in Interstellar. However, Zimmer’s score is more powerful because it’s more emotionally acute. Zimmer’s musical ideas blossomed from the very concrete emotion of parental love and all the desperation and awe that it brings and Glass’ musical ideas were, perhaps by necessity, more abstract and less emotionally charged. But what I love about this score are the layers of meaning, which is something I could only perceive after many listens. Zimmer’s choices resonate deeply in this soundtrack because, in a masterful stroke, he has built a lifetime of cinema-culture into the score for Interstellar.
If you listen closely you can hear all the musical semantics that you absorb without even knowing it, resulting in a piece of work that invokes a sense of nostalgia, of time passed and time passing; an essential element to the narrative. There are clues woven into the score that give it meaning beyond the notes that are played; a nod to Johann Strauss which is in turn a wink to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Strauss’ Blue Danube appears in Kubrick’s film), the delicate motifs reminiscent of John Williams’ Close Encounters and E.T. themes, the powerful brassy themes of Star Wars.
Combined with the symbolic and cultural weight of the 1926 four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ and 60-strong choir, the silences and cacophonous volumes, the Interstellar score is a dynamic and intuitive effort by Zimmer. Perhaps his greatest film score yet. Rich layers and myriad inferences can be found inside this score and it takes a little time hear them, to remember them and then appreciate what nostalgic and emotional buttons are being pressed. You can’t listen to this score without feeling wonderment. Zimmer masterfully tugs at the strings that make our hearts surge, our minds race and our imaginations explode.