Dissecting Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ Chilling Score for ‘Bones And All’
Bones And All is a crunchy and complicated film. The combination of extremely graphic, grotesque imagery with an endearing, authentic, and tender love story is irritatingly compelling.
It is terribly disturbing and exquisitely attractive at the same time, which is a difficult line to walk. The cinematography is quite beautiful, the cuts are at times off-putting and disorienting, and the characters are generally well played.
However, perhaps the best thing about Bones And All is the score.
It seems like the perfect film for duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to score – a Southern gothic/horror/love story with a compact set of characters and settings.
The score is one of the best horror genre ones of the year, and among Reznor and Ross’s best works.
A FRESH COLLABORATION
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Credit: Aaron Tait/Wikimedia Commons
Reznor and Ross have become two of the most preeminent film composers of our time. The pair began collaborating over 20 years ago.
At the time, Ross was working as a musician and producer in England and Reznor was primarily known for his role as the main musician behind the industrial music project Nine Inch Nails.
The pair first collaborated on Reznor’s side project, a band called Tapeworm. Eventually, Ross began working with Reznor in Nine Inch Nails.
The duo began composing film music together, debuting in 2010 with The Social Network and winning Grammy and Golden Globe awards in the process.
However, Bones And All is the first collaborative effort between Reznor and Ross and director Luca Guadagnino.
DEVELOPING A THEME
The score for Bones And All is primarily built around two musical characteristics: a slowly developing melodic theme that is primarily performed on the acoustic guitar and visceral, haunting, and intense synth episodes.
The development of the primary acoustic guitar theme is particularly interesting, as the theme is only played in full by the end of the film.
Each time it appears, new elements are added to match the progression of the story and the developing romance between Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet’s characters.
On the soundtrack, the different developments of the main theme are all titled “I’m With You”.
‘I’M WITH YOU (A WAY OUT)’
“I’m With You (A Way Out)” is the first bit of music we hear in the film during the opening shots.
It opens with a vulnerable, exposed bit of nylon string acoustic guitar. It is sparse, spare, and delicate. Shortly, a synth pad begins to envelope and fill the space, giving a comforting, nostalgic feel to the opening.
As a standalone piece, the music does not give any clues as to the true nature of what will unfold. It is a placid and plaintive episode that reveals nothing of the underlying horror of the film.
However, it gives us the first few notes of what will become the primary love theme – which provides some underlying context for the focus of the film.
‘I’M WITH YOU (YOU SEEM NICE)’
The next development of the main theme occurs with “I’m With You (You Seem Nice)”.
If you listen to both tracks on the soundtrack consecutively, it might seem like Reznor and Ross simply recorded the entire theme and development and then strategically cut it so that it could be placed in key spots throughout the film, which is an interesting and compelling compositional technique.
“I’m With You (You Seem Nice)” opens with a continuation of the synth pad that ended “I’m With You (A Way Out)”.
A slow rolling, oscillating, and gentle pad rises up into a reiteration and development of the melodic figure first presented on the acoustic guitar.
This time around, the melodic theme is expanded and developed in many ways. It is extended and fleshed out with chords into a more cohesive and strong musical statement.
We hear this development of the theme after the meeting of Russell and Chalamet’s characters and their subsequently turbulent first night together.
‘I’M WITH YOU’
The theme is continued in “I’m With You” as we begin to see Russell and Chalamet’s characters fall in love with one another.
This is the most developed and comprehensive version of the theme in the entire soundtrack and we hear it as the pair starts to travel across the south and Midwest US in a stolen Chevy truck.
For the first time in both their lives, the young lovers are finally beginning to feel free and open to vulnerability with one another.
This iteration of the theme is primarily performed on the nylon string acoustic guitar again. This version features many embellishments of theme, more developed harmonies and chords, and a gentle underbelly of synth to provide support and comfort.
The theme is above all else beautiful and tender, which provides such a strong and stark contrast to the otherwise explicit violence of Russell and Chalamet’s characters.
‘I’M WITH YOU (ALWAYS)’
We hear one more iteration of the love theme in “I’m With You (Always)”. This version again prominently features the nylon string acoustic guitar with a simple and straightforward performance of the same melodic idea.
This version is like something you might hear around a campfire while camping in Kentucky.
CUE THE SYNTH
The second primary musical character in the film is expressed through haunting and emotionally complex synth episodes that primarily revolve around the parts of the film where characters are killed and eaten (not to ruin the plot).
Reznor and Ross do an excellent job of not over-composing these bits – providing just the right touches to make the context of the scenes compellingly creepy.
Stellar examples of these episodes include “It’s Your Turn”. It appears during a particularly guilt-driven moment where Russell’s character must decide whether to eat a recently deceased older woman.
“Night In The Cornfield” appears when Russell and Chalamet lure an unsuspecting carnival worker into the cornfield at night.
Also, “Unfinished Business”, which is the longest cue in the soundtrack and appears when the evil and twisted old man Sully hunts down Russel and Chalamet in their apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, during the penultimate scene of the film.
SCORING THE RIGHT CHARACTER
What makes Reznor and Ross’s score for Bones And All so effective is how the music itself becomes and acts like a character in the film.
The development of the main theme matches the development of Russell and Chalamet’s characters in a particularly effective manner.
The score reveals itself over the course of the movie, which is a noteworthy and interesting technique that gives room and intrigue to the music and makes the film more compelling as a whole.
Additionally, the subtlety of the instrumentation is well matched for the relative sparseness and general poverty of the character’s lives.
The film does not need an orchestra – instead the combination of simple, nylon string guitar and severe yet restrained synth and electronics tells a captivating story on its own and adds to the overall arc of the film in an effective and beautiful manner.
All Images: MGM
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Writer | Edward Bond
Edward Bond is a multi-instrumentalist composer, performer, and writer currently bouncing between Trondheim and Berlin. He apparently has the eyes of the devil, enjoys leopard prints, and will read your tarot, but not your future.