Classical Music in Cinema
Updated: Jul 9
Classical music has been an integral part of cinema for decades, and filmmakers have used it in various ways to enhance their films' emotional impact. In the cases of Sleeping with the Enemy, Being John Malkovich, Un Couer En Hiver, Platoon, and Death in Venice, the existing classical pieces used in these films become characters in their own right.
In Sleeping with the Enemy, Bartok's String Quartet No. 1 is a recurring motif throughout the film, representing both the main character's inner turmoil and her husband's controlling and abusive nature. The piece is used to heighten the tension in key scenes, such as when the protagonist fakes her own death to escape her husband's grasp. The dissonant and jarring quality of the music creates a sense of unease, highlighting the danger that the protagonist is in.
In Being John Malkovich, the use of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta serves a similar purpose. The eerie and unsettling music creates a sense of disorientation, which complements the film's surreal and bizarre storyline. The music also adds an extra layer of depth to the film's exploration of identity and the human psyche, enhancing the viewer's emotional experience.
Un Couer En Hiver uses Ravel's Piano Concerto in G as a way to convey the emotional complexity of its characters. The piece is used to underscore the tension between the two male leads, who are both in love with the same woman. The music's intricate and layered composition reflects the characters' conflicting emotions, and the film uses it to explore themes of jealousy, desire, and betrayal.
In Platoon, Barber's Adagio for Strings is used to create a sense of emotional weight and gravitas. The piece is used during a particularly harrowing scene in which the soldiers mourn the loss of their comrades. The mournful and elegiac music underscores the characters' grief and serves as a powerful reminder of the human cost of war.
Finally, in Death in Venice, Mahler's Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 serves as a powerful emotional anchor for the film. The music is used to underscore the protagonist's longing for beauty and transcendence, as he becomes increasingly obsessed with a young boy he meets while on vacation. The music's slow and mournful pace mirrors the protagonist's descent into madness, and the piece becomes an integral part of the film's exploration of the human psyche and the nature of desire.
In each of these films, the existing classical pieces used become characters in their own right, serving to enhance the film's emotional impact and deepen its exploration of complex themes. By using these pieces in such a deliberate and meaningful way, the filmmakers are able to create a powerful and lasting impression on their audiences.