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Finding Sonic Truth with Marcelo Zarvos’ Score for ‘The Words’

By  · Published on September 6th, 2012

Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) has done a terrible thing. He’s stolen another man’s words. And because of this deception, three different storylines unfold – one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future. However, when telling the story of a man willing to steal another’s words, it is hard to know how reliable our narrator is and as these three storylines start to blend with one another, the truth at the heart of it all seems to get more and more muddled. Throughout The Words, composer Marcelo Zarvos’ score provides us with sonic clues that attempt to point us towards that truth while also tying these three stories together.

One of the most memorable parts of the score (and the film) is The Words’ theme. Within the first few seconds of the score’s second track, “The Old Man,” the theme hits you – a driving string piece that is both beautiful and romantic, but at the same time ominous and unsettling. This theme works as the first hint towards the true nature of this story. At first glance, The Words may seem like three simple love stories told through the perspective of three different generations, but as things begin to unfold, it becomes clear that nothing in this story is simple and the truth at the heart of it is much more complicated. (Listen for this theme to come back in a big way at the beginning of “The Bookstore” – possibly hinting at a link between these two pieces).

Since we are dealing with three distinct storylines and very different characters in each, it is the score that helps define the various emotions being felt and expressed by these characters while still making the film sound and feel like a fluid story.

When it comes to the relationship between Ben Barnes’ character and Celia (Nora Arnezeder), the score emulates that of a sweeping romance with “The Train Station” and “First Love,” but one that surprisingly injects the soaring strings and piano with instruments that sound almost tragic at times. Again, despite what we are being shown on screen, the score works as a guidepost towards the truth and hints at the idea that this may be a young couple in love, but one that is not necessarily headed towards a happy ending.

Like Barnes’ character (who is never named) and Celia, Rory and Dora’s (Zoe Saldana) relationship is also one of early love, but rather than sounding like a sweeping romance, “Rory and Dora’s Theme” is one that is beautiful, but a bit more kinetic, reflecting a couple in love, but not necessarily settled. Add to all this a third relationship, that of Clay (Dennis Quaid) and Daniella (Olivia Wilde), who on the outside may appear to be an older mentor figure and his young ingénue, but on closer inspection, it becomes clear that this is not your typical May-December romance. “Clay and Daniella’s Theme” is reserved, coming across as though the music is holding something back.

Beyond the relationships of these three couples, The Words is predominantly rooted in these character’s actions. “The Writing of The Book,” a task that should inspire an accomplished feeling for any writer, sounds almost like it was pulled out of a thriller with frenetic pacing that quickly sets you on edge. Conversely “The Reading,” which directly precedes “The Writing of The Book,” sounds jaunty and almost hopeful. The juxtaposition of these two pieces is interesting as the creation of one piece of work sounds like a warning while the reading of work inspired by its creation almost sounds like it is commending it.

Zarvos’ score is both grandiose and epic because The Words is. On their own, each of these stories would probably not carry the same weight, but together they turn into something much greater. Zarvos’ score follows suit, blending the different instruments into one another, combining the music just as the stories intertwine with one another. But it is that ever driving, almost nagging, theme that never lets up and can be found, whether in full force or faint hints, in almost all of the tracks. It is no surprise that there would be a musical representation of someone’s guilty conscious in a film about lies and deception, but it is interesting to hear how this theme builds and recedes as the story reaches its climax.

Much like the stories in the film, each song can certainly stand on its own, but the score is truly designed to flow from one track to the next and does so seamlessly, to the point where you may not even notice that three songs have run their course since they play like a single piece. While there are certainly stand out tracks, “The Writing of The Book,” “Rory Touches Greatness” and “The Window Tears,” these are also pieces that play to some of the film’s bigger moments and ones most audiences will want to look back on as they try and piece the story together. But with each listen, even some of the more mellow tracks and smaller moments start to take on new meaning.

As I said in my review of the film, The Words is an ambitious story, but one that will no doubt spark questions and debate and, hopefully, some of the clues in the score will help paint a clearer picture when looking back on the narrative. Zarvos has created a beautiful and layered compilation that gives The Words some real weight and texture, making it just as interesting to listen to as the film is to watch.

The score for The Words is available through Lakeshore Records.

1. “The Author”
2. “The Old Man”
3. “Rory and Dora’s Theme”
4. “The Train Station”
5. “The Reading”
6. “The Writing of The Book”
7. “Clay and Daniella’s Theme”
8. “First Love”
9. “The Bookstore”
10. “A Young Man In Paris”
11. “The Wedding”
12. “Rory Touches Greatness”
13. “Celia’s Theme”
14. “The Apology”
15. “Haunted”
16. “Success”
17. “The Window Tears”
18. “The Wrong Words”
19. “Life or Fiction?”

All songs on this score composed by Marcelo Zarvos.

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