American Pastoral

Musical Score By: Alexandre Desplat

Distributed by: Lakeshore Records

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Philip Roth, American Pastoral stars Ewan McGregor as Seymour “Swede” Levov, a former legendary high school athlete turned successful business man.  His wife Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) is a former beauty queen and their daughter Meredith (Dakota Fanning), or Merry as she is called, is the joy of their lives.  But as the Vietnam War throws the country into turmoil, so too is the Levov household.  After a gas station explodes due to an act of terror, Merry disappears and the family soon discovers that a radicalized Merry is now the prime suspect in the explosion and the death of the gas station’s owner.  Everything Swede believes in…everything he believed his family to be…is called into question as Swede searches for his daughter and an answer to the chaos the world has become.

                The musical score of American Pastoral was created by award-winning composer Alexandre Desplat.  Growing up listening to symphonies, world music and jazz, Alexandre Desplat studied piano and trumpet before making the flute his instrument of choice.  In addition to his classical studies, Desplat added Brazilian and African music.  Beginning with his musical score for The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Alexandre Desplat has created musical scores for a number of films, including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The King's Speech, Argo, The Imitation Game, The Danish Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Queen, Suffragette and more.

                In creating the musical score of American Pastoral, Alexandre Desplat focused on the themes of the film.  According to the composer, “Two themes evolve through the film as the characters do. The emotional path Swede, our hero is going through was the lighthouse guiding us.  Merry drifting away from her family was the other one.”  He focused on the French horn to cultivate Swede’s theme: “Ewan [McGregor – actor and director of American Pastoral] is a brilliant French horn player and we felt the sound of the French horn could give both the sense of the epic and of the solitude of Swede's journey through life.

                The musical score begins with Swede's Story, an interesting track, expressing Swede’s life in a higher note, perhaps focusing here on the early times when things looked so hopeful and happiness was within grasp.  Then we come to the next track, Riots, a decidedly darker track with lower registry notes on horns and piano and the darker sound of timpani drums.  The one action track in this soundtrack, Chasing the Van features horns, woodwinds, strings and those drums again, all in a fast-paced, high intensity style that actually places the listener on the edge of their seat as they wonder what is happening in this track. 

                Things become darker still with The Vow, which begins with a piano piece that will sound very familiar to fans of Once Upon A Time Mark Isham’s opening score of that television series is meant to remind us that not all is what it seems in this fantasy series.  The first few notes of The Vow have a similar sound, but are not exactly the same, though it does inspire that chilling feeling that something is just not right here.  This piano theme evolves as the score moves forward, expressing dramatic emotions and developments in the film.  The final track, Moon River, is performed by Priscilla Ahn in such a way that expresses innocence and sadness, perhaps at what could have been.

                I honestly had no interest in seeing this film before listening to the American Pastoral Soundtrack.  Alexandre Desplat has created such an interesting and intriguing score that I decided to watch an extensive preview of the film and I was instantly hooked.  There is no doubt in my mind that Desplat’s score is a perfect accompaniment/enhancement to the drama on the screen.  As a standalone album, the American Pastoral Soundtrack tells a story of sorrow, evolution, discovery and remorse.  Music well-worth taking a listen to.


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