Frontier Psychiatrist

Get Thee Behind Me: A Review of Jonny Greenwood’s The Master

Posted on: October 2, 2012

The Master_Soundtrack_Jonny Greenwood_PT Anderson

The Master – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

With six films and five Oscar nominations under his belt, PT Anderson‘s excellence is undeniable. His interest in unbalanced individuals has led him to tell some of the finest and most engaging stories in recent film. His newest–The Master— is an exploration of self and sanity as told through an unlikely friendship in a time of peace. Under layers of cordiality, substances and hypnosis, a darkness grows in the two men until one can no longer endure. The subtle and barebones script is dictated by Jonny Greenwood’s score, which takes on a soothsaying role as the characters fall into confusion, contradiction and repetition.

The music of The Master is tranquil yet distressing, illuminating the questions that exist at the heart of the film. Chamber strings slip in and out of focus like a detuned radio, juxtaposing traditional fare with the much more experimental and shrill. Alongside are warm, disorienting clarinets, each just a half-step apart at all times that rarely reach resolution. Always with a minimalist edge, Greenwood’s score exposes the noises inside a disheveled, war addled brain.

Along with his 11 original works, Greenwood unearths four melancholy period specific classics, the most intoxicating of which is Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan”, which plays over shots of a 1950s department store. The song is a smoky depiction of the art of self-deception and its role in temptation. When placed alongside moments of string chaos and beauty, this lounge standard reveals the remarkable depths of the story.

A multi-instrumentalist and founding member of Radiohead, Greenwood is a master of modern music. His five film scores—including Anderson’s There Will Be Blood—are intricate instrumental works capable of storytelling even when listened to separate from their visual counterparts. The score for The Master is proof that not only should Greenwood be recognized as a great rocker, but as a great composer.

The Master_Joaquin Phoenix_PT Anderson

Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in The Master

Don’t be afraid of the world of modern music. Masters of mood and intrigue Steve Reich and Philip Glass have had an enormous impact on the more daring pockets of contemporary independent music (see: Rachel’s, Balam Acab, Mogwai). Even when divorced from its entrancing counterpart, Greenwood’s work hits on a similar plane: capable of mystifying even the most levelheaded listener. Freddie Quell never stood a chance.


Peter Lillis is Managing Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He will boycott the Academy Awards for years to come if Phoenix and Greenwood don’t win their respective categories.


1 Response to "Get Thee Behind Me: A Review of Jonny Greenwood’s The Master"

[…] doesn’t reach the unbearable heights of his Blood score. As FP Managing Editor Peter Lillis wrote, the score “takes on a soothsaying role as the characters fall into confusion, contradiction and […]

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