It seems fitting that I should review The Mercy today, not just because it is released this weekend in the UK but because on Friday we heard the shattering news that Johann died just 2 days ago, February 9th. Shattering not only because he was 48 years old but that the Icelandic composer, in what was a short timespan, had become revered for his deeply moving compositions. He very quickly hit my list of ‘favourites’. With the news resounding in our heads I will leave it to knowledgeable folk to discuss his unique talent as today, I just want to listen.
It may seem strange that Johansson has scored a film such as this. On the one hand a crowd pleaser starring a firm favourite in Colin Firth and on the other a true story of a man who faced solitude and lost his way. Solitude being a state which was strongly featured in many ways in the Icelandic composers work. His music could make time stand still, could focus the mind and make you reach inside to your own deepest thoughts and fears.
The Mercy is the true story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst who took part in the Golden Globe Race in 1968 striving to become the first person to single handedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping. This was an epic and dangerous quest which forced Crowhurst to confront to his own madness and create an enduring mystery that will never be solved.
Flares is the beautifully short and magical opening, perhaps reflecting the childlike wonder of the sea which lured Crowhurst to take the quest. It’s referenced agin with more scope in The Good Ship Teignmouth Electron, the vessel in which the inexperienced Crowhurst will invest his life. Whilst A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder shares hope and excitement.
Good Morning, Midnight starts with a 4 note string refrain over an electronic sound which bought to my mind the vast reach of space. A solo piano picks up the 4 notes and creates a loneliness. A Sea Without Shores is a short soundscape of fear.
The cue Innocence is the first of 3 cues taken from Johannsson’s score to the 2012 documentary Free Your Mind in which one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, professor Richard Davidson was encouraged by the Dalai Lama to apply the disciplined methods he used to to study depression and anxiety. This posed the question asked by Davidson if you could change the working of the brain through mental practices. This I feel, was an inspired thing to do as the films basis is a man confronting his own solitude of mind and the anxieties this would bring.
The Doldrums with piano and strings could have been a torrent of fear but it quietly depicts the unfolding of an unhinged mind. The same could be said of the 2nd track from Free The Mind – Meditation. The plucked strings and piano are trying to keep everything level whilst the woodwind darts in an out, out of control.
The score is somewhat educational as I had to look up the name of the next track – The Horse Latitudes and I quote ‘The horse latitudes are subtropical regions known for calm winds and little precipitation. “And it’s a pretty apt track name. It’s a soundscape of linear lines with building layers – out of little, Johannsson can convey a lot especially with a violin interjecting a futility.
The Mercy is beautifully uplifting as is The Radiant City played by the British string quartet The Direc Quartet. The addition of a voice on a radio obviously broadcasting a longitude and latitude reading which receives no response, makes it very poignant.
Rather than a soundscape this score could be seen as a mind scape, it is a musical map of the mind. Expectedly bleak and despairing whilst also uplifting. A childlike innocence can also be heard and the magic of the possibilities this lone, inexperienced sailor could have conquered. This is not a score that you may often revisit but you must experience it’s beauty, breadth and the sheer individuality that is Johann Johansson.
2. Boating For Beginners
3. The Good Ship Teignmouth Electron
4. A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder
5. Terra Firma
6. Into The Wide And Deep Unknown
7. Good Morning, Midnight
8. A Sea Without Shores
9. Karen býr til engil
11. The Doldrums
13. The Horse Latitudes
15. The Furious Sea Of Fogs And Squalls
16. Three Thousand Five Hundred And Ninety One Benches
17. The Captain’s Log
18. The Mercy
19. She Loves To Ride The Port Ferry When It Rains
20. The Radiant City
21. A Pile Of Dust
22. At 19°41’10.40 North 79°52’37.83 West, Lies The Shadow
Label Deutsche Grammaphon