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The best use of Sigur Ros' music in film

Analysis and examples including The Life Aquatic and Vanilla Sky

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The music of Sigur Ros music in film

Sigur Rós' influence is undisputable. Their manipulation of neo-classical and ambient sound into music that sounds like pure emotion has won them a huge fanbase, and introduced many to the emotional impact music can have.

There is a problem with this widely recognised influence however. Given the powerful impact the band's music can have in the right setting, some in the creative industries choose to use it peddle their otherwise irrelevant products, and often film-makers lazily implement it as a shortcut to heavy empathy. However, there are times when the sound of their music is timed so perfectly and appropriately with the visual that it's worthy of some recognition. Here's a selection of some of those instances.

Note: A spoiler alert should very much be noted for the following clips.

Film: The Life Aquatic
Track: Starálfur from Ágætis Byrjun

A fine, fine scene. And one every Wes Anderson and/or Sigur Rós fan will be very aware of. A softly subtle song which builds slowly into the atmosphere of the scene, creating a moment of ambience akin to the moment the characters are immersed in.

The Life Aquatic & Sigur Ros

Film: Mysterious Skin
Track: Samskeyti from ()

If you like the image of Joseph Gordon Levitt as the charming romantic from 500 Days of Summer or the teenager from 3rd Rock From the Sun, then this film may not be for you. If, however, you like the image of him as a fantastic actor, then this film is for you, it's arguably one of his finest moments.

The soundtrack is quite low key and ambient with tremors of darkness, and then Samskeyti closes with that same low key ambience, but with an even stronger emotional finish. Spoiler alert is at its strongest here.

Film: Vanilla Sky
Track: Njósnavélin from ()

This is where Sigur Rós get tragic. Something about this climax is excruciatingly bleak, especially the montage of archived footage giving the film's stark message an even larger scale of somber existentialism. What's interesting about this is that it's as tragic as an ending can be without being dark, ensuring it does touch on moments of ironic inspiration.

(Interesting trivia: the version used in the film is actually a live recording from the band's performance at Roskilde in 2000, as a studio version hadn't been recorded when Vanilla Sky was made.)

Film: Heima
Track: Popplagið from ()

Pedantics might question the citing of this, as rather than soundtracking a moment of film, it's essentially a gig. If you watch the film though, it's very similar to any other film in the sense that it creates a strong combination of visuals and audio, as opposed to traditional documentaries which don't quite grab the same sense of absorbing the watcher.

Where the band mix post rock and ambient, this is where the post rock side really stabs itself through their otherwise elegant persona. While they move between light and that space between light and darkness, this is where they go right into a dark sound. Intriguingly intense and, in the context of the film, contrasts quite fascinatingly when followed by Samskeyti (above).

In Heima, also keep an eye out out for the montage of Icelandic scenery used for Hoppípolla.

Film: A Short Love Story in Stop Motion
Track: Hoppípolla from Takk…

This short film is fairly cheesy, but if we're being honest, it's a fairly cheesy song, and is really used quite a lot. This is only further testament to the durability of the song however, as it goes to show that no matter how many nature adverts and film endings it's used in, it still retains its basic core of building, climaxing and frank tenderness.

When songs like this are overused, it's always important to judge each use on its own merits, and this film is almost a video for the song, rather than vice versa. It composes itself well to the structure of the song and is sweetly straight forward.

You can read more of Hamish Gibson's writing at his blog Curious Joe


1. pixadaize17 Jun 2011, 2:28am Report

The use of Svefn-G-Englar in the film Ben X has to be the best. It fits the emotion of the scene so Sigor Ros-ly that it has always stuck in my mind. A relentlessly harrowing film, only when it seems like all hope is lost the hero emerges triumphant from this moment, the first note of this wonderful piece kicks in for an overwhelmingly emotional scene.

2. Skrause12 Feb 2015, 11:38am Report

Festival in the ending scene of 127 hours. That song made the end that much more triumphant.

3. Chau Nguyen28 Jun 2015, 1:49am Report

You forgot Hoppipolla in Penelope and We Bought A Zoo !

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