Film Music to Write Essays By – Part 1

JOHANNES RUCKSTUHL picks out the perfect soundtrack to accompany your exam-work woes.

Atonement Danny Elfman Dario Marianelli David Arnold essay Film Film music Independence Day John Powell John Williams Music Saving Private Ryan Wanted

Evidence (entirely scientific, of course) suggests that the narrative progression of writing a Cambridge essay bears significant resemblance to a typical Hollywood drama: the struggle of the individual against overwhelming odds; failure and triumph; and – not to forget – a preference for over-dramatising and indulging in a certain amount of self pity.

However, without the right musical accompaniment, the impact of any scene is greatly reduced. How then might a composer in Hollywood see your efforts to meet a nearing deadline? This is the imagined short-term timeline of an all-night essay crisis, underscored with appropriate pieces of film music:


Procrastination – Morning Routine – Rio (2011) – John Powell

For some days now, you’ve been living the carefree life, taking advantage of the year’s first opportunity to acquire some vitamin D, and generally minding your own business. All the tasks that have been put aside for years are suddenly completed – your room is tidy, the laundry is done, and you’ve even had a deep conversation about the meaning of life. What could possibly go wrong?


Catastrophe – The Darkest Day – Independence Day (1996) – David Arnold

Suddenly the realisation hits: you haven’t done any reading and this week’s essay deadline is only a few short hours away. So much for an organised term and nights out; the only solution will be to sit up writing until dawn. One of the most terrifying villain themes of all time rings in your ears, a motif composer David Arnold claims came to him in a nightmare.


The Introduction – Briony – Atonement (2008) – Dario Marianelli

For a long time you sit, staring into space. Writer’s block, just when you want it least. Eventually, you summon a handful of courage and your fingers tap the keyboard with the first tentative words of an introduction. It’s not much and it’s not exactly snappy, but it will have to suffice. Dario Marianelli’s mechanical (and Oscar-winning no less) typewriter adds the necessary forward drive toward the essay’s core argument.


The Argument – Success Montage – Wanted (2008) – Danny Elfman

Letting your brain wander absently for several minutes, you suddenly hit upon an idea that could just about be formed into an argument. All of a sudden, things are looking up (maybe this won’t be so bad after all?) and you neatly tie off the entire introduction in a burst of creative enthusiasm.


The Hard Slog – Wade’s Death – Saving Private Ryan (1998) – John Williams

With the introduction completed, the individual paragraphs slowly begin to get padded out. It’s slow, tiring work and soon your initial energy has all but evaporated. “Wade’s Death” from one of John Williams’ more restrained scores plays to the sense of impending doom, and the light at the tunnel’s end seems to grow ever dimmer.

Click here to read Part II