The Oscar-tipped Minari, star of last year’s Sundance Film Festival, is absolutely heart-wrenching. Transporting you to Arkansas in the 1980s, it explores the lives of the Korean-American Yi family and their pursuit of their own American dream. As they are faced with relentless struggles and strains, the intensity of the film soars, tugging you along on the gut-punching ride with the family.
Director Lee Isaac Chung enlisted the talent of award-winning composer Emile Mosseri to craft the film’s score. With previous credits including the heart-wrenching The Last Black Man in San Francisco, there was no doubt that Mosseri would perfectly capture the vision of the film. He completely delivers.
As Minari opens, the music swells in a manner that seems almost heaven-sent. It practically twinkles as it ascends, opening the film with what feels like a lullaby. That innately soothing quality to Mosseri’s score remains throughout.
The film is cast in a golden light; as Jacob, Anne and their grandmother plant minari seeds by the creek, the light filters through hazily. The score epitomises that. There’s a warmth at the heart of the score: though it soundtracks some intensely agonising moments of struggle, it retains that golden quality that stirs the soul. It’s entrancing.
Han Ye-ri, who plays Monica in the film, provides vocals for ‘Rain Song’, the actual lullaby in a score full of tracks that feel like one. It’s poetic, poignant and incredibly tender in its deliverance of hope. Much of the film is seen through the eyes of David, Jacob and Monica’s son. Mosseri somehow manages to embody that in his score: that childlike naivety and optimism shines through. The nostalgic tones that seep through the film are completely animated by the score: it is filled with yearning and a dreamlike haze that speaks directly to the narrative.
Minari is filled with diegetic silence and unspoken words. Mosseri’s score fills that gap. As Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica grapple with their slowly disintegrating marriage, they never seem able to find the right words to say to each other. The score bridges that chasm between the two. There’s a gravity to what goes unsaid in the film and the score lends weight to that: it fills the silence without detracting from it. At times it becomes discordant as the tension between the characters increase, conveying the intensely evocative heart of the film immaculately. The combination of organic, stripped-back sounds with synth brings that tension and destabilisation into full force.
Where the narrative stays quiet, the score speaks. It brings the story to life – the negotiation of ideas at home is often most captured in the moments of contemplation. Yeun sat pensively in a field whilst the camera tilts up at him particularly epitomises this. At the film’s most introspective moments, the score intensifies the most. Bookended by two tracks that completely glow, the score carries a sense of faith that couples with the sometimes deeply intense drama that unfolds. It soothes and consoles throughout. As Lee Isaac Chung’s direction invites you into the world of the Yi’s, Mosseri’s score ensures you feel every pang of heartache with them.