Movie Music Moment: The Purge ("Clair de Lune")

"Clair de Lune" by Claude Debussy

as heard/seen in

The Purge (2013)


Last June I settled down into my theater seat to check out the new high concept horror film, The Purge. It all begins with the above opening credit sequence and as the YouTube user who posted this video said right in the title, it's unfortunately the best part of the entire film. As we sit through surveillance footage of some four years of Purging (the one night a year where all crime, including murder, is legal) Debussy's iconic yet reliably soothing melody warms to a climax. It's the third movement in Suite bergamasque, far and away the most known section of the piano suite. 

What we have here is a classic example of contrapuntal film music, a song or track that is incongruous with the images appearing on the screen. It's juxtaposed irony and can be used to endless ends. Whereas a shot of a man stepping out onto his front porch and breathing in the green lawns and blue skies of a picturesque suburbia feels like a perfect fit, we're left to process the music set to senseless violence. 

The killings are made more cold and less exciting by being static (unmoving) and diegetic (existing within the film as opposed to outside of it). It's practically nauseating as we associate this type of footage with real life incidents. From Columbine to local convenient store robberies, we've all seen the nightly news and the unedited clips that get put up online. These are all effects any horror director should feel proud to illicit from the audience. It was a completely engrossing opening to a film that grows less intelligent and less gripping with each passing scene. Here's hoping this week's release of The Purge : Anarchy borrows nothing from the first film outside of its opening. Maybe it will give us a new Movie Music Moment to chew on.

I could supply months' worth of Movie Music Moment entries just based on "Clair de Lune" alone. From George Stevens' Giant to last years American Hustle, there's no shortage of Debussy's "moonlight" on the silver screen. Do you have a favorite cinematic use of "Clair de Lune"? What do you think of the opening credits for The Purge? Come back next week for another Movie Music Moment. Until then, keep listening while you watch.

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