The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch, adapted from the Pulitzer-winning 2014 novel by Donna Tartt, is directed by John Crowley and arrives mid September, in the thick of awards season. The trailer shrewdly leans into the complexity of its 780-odd page source material, featuring a musical source known for its sense of depth. While scored by Trevor Gureckis, the trailer opts for a rearranged and embellished version of “Terrible Love” (2011) by art rockers The National. 

 What’s relatively special about the use of music in this trailer is how its arrangement remains tonally faithful to the original song, while also delivering an arrangement that is obviously customized to the edit of the trailer. In other words, it’s insufficient to say the trailer merely licenses the song, and it is also not quite accurate to say it deliberately changes the song to the point that it should be seen as a cover, or occupying another musical genre.

 The first thirty seconds uses only some atmospherics and a single piano chord with some lightly palm-muted electric guitar, producing nothing recognizable just yet, instead focusing on exposition. At 0:35 we hear some fingerpicking that wasn’t in the original song. So far, the music simply oscillates between the tonic (home) and subdominant chords, rendering a peaceful yet active motif. At 0:45 we hear bowed harmonies in the upper strings that weren’t present in the original song. We only hear the lyric “it’s quiet company,” given new context as the protagonist meets a girl who’s gone through the same devastation he has. 

 At 1:07 the song pauses for a moment and comes roaring back with an additional tubular bell that was not in the original song, with the director’s title card. The chugging, building rhythm at this part is lifted from the just after the bridge of the song, leading into the final chorus, but then reverts to earlier in the song. It’s subtle, but the reordering of sections works here. Here we get our next segment of lyrics from Matt Berninger: “And I can’t fall asleep / without a little help,” with the last bit falling on a scene that shows the girl mentioned earlier. Later at 1:45 we hear bells again, and there’s at least an additional countermelody with a violin simply ascending the major scale—again, additions are very subtly mixed in. 

 At 1:50 some arpeggiated strings in the upper register lend a more overtly classical / epic music tone to the proceedings, breaking a little bit from the subtle embellishments added earlier. Some of the edits are synched to the beat, and at 2:11 we hear a new, dominant chord that wasn’t present in the original song. 

While by the end of the trailer the music veers more towards elements, such as the arpeggiated upper strings, that were not present in the original song, throughout the trailer we hear a representation of “Terrible Love” that is very true to the original, mostly featuring subtle additions to the arrangement that fit right in and probably undetectable as different to the casual ear.

The Goldfinch premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival and sees a wide release soon after.

—    Curtis Perry