Brian Eno and the Lovely Bones


I had no idea Brian Eno composed the soundtrack to the Lovely Bones when I bought my ticket to see the movie last week. During the montage that sets the story up, it was one Eno piece after another, and I could not help but be surprised by the drama I never heard in the music. Though the film has not been received favorably*, I think the creative use of Eno’s music, more known for its unobtrusive ambient qualities, deserves some credit for adding to the dramatic power of the film.

Readers wary of spoilers should be forewarned, this close look at the use of Eno’s music in the Lovely Bones will lead to certain key revelations in plot points.

In an interview by Sheila Roberts, Peter Jackson, director of the Lovely Bones, reveals that an idea to license a couple of Eno songs for a period soundtrack lead to something much grander when Eno offered his services to score the film instead. “He said to us, have you got a composer to do the soundtrack? And we said no, not really … and then he said he would be really interested in doing it. If we wanted to go that way, he sort of volunteered, which was amazing to us.”

eno - Taking Tiger MountainNot only did Eno offer his services as a composer, but he allowed Jackson to chop up his music, which included some of his long-existing 70s-era work in addition to lengthy, original compositions he put together based on concept sketches Jackson shared with him (again, see interview). “It was a completely different way to how we’ve ever worked with a composer before,” Jackson said. “But, for this particular movie, both the sound and the style of working really ended up suiting the film great.”

Eno’s gracious gesture to allow the filmmaker to edit the music indeed adds a deeper dimension to the compatibility of music and mise-en-scene in the movie. I found the empowerment of the director to manipulate the music as he saw fit to the drama added to the impact of the scenes featuring music.

Recognizing Eno originals at the beginning of the movie made for a fun sequence setting up Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan)’s personality. Jackson utilizes the sporadic, minimal piano melody of “1/1” from 1978’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports during the scene when a very young Susie (Saoirse Ronan) wistfully stares at a penguin figurine “living” inside a snow globe. Then there was the scene featuring the throbbing bass line and the harsh driving guitar strums of “Third Uncle” from 1974’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) when Susie saves her brother from choking by taking him in the family car to the hospital.

Those sequences were a fine and entertaining contrast to the music, which hinted at the dramatic potential in Eno’s established works, but the real powerful uses of Eno’s music would come later in the film. Interestingly enough both of these moments featured songs Jackson had intended to use on the soundtrack before contacting Eno. “There were two or three of Brian Eno’s existing tracks that made it onto our list,” Jackson said in the Roberts interview. “‘Babies on Fire’ (sic) was one that we always thought would be great to accompany the scene where Mack goes into the cornfield with a baseball bat. There was an instrumental that he did called ‘The Big Ship,’ which was another beautiful piece of music that we had planned on using.”Lovely Bones 3

The music of “Baby’s on Fire” from 1973’s Here Come the Warm Jets creeps up on you during the scene Jackson mentions featuring Mack (Mark Wahlberg) following the man he correctly suspects is his daughter’s killer (Stanley Tucci), Mr. Harvey. As Mack ducks behind trees wielding the bat, a strange buzzing can be heard on the soundtrack. It would appear sporadically, as Mack got closer and closer, until I could recognize it as the fractured guitar solo by Robert Fripp on the track. The song actually grew from the sound of insect noises to the full-on, frantic guitar part of “Baby’s on Fire,” which, knowing Eno and his “oblique” production strategies, probably came from him asking Fripp for a solo that imitates the sound of a raging fire. The scene climaxes when Mack stumbles across two teens making out, and the boy takes the bat from Mack and beats him so bad he needs to be hospitalized, all the while, the famous Fripp solo is burning across the soundtrack.

another green worldJackson uses “Big Ship” from 1975’s Another Green World (a rock album I consider one of the greatest ever composed in the history of the genre, by the way) during the climax of the movie. As Harvey tries to unload a large, heavy safe containing Susie’s bones, the community’s young resident psychic, sitting inside a shack overlooking the scene,  channels Susie as she kisses the boy who would have been Susie’s first kiss. It’s a chaotic song featuring a quiet but hyper keyboard melody that shimmers, as deep swells of synthesizers grow from soft distant whistles to what sound like deep, slow growling guitar lines (though no guitars are credited on the track, just synthesizers– man, did those early 70s synths sound other-worldly). The song truly sounds like a large ship emerging from some foggy horizon. It certainly fits the slow-motion tension underlying the scene that actually becomes an ironic moment of sentimentality. Susie forgoes the opportunity to communicate to the real world that her murderer stands just outside the shack to instead have that kiss she never had while alive.

I have heard Eno’s music in several films before the Lovely Bones, offering great surprises to hear in the dark movie theater. In Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien, an incidental scene features “By This River” from Eno’s 1977 album Before and After Science playing on the protagonists’ car stereo. When David Bowie refused to allow Todd Haynes to use his music in his movie Velvet Goldmine, which was loosely based on Bowie’s life in the 70s, Haynes turned to Eno for some of the tracks. Still, even with Eno’s music playing a direct part of the story in Velvet Goldmine, no other movie that I have seen featuring Eno’s music has been used to greater effect than in the manner Jackson has used it in his underrated effort in the Lovely Bones.

Edit: As this is one of Independent Ethos’ most popular posts, I felt inclined to up-date this to note that the Eno fansite, Enoweb has noted his 2010 solo album Small Craft on a Milk Sea (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon) includes some of the score he had exclusively composed for the Lovely Bones.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

*I had read the movie reviews warning of the overwrought sentimentality of the film, and after seeing the film, I feel it is a valid point. But I also feel inclined to forgive it as, well, film critics were hardly ever 14-year-old girls, and I think the “in-between” segments of the film have to be informed by the naïve mentality of a young teen girl to be believable.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


    • Thanks for adding that tidbit of information! I saw that movie, but I can’t recall the song or the moment it appeared in the film. When was it? And do you think it was a particularly powerful use of the song or piece? I’m curious to know…

  1. It was during the “ghost kiss” scene at the end. I’ve loved that song since I was Suzie’s age. Totally going to cry again just thinking of it.

  2. Sounds like a great collaboration between Jackson and Eno. I wish more musicians and directors were like this, putting their work before their egos

  3. Interesting article/analysis you’ve written here! I’m not very familiar with Eno at all, but the music he did in this was wonderful!

    Now, is there any way you could tell me what music appears beginning at the scene where Susie is swimming in the river of light, then steps foot for the first time in the In-between? I’m assuming that this is some Eno contribution of some sort, but I cannot find what it is at all, and it’s my absolute favorite musical section out of the whole movie!

    Thank you again for your interesting analysis. My email is kwia2677(at), so if you can email me your answer (or, possibly any advice as to how to find out this information) then I would very much appreciate it.

    • Hi, Shane thanks for the comment.

      If I remember correctly, are you talking about that scene where you see Susie sort of running through grass and flowers, then flipping up in the air and kind of clinging to a flower? I remember it looked like a dar starry night behind her. I was a bit distracted by the visuals there, as I thought they captured the slip to the other world quite amazingly, so I cannot recall the music. I hope to pick up the Blu-Ray soon, so I can re-hear it. Also, keep in mind, Eno gave Jackson lots of new, original music, including long meandering bits that he gave Jackson the freedom to edit as he saw fit, so it could be something original. But I will verify whether I know it.

      –Hans M.

    • I finally got the blu-ray of this movie. That sounded like an ambient piece by Eno that he originally made for the soundtrack. I’ve never heard it otherwise and it is very minimal and simple.

  4. Insightful read. Eno’s music enhanced the film wonderfully.

    I loved the film and don’t agree with the critics.

    But it is such a mystery that there is no information one way or another about a soundtrack for the lovely bones.

    If ever a film required one this is it! Any ideas?

    • I agree this would have been an excellent soundtrack to release, but I think there are many things working against it.

      One of the reasons it was probably never released might be because the rights to use some of the original 70s rock classics on a CD soundtrack could be very expensive (Though it’s from the 80s, I know David Lynch wanted to use This Mortal Coil’s “Song of the Siren,” which is used in this movie, in his 1985 calssic Blue Velvet, but even then he found the rights too expensive to include in the movie itself).

      Also, I bet Eno doesn’t care one way or the other. He’s had years of experience making disposable music for art projects; not that he doesn’t care about music, but he is very conceptual and probably feels the music is right for a movie soundtrack, and as such belongs in the score of a movie, accompanied by images and a dramatic framework. It would even be nice to hear the lump of music he gave Jackson to use released on its own, but that being released is even more remote.

      Finally, let’s face it, the movie flopped in many ways for the studio. They were ready to campaign for the Oscars with it, but then the critics lashed out against it and the public didn’t come out for.

      • Huh. The practical reality you describe explains a lot, and enough time has past now that any chance of an official soundtrack seems unlikely.

        Perhaps another thing that might have gone against a soundtrack is that some of Eno’s early music that was used, like Music for Airports 1/1, are very long tracks.

        I did find something very interesting though, a link to a promo CD of sorts with 8 short tracks from Eno’s score for the lovely bones.

        There are jpg’s for the cover and liner notes of the CD. I don’t think this was ever commercially available, and I only found this after a determined search for an answer to the absence of a soundtrack.

        From the liner notes; “For Jackson, no singular element of The Lovely Bones stands out, but rather it is the interplay between sound, vision and performance that he hopes brings Susie Salmon’s quest to set things right on earth vividly to life”

        Here is the link-

        • Sounds cool. I look forward to checking that link out. You’re right about the long Eno tracks, maybe edits of the pieces, some of which appeared on an Eno boxed in the 90s, might have been the way to go, or even let Eno mix it all together.

          Also some of the music for the soundtrack was pulled out of Eno’s early “pop songs,” if you can call them that, and the pure surreal weirdness of the lyrics might seem strange on the soundtrack next to the dated, period 70s songs Jackson chose, which better suited the movie’s feel.

    • I’ve consistently received feedback such as yours. Many want the soundtrack, but the best we have is Eno’s album around the time, Small Craft on a Milk Sea which supposedly has bits of the soundtrack in it, as he improvised much supplemental music for Jackson to use in the film and reused it on that album, which came out soon after. Also, I do note the post some of the early music by Eno Jackson used. If you do not have those albums, all are great. I hope that helps! I think some fans tried putting together some albums, but they are not official and vary in quality as a result.

  5. Great article! Loved the movie. Trying to find where to buy the main piano theme throughout the movie.

    like 2m1 and 7m1 by Brian Eno. They are very short pieces.

    Any suggestions?

  6. Fascinating article. I came here looking for info on the Moon’s Lament. That’s not here but I’m glad I popped in. Now I’ve got lots of other great things to think about and check out.


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