My wife surprised me yesterday afternoon with the Angels in America soundtrack. “Quartet” accompanies the scene that holds the rare honor of having made me cry two nights in a row. What can I say? Art is my refuge from a life of hardened cynicism. I can only imagine what condition I’ll be in on Sunday night when Louis delivers the Kaddish.
But back to “Quartet” . . .
Angels is so powerful in performance because Kushner understands juxtapositions. The best example is when Louis unleashes upon Belize a rambling diatribe about “the limits of liberal tolerance,” while, on the other side of the stage, Prior undresses for a medical examination, revealing his emaciated, lesion-pocked body to the audience. Or when Louis tells Prior that he’s leaving, while, on the other side of the stage, Joe finally owns up to the truth, reducing Harper to a broken shell. (And have I mentioned how good Mary-Louise Parker is?) That is the scene that got me both times I watched Millennium Approaches — Harper’s cry for Mr. Lies to take her away and Prior’s desperate scream from his hospital bed. I have minor complaints with the film, but Nichols got that scene just right.
Thomas Newman’s score mines familiar ground, and “Quartet,” in particular, harkens to his work on American Beauty. But, all in all, the music serves the film quite well. I particularly like the main theme, which is carried by the strings and often placed in tension with a solo oboe line — a nice musical motif that echoes the ambiguous battle of angels and man.