How a first-time composer's chilling score made "Poor Things" unforgettable

Poor Things is distinct in all aspects, really, so it's remarkable that on top of the story, the set design, the acting, everything, that the score stood out. First-time composer Jerskin Fendrix successfully concocted a score that sounds entirely original, frightening and wondrous all at the same time. It matches the film and the mindset of Bella, the central character, perfectly.

If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend, but I also believe that the score holds up on its own, if you like… well, difficult music. Y'know, industrial and experimental and whatnot. Though Fendrix did try to create something wholly original in sound, and the music is a special enjoyable brand of unnerving, I was strongly reminded of Mica Levi's Under the Skin score. Levi's most recent film work, incidentally, is also in theaters right now, The Zone of Interest. What luck!

This podcast is a great listen, the interviewer is totally engaged, and we get a lot of insight into the scoring, the particulars of abstracting sounds, and how Fendrix adapted the feelings of certain characters into sonic pieces.

Fendrick grew up in Shropshire, England, in a setting that was both religious and academic. His early musical experiences were deeply influenced by protestant church music, his involvement in choir and organ playing, as well as his father's love for artists like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Fendrick's broad musical foundation also includes a mix of internet-discovered genres and classical training in piano and violin. Prior to his work on Poor Things, he contributed to an experimental opera and released an album of pop songs in 2020, showcasing his diverse musical talents.

Poor Things is a significant departure from Lanthimos' previous films, which typically did not utilize original scores. Both Fendrick and Lanthimos embarked on this project with little prior experience in their respective roles within film scoring, creating a unique collaborative environment. The decision to include an original score was part of Lanthimos' vision to ensure every element of the film originated from within its conceptual world, without external musical references.

The score was largely composed before the film's shooting began, with about 95% of it written in advance. This early start allowed the music to influence the film's production, with some compositions being played on set to enhance the creative atmosphere. Fendrick and Lanthimos avoided discussing other composers or films during the creation process, focusing instead on developing a score that resonated with the film's themes on an emotional and conceptual level.

Fendrick's approach to the score was exploratory and thematic, aiming to capture the emotional experiences of the main character, Bella, who undergoes a profound journey of self-discovery and confrontation with life's realities. The music seeks to mirror Bella's perspective, offering a fresh and often unsettling auditory experience to complement the film's narrative and visual style. Instruments were recorded separately for precise control over their sound, allowing for experimental manipulation to match the film's unique aesthetic. This included altering pitches and timbres to create an uncomfortable yet intriguing sonic landscape.

The score features various instruments, with particular attention to wind instruments and their human-like qualities of breath and voice. This choice reflects thematic elements of the film, such as the juxtaposition of life and artificiality. Fendrick was intent on harnessing the emotional power of music, striving to create compositions that could stand alone in their evocative capacity without reliance on the film's visual context.

I have one question though, how did Lanthimos, the director, become aware of an obscure, blatantly experimental version of already jarringly experimental Ubu Roi and then commission the composer for a feature film, sight unheard?

See also: Danny Elfman discusses some of his more well-known film scores