The Proposition's poetic and dark lyrical score
The Proposition contains a poetic and dark lyrical tone, both in its narrative dialogue and also through a highly stylised and painterly audiovisual synthesis. The iconic Australian songwriter-musician Nick Cave not only wrote the screenplay but also composed the music (with Warren Ellis).
The soundtrack is placed at the forefront and comprises 16 ballad-type musical segments that Cave describes as 'soft chamber pieces, ghostly moodscapes and whispered laments'.
In this clip, where Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) presents Charlie Wilson (Guy Pearce) with an impossible bargain, the soundtrack features the bowing of a low and sustained violin note. This mournful violin motif emerges just as Stanley begins to talk.
The violin culturally, geographically and historically corresponds to the world of the film – in addition to its effectiveness accentuating the scene's brooding tone. A repeating drumbeat helps underpin the proposition at hand by giving the sense that time is of the essence. Charlie's evil brother Arthur (Danny Huston) must be stopped; otherwise, his younger brother will face the gallows.
Sound effects also play a crucial role throughout the sequence. The sound of an earthquake resonates over shots of Arthur Burns looking out across the desert-scape. This noise assists in intensifying his mythological and ghostly dimensions.
Elsewhere, the visceral sounds of shovels in dirt, flies, wind and so on, help create the grim frontier world. The location is experienced by some of the characters as a place of heat, indifference, horror and barbarism.
In addition to Cave and Ellis' original compositions, The Proposition features well-known pieces including American hymns ('Clean Hands, Dirty Hands' and 'There is a Happy Land'), patriotic British songs ('Rule, Britannia') and traditional Christmas songs ('12 Days of Christmas').
Although these musical segments are loaded with cultural and historical connotations and associations – whereby the viewer's prior experience or connection with the music may lead them to connect with it in specific ways – the associations in the film are complicated and deeply conflicted.
'Rule Britannia', for example, is sung both out of tune and out of time by the vile police officers shortly after they massacre a tribe of Aboriginal people. Rather than evoking the majesty of an Empire, this particular rendition evokes the underside — the dregs — of colonialism.