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 of the filmic text and comprises sixteen ballad-type musical segments that Cave describes as "soft chamber pieces, ghostly moodscapes and whispered laments".
Also featuring – in addition to Cave and Ellis' original compositions – are well-known pieces including American hymns such as 'Clean Hands, Dirty Hands' and 'There is a Happy Land', patriotic British songs such as 'Rule, Britannia' and traditional Christmas songs such as '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 – these 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 Indigenous people. Rather than evoking the majesty of an Empire (as is the case with many prior versions of songs that evoke Britain), this particular rendition evokes the vile underside — the dregs — of colonialism.
In this clip, where Captain Stanley (Ray Winston) presents Charlie Wilson (Guy Pearson) 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 instrument culturally, geographically and historically corresponds to the world of the film – in addition to its effectiveness accentuating the scene's brooding tone. A repeating drum beat helps underpin the proposition at hand by giving the sense that time is of the essence. Charlie's evil brother (Arthur) 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 heat, the indifference, the horror and barbarism.