SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
In the new movie "Uncut Gems," Adam Sandler plays a New York jeweler and gambler always out for the next score. It's a cinematic panic attack. So why, reporter Tim Greiving asks, does it feature a cosmic New Age score?
TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: One of the first things that jumps out in "Uncut Gems" amidst the din of New York's Diamond District, the hectic habitat of Adam Sandler's loud-mouth Howard Ratner, is this meditative analog synthesizer score.
(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL LOPATIN'S "THE BALLAD OF HOWIE BLING")
GREIVING: The composer is Daniel Lopatin, also known as Oneohtrix Point Never. He first worked with the directors, brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, on their 2017 film "Good Time."
DANIEL LOPATIN: I think they expect the score to always have a sort of fantastical quality to it, but they also expect the film to have a very realistic quality to it. And then in that contrast, you pretty much understand our collaboration.
GREIVING: One of their big inspirations for the "Uncut Gems" score was Vangelis, the Greek synthesizer wizard who Josh Safdie calls one of the great cosmic conductors of our time.
LOPATIN: His point of view on music and its transcendent qualities and medicinal qualities almost is always an inspiration, but in particular with this film, which I view as a cosmic movie.
GREIVING: "Uncut Gems" hurdles along with Howard Ratner's compulsion to gamble, to bet his winnings instead of paying off debts, to chase down the next high. A lot of the score is counterintuitively New Age - well, counterintuitive to anyone but Josh and Benny Safdie.
JOSH SAFDIE: There's this sequence in the film where we used meditation bowls and chanting that are the - musically, they're used to calm the spirit. We're using it juxtaposed with a hectic scenario where people are trapped inside of a vestibule. And I think that juxtaposition is adding to the tension...
BENNY SAFDIE: For sure.
J SAFDIE: ...Because you're hearing this music that should be calming, but it's actually anxiety-inducing
B SAFDIE: It's like when you tell somebody who's angry, hey, calm down.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREIVING: Daniel Lopatin's score features an eclectic ensemble of old-school synthesizers, Mellotron-style flutes, saxophone solos and an eight-person choir.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BALLAD OF HOWIE BLING")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing, unintelligible).
GREIVING: It's not all calm, though. There are some panicky moments in the score that match Howard's ever-escalating dilemma.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREIVING: Lopatin recalled an NPR story he heard about the importance of sleep on proteins in the brain.
LOPATIN: They need hours and hours to do their thing to loosen up so your cells are loose. It always appeared to me to be, like, a very artistic metaphor. Like, if you want something, you feel tight and anxious, then cluster things together like a unpacked protein.
GREIVING: The object at the heart of the film is a black opal from Ethiopia which Howard is banking everything on. Daniel Lopatin saw that opal, that uncut gem, as a metaphor.
LOPATIN: Are we dealing with this sort of material latticework of the city and Howard navigating his logistical problems and his maladies and his freakouts?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LOPATIN: Or are we dealing with the spirit of the film, which is that Howard might be a schlimazel or whatever, but he's also, like all of us, just passing through and affecting things as we pass through our lives, so that new agey-kind of aspect of it rubbing up against the really, really kind of severe, like, weirdly jazzy quality of the city.
GREIVING: So if watching this movie gives you palpitations, just listen to the score and relax. For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.