Breathe-In

“Music speaks,” says T.W. Adorno, “because it is pure of language – it communicates not through its expression or content, but through the gesture of speech.” He speaks in reference to Beethoven, the subject of whom was a topic of philosophical discourse on musical aestheticism in several fragments. The combined works themselves are an astutely constructed, almost sentimental delivery of thematic, syntactical, and form-based analysis of Beethoven’s music and its relation to societal structure and particularly the works of Hegel. Nevertheless, the core of Adorno’s observations are rooted in the visceral emotionality of Beethoven’s music – despite barely alluding to ’emotion’ literally, he clearly positions the works of Beethoven amongst the achievement of German literary classicism in the early 19th century. Beethoven speaks of humanity not through words, but through the musical phrase. His music expressed a sort of longing, an expression of the “Weltgeist”, or world spirit that was a reflection of humanistic themes in the works of classical philosophers. That is to say, Beethoven’s music was a direct conduit to the human heart in all its frailties, a mouthpiece for the inarticulate, and a representation of human potential.

The language of music thus exists on another wavelength, another dimension. In Breathe In, music exists beyond realm of banal and superficial conversation, and is the only truly tangible and pure form of speaking. Music becomes the medium of communication, connection, and the basis of a tentative, but honest relationship between a man (Pearce) and an exchange student (Jones). Each is isolated in their own way, drawn further inward by their introversion and alienation from their peers. Each, of course, is a musician (a cellist and pianist, respectively), but seem lost – held back from truly embracing it by private demons and domestic obligations. Each seems stuck somehow, tethered by an invisible string to apathy and ennui. Their meeting, thus, is rejuvenation – learning how to breathe again.

The cello and the piano rely upon the instrument of hand movements; naturally, the first point of contact between Keith and Sophie is the touching of hands, just barely, but solidly. Their entire relationship seems ethereal, but is the most honest connection of any in the film. The atmosphere is languidly bewitching, from soft drapes of light through misted windows, averted glances and tentative half-smiles. Doremus does the near impossible – fostering intimacy in a crowd. The main characters’ eyes lock during a performance; despite being surrounded by a multitude of others, it is as though they are the only ones in the room. In any other setting, with any other story, the romance could be illicit or tainted somehow by leering innuendo, but the gentle, naturalistic unfolding of their connection retains a curious innocence and purity; the viewer wants them to be together – but proper romances never have happy endings, do they? Breathe In paints a sensitive and restrained portrait of a relationship that is not purely driven by initial attraction, but by a sense of escape, of finding and recognising another kindred soul who speaks in a common language – music.

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