Music in O, Brother Where Art Thou?
In the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the music has a very powerful meaning behind it and it is one of the most important aspects of the movie. The movie setting is in rural Mississippi during the 1930′s just after the Great Depression. I think the music plays a huge role in this movie because of its historical context and especially because of its rich religious characteristics. All of the songs have a political, historical, or religious meaning, but there are three songs in particular that I think carried most of the significance.
The first song is “O Death” by Ralph Stanley
. This song has
such potent lyrics and no instrumentation whatsoever. This song is sung during
the part of the movie when the KKK is about to hang an African American man
named Tommy because he apparently sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the skills to play the guitar. The song lyrics make multiple references to the grim reaper and
allude to death as being unavoidable. The song lyrics are very prominent and
straight forward and it corresponds to what is going on in the movie very well.
This particular song plays a very dark role in the scene and I think just
having it sung without any instruments intensifies its role even more.
Another song of high importance is “Man of Constant Sorrow”
I think this is one of the most popular songs in the movie and it holds so many
meanings. This song resembles what the entire movie is about, a lifetime of
struggles, trials, and triumphs that come with the end result. This song is
referenced to throughout the movie and it symbolizes life during the hard times
of the Great Depression. I thought it was interesting that the young African
American man named Tommy played the guitar because during this time period in
the Mississippi Delta the guitar was a fairly new instrument and it was not too
popular yet. I also thought it was interesting how there is antiphony between the background singers and the lead singer.The lead singer sings the verses normally, but the background singers repeat the last phrase at the end of the verses. The ends of the
verses sound gloomy and troublesome which is why the background singers
emphasize them. They also emphasis the very last line of the song which is “I’ll
meet you on God’s golden shore”(The Soggy Bottom Boys, 2000). This entire song reflects the theme of the whole movie by highlighting the fact that bad things will happen, but everything will turn out fine in the end.
The song “Keep On the Sunny Side”
plays a significant role
in the movie by producing a form of escapism when people hear it. The role of
the song was to bring joy during the hard times of the Great Depression. It
gave everyone a positive outlook on life by trying to get people to focus on
the good things in life and that all the bad times will pass. During the Depression,
people were looking for any kind of happiness, so the main role of this song is
to reach out to people and tell them to be thankful for that they have and no
matter what life throws your way, there is always a tomorrow and to keep looking for positive things in life.
The major role of the music in this movie is to give people something
to relate to, but also giving them inspiration to look ahead and to focus on
the fact that better days are coming. I think the primary role of this music
was to give people a spiritual outlook on life when times got rough. Most all
of the songs talk about religion and Jesus Christ so they all have a spiritual
undertone. The music in this movie reflects the desire that the people of this
time had to turn to religion and to turn to something positive to have a better
outlook on life. Religion played a major role in people’s lives and since
everything around them was all wrong and out of control, religion was the one
thing the people could turn to and relate to.
Stanley, Ralph. O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Lost Highway, 2000. CD.
The Soggy Bottom Boys. O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Lost Highway, 2000. CD.
The Whites. O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Lost Highway, 2000. CD.