When words fail, music speaks. Music has and always will play such an important part in our lives, expressing the emotions we feel and the thoughts we have that we just can’t find the words to describe. The film and TV industry discovered this a long time ago, and have long since been using music as a tool to express that which cannot be expressed through camera angles, carefully edited scripts or special effects, in the hopes of creating greater emotional impact for its audiences. If chosen for the remastered version of the Jasper Jones soundtrack, I can guarantee Australian-born singer-songwriter Sia’s chart-topping single Alive would do just that. Perfect for the closing credits of the film, Alive captures what I believe to be the essence of Craig Silvey’s novel, the idea that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. The ambiguity of the lyrics means that the song can be interpreted in many ways, connecting with almost anyone. It is without a doubt that Alive is the perfect choice for the closing credits of Jasper Jones, as it not only relates to the story, but connects with the audience in a way that makes them feel as though they’re experiencing the characters’ hardships alongside them.
The first verse of Sia’s song is a combination of poetic lines that link perfectly to the struggle the characters in Jasper Jones face as teenagers living in Corrigan in the ‘60s. The lyrics ‘I was born in a thunderstorm’ refer to the decade in which the characters are growing up. The word ‘thunderstorm’ connotes darkness and chaos, reflecting the racist attitude many townsfolk had during that time. The following line, ‘I grew up overnight’, relates to the impact seeing Laura’s dead body has on Charlie. When he says that he “can’t believe any of [what happened to Laura]”, it can be inferred that if he hadn’t followed Jasper to the tree, he would still be oblivious to the wicked world he’s living in. His experience that night forces him to ‘grow up overnight’ and realise that he can no longer look at the world in the same way a child does. These lyrics compel viewers to recall the pinnacle moment in which their rose-coloured glasses shattered, thus provoking not only an emotional response, but furthering their connection with and understanding of the characters. The next two lines refer to how Jasper and Charlie have been outcast from various social groups as a result of their perceived peculiarities: Jasper’s Indigenous heritage and Charlie’s extensive vocabulary. Even Jasper admits he and Charlie are both outsiders. These lyrics will resonate with anyone who, at some point, wasn’t, or still isn’t, quite sure where they fit in to society. The first verse of Alive captures what living in Corrigan during the 1960s would have been like, whilst also provoking an emotional response from the audience as they remember various moments in their life that they experienced something similar.
Like the first verse, the lyrics in Alive’s pre-chorus are vague yet powerful – just enough to allow the audience to connect to the song in their own way whilst developing an understanding of the various oppressions faced by the characters throughout Jasper Jones. The first line uses a number of literary techniques to depict the hellish environment Corrigan was for many young teenagers. The “one-way ticket” is a metaphor for Jasper’s failed attempt to escape to the city with Laura. It represents all outside forces that prevented the pair from being happy, whether it be people, money or miscommunication. The “demons” represent the worst of the townsfolk: the kind of people who make Corrigan hell for anyone who is different. The line ‘nothing in the ground can ever grow’ implies and that there is not, nor will there ever be, any opportunity for children to reach their full potential in the small town. The final line of the stanza, however, “but I survived”, grasps one of the central ideas of the Silvey’s story: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Many people can relate to these lyrics, having experienced their own, personal version of hell, or having felt trapped in a place in which things just weren’t improving for them. However, audiences are reminded that although they, like the characters in Jasper Jones, have experienced hardships, they too have survived, and perhaps even grown stronger. The audience’s ability to connect with the song on such a deep level will definitely enhance the viewing experience for the individual.
Once again, this connection with the lyrics, and consequently the film, can be established in other lines of the song, whilst also relating to various aspects of Jasper Jones. Like many people, Jasper has a place he likes to go to seek refuge from his difficult life. The words ‘I found solace in the strangest place’ directly refer to “[his] place”, as he calls it. The use of repetition in the line “I took and I took and I took what you gave” highlights just how much racism and abuse Jasper has ‘taken’ over the years. The following line suggests that the adults in Corrigan are ignorant toward Jasper’s feelings and needs, simply because he’s different. Repetition is used again, perhaps most effectively, in the chorus. It is clear that Sia has tried to enforce Alive’s key message – to keep fighting in the face of adversity – by repeating the lyrics ‘I’m still breathing’ and ‘I’m alive’. It’s almost ironic that these words are being used to describe the essence of a story in which one of the protagonists, Laura Wishart, is dead. However, this contrast reveals the two ways in which people deal with hardships: like Laura, one can crack under pressure and give up, or like Jasper and Charlie and other characters from the novel, one can survive the pain and grow from it.
Ultimately, whilst also alluding to themes such as racism, ostracism and growing up, Alive reflects one of the main ideas that emerges from Silvey’s writing, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, in a way that not only relates to the storyline, but would enhance the impact the end of the film has on its audiences. The song’s upbeat tempo leaves viewers feeling hopeful that the characters will move past their awful experiences, and step into a bright future, having grown stronger and become more prepared to face the world. Thank you everyone, and I hope that I have left you with no doubt that Alive is the best possible song choice for the closing credits of Jasper Jones.
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