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Based on the novel by Anthony McCarten (who also penned the film adaptation), Death of a Superhero follows Donald (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster), a teen who is losing his battle with cancer, during the final weeks of his life. Donald is encouraged by his doctor (Andy Serkis) to find solace in art, and his drawings, which contain angry and graphic images of violence and death, help the audience to understand the inner workings of his mind. These are uncharted waters for director Ian Fitzgibbon, who decided to enlist the services of visual effects magician Alessandro Cioffi and Trixter, a German animation company, to make his vision come alive. They are able to create a rough and wild artistic style for Donald that would undoubtedly be the work of a teenager with a vibrant imagination and raw talent.
While highly stylized drawings serve as the visual centerpieces of DEATH OF A SUPERHERO, Fitzgibbon uses music to enhance the film’s quieter moments and emphasize Donald’s yearnings. Donald particularly wishes to experience true love before he dies. Of course, being a young man who doesn’t know any better, he initially thinks of sex. However, that changes when he meets Shelly (Aisling Loftus), a comely and misunderstood classmate who is wise beyond her years. First drawn together by Donald’s art, the two go on to connect on an emotional level that neither expects but which they can’t ignore. The carefully constructed soundtrack, particularly the work of Irish folk duos Angus and Julia Stone and Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, communicates and enhances the tender and innocent relationship that develops between Donald and Shelly, creating an aura that seems to encircle the pair.
For You by Angus and Julia Stone (click here to listen) is first heard when Donald is getting ready for his first “date” with Shelly. It’s a quirky and heartbreaking moment in the film as he inspects himself in the mirror, examining his hairless face and head due to the chemotherapy. Donald even goes so far as to draw hair on the mirror to remind him what he used to look like. The melancholy and beautiful track is enhanced by Julia Stone’s throaty and light vocals as she wistfully sings about confessing love. The song follows Donald on his way to meet the fetching Shelly. Shelly takes Donald on her motorbike through Dublin, with For You travelling with them to highlight their growing infatuation and trust in one another. For You also provides a bittersweet coda to the film, playing as Shelly looks out over the water after Donald’s death from the place where they shared their first kiss.
A disastrous mishap at a party eventually alienates Donald and Shelly, but Donald’s relapse brings them back together. To The Boy by Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell (click here to listen) is the perfect companion song for Donald’s ordeal and their coming reunion, and it is adeptly used by Fitzgibbon to weave together images of Donald entering the CAT scan cylinder and then enduring a chemotherapy treatment with long, wistful shots of Dublin. It continues to play as Shelly comes to his hospital bed while he’s asleep and apologizes for blowing up at him over trivial matters, knowing all the while that that he can’t hear her. To The Boy recurs again when Donald’s friends hire a kindly prostitute to take his virginity (thinking they are helping fulfill a last wish). Donald dismisses the prostitute and races to Shelly’s home. With Farrell’s and Kearney’s soft, sincere voices about the quiet nature of love filling the soundtrack, Shelly and Donald spend a hushed moment by the ocean, knowing that it will be one of their last together.
With a soundtrack showcasing the talents of these exceptional Irish folk singers and featuring songs by Blind Freddy, The Rising Rocket, and others, DEATH OF A SUPERHERO is as stimulating musically as it is visually.
DEATH OF A SUPERHERO is currently available on VOD and other additional outlets via Tribeca Film.
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