adagio for strings

— Name, Title

Adagio for Strings (1936)

Samuel Barber, 1910-1981

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     Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings is a one-movement work for string orchestra, and it is one of the most frequently-used pieces of classical music in film. Some of its most memorable adaptations include PlatoonThe Elephant Man, and Amélie.

     Platoon is a 1986 American anti-war film directed by Oliver Stone. The movie is the first of a trilogy by Stone that serve as a grim reflection of his experiences in the Vietnam War. Platoon follows Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), who leaves his university studies in 1967 to enlist. He is deployed in Cambodia, where he is quickly stripped of his idealism and forced to accept the reality of the Vietnam War. 

     Adagio for Strings is used in the third act of the movie. Two of Taylor's superiors, the cynical Staff Sergeant Barnes and the idealistic Sergeant Elias, conflict throughout the movie, ultimately resulting in Barnes's attempted murder of Elias. Believing that he has shot Elias dead, Barnes returns to the platoon and reports that Elias was killed by the enemy. As they depart by helicopter, Adagio for Strings begins to play in the background as Sergeant Elias is seen running out of the jungle, mortally wounded. He is pursued and eventually killed by North Vietnamese soldiers.

     Barber's Adagio is also used in David Lynch's 1980 movie, The Elephant Man, and the critically acclaimed French romantic comedy, Amélie. In The Elephant ManAdagio is heard as Joseph Merrick (the "elephant" man) dies in his sleep at the end of his tragic life. Adagio strikes a different, surreal tone in Amélie, which also uses the music for a death scene; but in Amélie, the piece is used as Amélie imagines watching her own funeral.

Content Warning: this clip contains images of excessive or gratuitous violence and death.

Platoon, 1986