Opera Meets Film: How The ‘Lakmé’ Duet Spotlights The Point of No Return in ‘Happy Death Day 2U’

By David Salazar

“Opera Meets Film” is a feature dedicated to exploring the way that opera has been employed in cinema. We will select a section or a film in its entirety, highlighting the impact that utilizing the operatic form or sections from an opera can alter our perception of a film that we are viewing. This week’s installment will take a look at the box office hit “Happy Death Day 2U.”

“Happy Death Day 2U” is a genre mashup, which makes it both the most unlikely and likely place for some opera passage to suddenly show up.

It’s a film that moves from college comedy to slasher flick in its opening five minutes before turning into a trippy science fiction drama a la “Groundhog Day,” with continued forays into romantic comedy and horror conventions. This cornucopia of narrative and cinematic style is further supplemented by a wide range of music by such artists as The Lumineers, James Blunt, The Trak Kartel, Lizzo, and Langhorne Slim & The Law.

So when that famous passage from Leo Délibes’ “Lakmé (yes, the Flower duet),” suddenly comes out of nowhere, it is both a pleasant and strange surprise. It is also narratively crucial.

The characters are trying to fix a time warp that keeps resetting the same day over and over in addition to causing major problems across dimensions. The major characters are all in a frenzy over whether or not the time machine should activate or not and at a climactic moment, it fires up and shoots everyone across the room.

Suddenly time stops and everyone moves in utter slow motion as the Flower duet suddenly blazes over the sound mix. The music’s relaxed and gentle feel provides emotional counterpoint to the tension of the scene, creating a comic effect that makes the images, which just one moment ago were fraught with tension, seem utterly ridiculous and over-the-top. This is further accentuated by the fact that audiences have likely heard the piece before as it has been featured in other motion pictures and video commercials (or as an opera for opera fans); since they are likely to associate it with something completely different, the sudden connection here only amplifies how strange, and by extension funny, it seems.

The choice ultimately spotlights a very specific and dramatically prevalent moment in the film. This scene is the proverbial point of no return for the protagonist Tree as after this moment she will be thrust into an alternate reality that she must find a way out of. Musical scoring remains consistent throughout, but this moment stands out because classical music and opera don’t make up the prevailing musical DNA of the film (though there is an appearance of “Carmina Burana” at one point). Having the flower duet play in this scene makes it stand out from other moments and further accentuates its importance to the overall architecture of the story through its association with music that “doesn’t fit in.”


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