cold war mixtape.
Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy, in all of its forms, has remained a paragon of spy fiction since the novel’s initial publication in 1974. Since then, it has seen a handful of adaptations, including a 1979 BBC miniseries and a couple of radio plays, and most recently, a 2011 film. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, otherwise best known for Let the Right One In, the film plays more like a love story than any of its predecessors, and this is arguably the tone that it best ought to invoke. While the story is told by spymaster George Smiley, the driving emotional force is that of the relationship between Bill Haydon and Jim Prideaux. For a tale about the so-termed "cold" war, the heart of it is warm indeed.
As told to us in bits and pieces throughout the story, Haydon and Prideaux had been close since attending Oxford together — close to the point of being referred to as inseparable. They remain close during their time in the British Secret Intelligence Service. That is, until Prideaux is sent upon an ill-fated mission to Budapest, where he is shot, captured, and tortured by Soviet agents. Though he is eventually returned to English soil, he is also sacked from the service, and effectively disappears. The twist in Prideaux and Haydon's story, and accordingly the twist in Smiley's investigation of a possible mole, is that Haydon is the Soviet double agent, and the purpose of Prideaux's mission to Budapest had been to uncover the spy's name.
It's not a center that's immediately evident, but one that spools out in parallel with Smiley's investigation. The clues are deftly hidden, but as with any mystery, clear for those looking for them. They are most obvious in the musical cues scattered throughout the film, and so:
COLD WAR MIXTAPE, a love story told in a three-track EP
1. Salut d'Amour
In some respects, the story starts at its end. While Edward Elgar's "Salut d'Amour" translates to "Love's Greeting," the song serves to mark the end of the love that Haydon and Prideaux bear each other. It's as Prideaux listens to a nearby salon trumpet player warble the melody that he pieces together that something's gone wrong. The song is cut off just as Prideaux is, gunfire abruptly giving way to silence.
The typical arrangement for "Salut d'Amour" is for violin and piano, but the trumpet arrangement is perfect for the scene, hewing more towards simplicity rather than the saccharine quality that the song can sometimes take. It's fitting for a movie in which one of the characters, reflecting on her memories of her time at the Circus, tells Smiley, "If it's bad, don't come back. I want to remember you all as you were." The title of the song suggests looking to the future, but the entirety of the movie is about looking back.
2. National Anthem of the USSR
The song is played during the Circus' Christmas party as a joke, but it serves as a clever way of underlining the treachery that Smiley is looking to uncover. He mentions, later, that he'd initially failed to see Haydon for what he is because of his emotional involvement. As such, there's an irony to the fact that it's the Anthem of the USSR that's playing as Smiley discovers his wife's affair with Bill. The double agent is right there before his eyes, and yet it will take him some years yet to truly see him. This song serves as the connective tissue between tracks one and two, an underscoring of Haydon's character as the truth becomes more obvious.
3. Beyond the Sea
Much has been made of the last song used in the film, and with good reason. It comes off as a bizarrely cheerful tune to be playing over the relatively grim resolution of the story. Prideaux finds Haydon in captivity, and shoots him; Ricki Tarr is left waiting to see a woman is dead; Smiley comes home to find his unfaithful wife returned, and is installed as the head of the Circus. That said, it's a flashback that begins the song, and it's that flashback that holds the most power. It takes place during the aforementioned Christmas party, and features Haydon and Prideaux. They share a single glance, and their respective reactions provide a fittingly painful end to the story.
Bill looks at Jim the way that people do when seeing a person for what they know will be the last time. Jim's expression, initially bright, fades as he realizes the implication.
This is a revelation that makes the film's opening particular poignant and even more appropriate in its placing. In a way, it is a greeting to love, in that Prideaux makes a tremendous sacrifice. No matter how one sees the reasoning behind it — whether it's to keep Haydon safe or to give him a chance to redeem himself (Prideaux's assassination of Haydon can be viewed in a similarly dual light, either as an act of mercy or an act of revenge) — it's an incredibly personal gesture in a profession that demands loyalty to a larger cause instead.
Bill knows exactly what he's sending Jim into, and Jim knows him too well not to see it. But he goes anyway.
The choice of cover also strikes me as significant. The Spanish singer Julio Iglesias' rendition of "Beyond the Sea" is one of the poppiest versions of the song, but is also the most melodically complex. The brass — the centerpiece of this movie's version of "Salut d'Amour" — follow the singer with the major melody, but the strings carry a harmony that veers into minor territory, providing an edge that keeps the song, despite its bright brass aspirations, from being a truly happy ending.