by Gabriel Valdez
Not only is the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy the best of the year in terms of pure listening, it’s the most meaningful soundtrack to its plot. The soundtrack itself represents the lost possibilities of youth, a sort of alternate, normalized reality into which hero Peter Quill can become lost even as he faces the most ridiculous things the universe can throw at him.
That soundtrack is a place where his mother still exists, where he’s not an orphan, where he’s still on Earth. We watch his adventures in space and imagine what traveling the galaxy and seeing so many wonders must be like. In turn, he listens to our lives back home and imagines what being fixed in one place with a family must feel like. Even while we idolize him and the swashbuckling existence he has, he idolizes us and longs for the stability we enjoy.
It’s rare to go into the theater for a mega-budget adventure and have the protagonist in any way look back at the viewers as if to say, “I envy what you have.” That’s what this soundtrack does for us, and it’s the biggest component to making Guardians of the Galaxy as bittersweet as it is. It acknowledges the role we play as viewers, and makes us the heroes as a sort of co-imaginer, for having the firm grounding in our lives that allows us to watch and dream about and enjoy such big adventures.
It helps make Quill and his fellow orphans all the more accessible. They’re just a bunch of kids pretending to be something they’re not. That’s a place we’ve all been, we still sometimes go in our heads. In an age when big budget productions are designed to make their heroes feel like mythical gods and viewers feel small and overwhelmed, Guardians takes the opposite tack. Its heroes can feel small and lost, and the viewer is given myth, power, recognized for his or her ability to pretend along with the film. If there’s anything old-fashioned about Guardians, it’s that cooperative mentality toward watching a film, that empowering of the viewer. The soundtrack acts as the doorway into that.