This post contains detailed spoilers for A Quiet Place Part II.
When French singer and composter Charles Trenet died at the age of 87 in 2001, his most beloved song had racked up nearly 4000 versions in English, Russian, German, and many more languages. Nicknamed the French Sinatra, he was as influential as Édith Piaf, and while he doesn’t necessarily have the same name recognition, “La Mer” is probably a bigger export than “La Vie en rose.” Written in France during the Nazi occupation, the lyrics speak to longing and can be interpreted as nostalgic (though Trenet said he wrote the words before the war). Trenet released the track in 1946 (singer Roland Gerbeau recorded a version the year before) and Bobby Darrin’s 1959 recording “Beyond the Sea” landed at number six on the Billboard 100. The English-language translation by Jack Lawrence added the word “beyond” to the title and altered the lyrics, shifting it into romantic territory. Not only has this track featured in a variety of movies and TV shows ranging from Goodfellas to Friends, but the lyrics (both French and English) have played a pivotal role in plot points in sci-fi and horror narratives including The X-Files, Lost, and more recently, A Quiet Place Part II.
What is it about the aquatic-themed words that have made it such an enduring presence 75 years after it was first recorded? A well-timed needle-drop has the power to leave a lasting impression and this particular tune has accompanied heists in White Collar, marked Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Ben’s (Justin H. Min) 1960s Dallas arrival in The Umbrella Academy, and adds pep to Midge’s (Rachel Brosnahan) Miami tour stop in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The big band arrangement helps set the tone and transports an audience back in time through Darrin’s familiar vocals. In the case of White Collar, the record being played in the scene is “La Mer” to match the Parisian location of the series finale. One of the most memorable interpretations is in Danny Boyle’s dark comedy A Life Less Ordinary when Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz perform it at karaoke before the scene morphs into a fantasy song and dance that could double as a Moulin Rouge! audition.
Considering how many times “Beyond the Sea” and “La Mer” has appeared on a soundtrack, it is in danger of landing on the overused list — joining the likes of “Hallelujah,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Fix You.” However, along with being an ideal choice for anything set in or around 1959 (for the Darrin hit), it has also doubled as a message from beyond the grave, a code to be cracked, and a suggestion of sanctuary. In A Quiet Place Part II, the Abbott family finds a survivor who they happen to know, and within the disused factory in which Emmett (Cillian Murphy) has set up camp, the kids pick up something on the radio beyond the endless crackle. Regan (Millicent Simmonds) uses the device to soothe her brother Marcus (Noah Jupe) after his foot was caught in a rusty beartrap, and he sits bolt upright when words replace the familiar static.
This isn’t new information to Emmett as “Beyond the Sea” has been playing on a loop for the last four months, and he hasn’t read any great meaning into this particular anomaly. Meanwhile, Regan takes a different approach and theorizes that whoever is playing this record on repeat purposefully chose a song pointing to the location of the radio tower. Following her father’s lead in the first film, the brave teen uses her knowledge of frequencies to surmise that wherever that radio tower is there will be people. Not only that, but they already know her cochlear implant ultra-high pitch sound weakens the aliens and if she broadcasts it using a radio tower this will be a major win.
Concocting a plan to hike to this potential life-saving tower alone is not well received by her brother, but she leaves while Marcus is sleeping and instructs he listens to this particular frequency — hearing “Beyond the Sea” on a loop will definitely put you off this track. Upon realizing her daughter is doing something brave (and stupid), Evelyn (Emily Blunt) begs Emmett to play hero. His faith in humanity has been broken by the death of his family, and he thinks this quest is foolhardy, but he follows through. It turns out that Regan’s hypothesis was correct and the people living in safety “beyond the sea” are using this song to lure survivors. Unlike the scary folk they escape at the dock, this thriving community is kind, and so it sucks when the aliens also make their arrival to this paradise (thanks to a boat). In an incredibly tense sequence with notes of the kitchen hunt scene from Jurassic Park, Regan and Emmett make it to the station to switch out the vinyl for the cochlear implant. Her timing couldn’t be better as Marcus realizes his sister has completed her mission at the moment when he needs this high pitch sound most.
"Beyond the Sea” is a direction to a sanctuary in A Quiet Place Part II and now the radio station has transformed into a vital weapon. In Lost, the radio tower on the island represents potential rescue for the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 in the 2004 two-part pilot. The hike to this high ground location includes the infamous run-in with the polar bear, and when they do make it to this structure, a distress signal in French underscores how creepy this place is. Shannon (Maggie Grace) fits a very mid-00s rich girl role, but she flexes her skills when she reveals she can speak this language. “I'm alone now. On the island alone. Please, someone, come. The others … they're dead. It killed them. It killed them all,” is the chilling message left by Danielle Rousseau (Mira Furlan). In A Quiet Place Part II, “Beyond the Sea” is at its most literal as it pointed to a specific location, and Lost takes a different route. While the radio tower on the island has a more foreboding message than Bobby Darrin singing, Rousseau is also the source of this song — part of me wonders if Krasinski’s choice was a reference to the ABC series.
Midway through Season 1, Sayid (Naveen Andrews) is trying to find something in Rousseau’s notes that could give them some inkling to where they are or explain the troubling (and deadly) entities. When Shannon initially translates the words from Rousseau’s maps she calls them nonsense but at the end of “Whatever the Case May Be” she has realized what they reference. She recalls her time as an au pair and the movie her charge watched on repeat was Finding Nemo, and the end credit song is “La Mer” — the writers took creative license as Robbie Williams sings "Beyond the Sea" on the French version. This doesn’t unlock any secret meaning and instead suggests she sought comfort in these lyrics, and Shannon’s rendition of this song speaks to what lies out there.
The message of this song takes on its most chilling form in Season 1 of The X-Files when Scully’s father dies and a convicted serial killer somehow knows that “Beyond the Sea” played at his funeral the day before. The episode takes its name from the English track but thanks to good old-fashioned licensing issues, the version you hear on streaming is “La Mer.” Of course, Brad Dourif as Luther Lee Boggs doesn’t start singing in French on Hulu, and at least the music is still the same so you should get the unnerving point (he also calls her “Starbuck,” which was her father’s nickname for Scully). Boggs claims he is communicating a message from the recently deceased, which throws the scientist off-kilter and toward a position normally occupied by Mulder — her partner thinks Boggs is a fraud. During the funeral, Scully’s mom mentions this song was playing when he proposed, and Scully later mentions it was one of their wedding tracks. She rationalizes how Boggs could have found this information to shift back into her role as a skeptic, but it is notable that this is the first episode in which she almost believes.
So whether the message has allegedly come from beyond the grave, is delivering directions to safety, or is the musings of a terrified woman, “La Mer” and “Beyond the Sea” continue to speak volumes in the 21st century.
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