Unlike ‘Breezeblocks’, ‘Hunger of the Pine’, or ‘Left Hand Free’, ‘Matilda’ is generally not a song recognised as one of Alt-J’s bigger hits. Regardless of its position within their back catalogue, ‘Matilda’ is not a song to be ignored or dismissed in spite of the difference in recognition or general success, and it certainly does not lack the quality that their other most popular tracks possess.
Released 18 years after the 1994 action film Leon: The Professional, ‘Matilda’ focuses on the relationship of the protagonist Leon, and the orphaned young girl whose name you have probably guessed by now. Alt-J pull iconic lines from the film multiple times throughout the song, like “this is from Matilda”, which could be argued to be the best lyric in the song considering its significance in the movie. For those unfamiliar with the Luc Besson directed picture, the quote refers to Leon’s final words before he pulls the pin out of a grenade in an act of revenge on behalf of Matilda.
When talking about the meaning behind the track, frontman Joe Newman told NME: “When I was about 12, the film Léon had a major effect on me. Matilda is this amazing character. All her family are killed and she forces Léon the hitman to be friends with her so she can get revenge. I was sucked in by her. I had a boy crush on Léon and a girl crush on Matilda.”
In the film, Leon, a hitman, develops an arguably too close relationship with 12-year-old Matilda who we see become an orphan not too long into the movie. The lyrics in this song summarise the relationship between the two and the story behind Matilda essentially becoming Leon’s apprentice.
Newman has previously explained that he is heavily influenced by cinema, and often references a variety of films in his music. For example, the album title An Awesome Wave is a line in American Psycho. “I originally wanted to write all my songs about film and have that novelty,” he said to Loud and Quiet magazine, “But as I’ve developed I’ve got more self-involved and started writing about break-ups and being beaten up. So it’s gone down the more traditional path, but I haven’t retired the idea of doing more film-based music.”
Alt-J have always used pop culture and cinema as inspiration for their music, and so as we approach the ten year anniversary of the iconic track, we can once again appreciate the lyricism in ‘Matilda’ that the three-piece built their name on.
Check out ‘Matilda’ and the trailer below.