At Adeptia, integration is our mantra — and not just data. We’re interested in all the fascinating and complementary intersections life has to offer. Integration as a concept means committing to harmonies in all disciplines and crafts, and we believe it is crucial to be open to unexpected combinations that can surprise, delight, and improve our industries and our lives.
For the second in our series on integrations in life, we’re thinking about how some of the most unforgettable moments in our favorite movies are enhanced by the most unexpected songs. There are plenty of great movie soundtracks out there, but there is an art to pairing a particular scene to a particular song so that both feel inseparable — even created for one another. Here are my top eleven movie scenes that used songs in surprisingly brilliant ways:
No movie captures cubicle angst quite like Office Space, and no scene from the movie is as easy to identify with as the scene when the boys have finally had enough of their maddeningly defective office printer and take turns demolishing it in an empty field. Shot in slow-motion, the scene is paired with a venomous rap song of urban savagery, and it’s one of the most hilarious scenes of any movie… ever.
Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to make violence this fun. The song is an upbeat 1972 folk romp which Tarantino pairs with the most brutal and sadistic scene in the film. In the scene, Mr. Blonde pulls out his switchblade and viciously tortures the bound policeman while dancing cheerfully to the song as it plays on the radio. It is impossible for me to hear this jovial song come on the radio without shuddering in memory of this disturbingly brilliant scene.
With Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick made jokes about nuclear war during an era when kids in school were still doing ‘duck and cover’ drills. The final scene of the film is a montage of mushroom-cloud atomic explosions set brilliantly to the optimistic 1939 romantic ballad by Vera Lynn. The chorus brightly sings “keep smiling till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away” as the images of nuclear holocaust devastate the horizon. It’s a beautiful, haunting, and brilliant juxtaposition.
All of Donnie Darko is dripping with 80’s nostalgia, but no scene is more transportive than the slow-motion walk through the high school hallways set to this Tears for Fears classic. The scene manages to include an introduction to every major character while maintaining perfect synchronization with the drifty, dreamy ease of the song.
For most of “Garden State,” Zach Braff’s character has been aloof and numb, but when Simon and Garfunkel’s appreciative lyric begins to play, it marks a major change in his character. He climbs onto some construction equipment away from his friends, and he screams at the top of his lungs into the darkness of the quarry as the song swells its uplifting chorus. This illuminating moment owes much of its power to a perfect integration of scene and song.
There are few scenes more memorable than the climactic drug deal gone-wrong during Boogie NIghts’ final act. Alfred Molina’s character dances crazily as he blasts the song from his mixtape, and the camera looms into a close-up of Mark Wahlberg as he contemplates his imminent death. This gripping moment of reflection is paired unforgettably with the cheesy pop song in a way that skyrockets the suspense and creates one of the most powerful and interesting climaxes of any movie I’ve ever seen.
A spoof on the zombie apocalypse is bound to be a good time, but perhaps the most satisfying scene is the one that hilariously employs one of the most feel-good songs of all time. Queen’s classic anthem comes on the jukebox at the bar while Simon Pegg and friends confront the undead with synchronized brutality. As Freddie Mercury blissfully sings in the background about ‘having such a good time / having a ball,’ the bar becomes a war zone littered with zombie flesh. The combination of scene and song are just way too much fun for a film about cannibal savagery.
Bill Murray’s character in The Life Aquatic is a portrait of insensitive apathy. This is why the final scene at the bottom of the sea is so surprising and powerful. In the depths of Steve’s failure and disappointment, he finally glimpses the mythical Jaguar shark in the claustrophobic submarine with his closest friends and begins to cry. In the most unexpected way, the passionate, tear-jerking Sigur Ros symphony helps the scene achieve the redemptive feeling you’re left with after the credits roll.
To be honest, I could have compiled this entire list using nothing but Quentin Tarantino movies. He’s the master of surprisingly brilliant song/scene pairings, and Kill Bill is his most stylistically entertaining film to date. Perhaps the most memorable and jaw-dropping scene in Volume One is when Beatrix Kiddo single-handedly battles the entire Japanese mob army (the Crazy 88) while the music cycles from a downbeat RZA beat at the beginning to the groovy, psychedelic “Nobody But Me” when the battle really gets going. Like the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs, this song makes brutal violence an outrageously laugh-out-loud good time.
The major criticism of Magnolia is that its disparate plotlines and characters never come together in a meaningful way. It’s true that most of the narratives never intersect, but that’s precisely why this scene is so important. In a brilliantly self-aware moment, the characters turn to the camera and, in turns, sing along to the lines from Aimee Mann’s hauntingly sad poem. As the camera moves from person to person, the connection between them becomes the song itself and the sentiments expressed therein. The song is the piece of the film that completes the puzzle, and it’s strange, unexpected, and utterly unforgettable.
There are multiple scenes in The Graduate that feature Simon and Garfunkel’s poetic ode to loneliness, but none of them are as significant and surprising as the final moment at the very end. Dustin Hoffman’s character has finally reached out and embraced the future, and he’s stolen his true love from the altar in a streak of inspired enthusiasm. He runs with his bride out of the church, fighting off enraged family members, and boards the first bus to who-knows-where. With huge grins on their faces, they take seats in the back of the bus and wait for their dreams to come true. Instead, the sound of silence creeps back in, and the movie ends on the bittersweet song that reinforces the feeling of loneliness that pervades the whole film.
What are some of the scenes that come to mind when you think about brilliant scene-song pairings? Which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!
For more in this series, check out:
Unexpectedly Good Integrations In Life: 8 Flavor Pairs That Taste Surprisingly Delicious Together
Unexpectedly Good Integrations In Life: Artists Use Medical Technology For New Perspectives On Life
Unexpectedly Good Integrations In Life: Amazing Bitters-And-Booze Pairings That Make Life Worth Living