"Hallelujah" Is Ruined. Thanks, Pop Culture
As foretold, Leonard Cohen's magnificent song has been weaponized into a pathos bomb.
By Kevin Lee | June 10, 2018
Welcome to Flashback Fandor! Our staff of movie scientists have dug through our Library-of-Congress-sized archives to unearth our best (and still topical) videos and articles.
I believe it was in late 2005, in the movie theater lobby of the Lincoln Center in New York City, when I overheard audience members exiting a screening of the Norwegian film Kissed by Winter. One viewer remarked to his companion that the film was all right, except for its frequent use of Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah." "That song is just too powerful, it just overpowers the film," he said. "It can't be used carelessly. It's like a weapon of mass destruction." Over a decade a later, it's clear that these prescient remarks have fallen largely on deaf ears, as this compilation of the most notable appearances of the song makes plain.
This video is inspired by Nick Moore's amusing article "How Pop Culture Wore Out 'Hallelujah," which in turn was inspired by Tori Kelly's 2016 performance of the song on the Emmys, the umpteenth instance of it figuring in a movie or TV show in the past twenty years. Moore cites the 1996 film Basquiat as the song's first appearance in a film (though it's sequestered to the closing credits). It was around 2001 that the song began to peek its head with frequency: In Shrek, the first season of Scrubs, The West Wing. Moore identifies more than a dozen notable appearances of the song in his article, but online research by Leonard Cohen aficionado Jarkko Arjatsalo lists forty-four instances dating back to 1994 (in the Canadian feature When Night is Falling, which predates Basquiat). With such a preponderance of usages, it's clear that the song has become a clichéd shortcut to profundity and instant pathos for movie and media moments. But it'll only be a matter of time before it crosses the threshhold of cultural exhaustion, at which point we can shout out its title with a genuine collective sense of relief.