The Best Leonard Cohen Music Cues in Cinema


The world continues to mourn the passing of Leonard Cohen, who died at 82 earlier this week, but the singer’s iconic rasp and brilliant writing lives on in cinema. Cohen’s poetic oeuvre has been an emotional highlight on the big screen. Here are some of the best Cohen-set music cues in film.

“Everybody Knows” in Atom Egoyan’s Exotica

A sardonic striptease.

From Roger Ebert:

Beneath everything pulses the atmosphere of the club Exotica, its promise of sexuality masking deeper needs and obsessions. The grave voice of Leonard Cohen and the starkness of his songs, played by Eric the DJ, seem wrong for a strip club, but not for this one, where not desire but desperation is catered to.

“Hallelujah,” in Amy J. Berg’s Deliver Us from Evil

An anguished salve.

From Scott Tobias:

Deliver Us From Evil centers on Father Oliver O’Grady, a priest who molested or raped dozens of children in several Northern California parishes from the mid-’70s until his conviction in 1993. Whenever charges arose that O’Grady abused his young parishioners, church officials–notably Roger Mahony, then bishop and currently a cardinal who participated in Pope Benedict XVI’s election–simply moved him to another town. O’Grady eventually served seven years of a 14-year sentence, but he’s currently free to roam in his native Ireland, and can even expect retirement annuities from the Catholic church.

“I’m Your Man,’ in Steven Shainberg’s Secretary

Where submission and love meet.

From the New York Times:

Where Peter’s groping sexual inexperience repulses Lee, her boss’s dominance sets her aflame. He becomes a kind of cruel Pygmalion whose blunt instructions on how she should dress, answer the telephone and even eat give her life a shape and direction. When he discerns her secret self-mutilation, he explains it to her as if he were peering into her soul. Before long Lee craves Edward’s spankings so intensely she begins devising tricks to spark his ire. But once he catches on to her game, he inflames her further by ignoring her increasingly outrageous provocations.

“If It Be Your Will,” in Allan Moyle’s Pump Up the Volume

Mourning the lost.

From Justin Gage:

While the camera scans Harry’s Blackjack gum, Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi, wind-up erection, and Sgt. Slaughter figure, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ spins on the turntable. Later after a teen suicide, he mourns with ‘If It Be Your Will’ complete with Cohen’s Various Positions record cover resting against the radio turner. I can pinpoint this as the moment. Amid this clash of music, played against the Descendents and the Buzzcocks, Leonard sounded even better. A throaty wise voice easily more wild and charged in its sadness and desperation.

“Lover, Lover, Lover,” in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fear of Fear

Soundtracking the downward spiral.

From Ed Gonzalez:

Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed Fear of Fear for German television some two years after the similarly themed but superior nightmare comedy Martha. Both films feature housewives being driven to insanity by their largely oppressive environments though Fear or Fear counts as the more humanist exercise. If not entirely successful, the film still puts the preening melodrama of The Hours to shame. Margot (Margit Carstensen) finds herself succumbing to a seemingly inexplicable hysteria just weeks before she’s about to give birth to her second child. . . . Whenever Margot steps out of her apartment, Fassbinder repeatedly shoots Carstensen in such a way that brings to mind an irreparably damaged and writhing organism patronized beneath the lens of a microscope. Margot’s decision to drown herself in liquor, drugs, and music (notice the metaphoric use of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Lover Lover Lover’) is her seductive way out of a banal and carnivorous modern world.

“Suzanne,” in Werner Herzog’s Fata Morgana

A ballad for the landscape.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Fata Morgana is a matter of trust — that which appears to be impenetrably slow and tedious will, in fact, ultimately prove worthwhile. A bracing antidote to just about every trend in contemporary cinema, the picture has about as much in common with painting and photography as cinema, and exerts a weirdly hypnotic spell that haunts long after the stunning final image — a superb encapsulation of human transience — has passed.

“The Stranger Song,” in Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller

The comedy and tragedy of an antihero.

From Criterion:

McCabe & Mrs. Miller has such a striking look that anyone recalling it will immediately visualize an image or two—for me, it’s an exterior shot that conveys the moistness of the woody, perpetually overcast forest mining town the film never leaves for two hours and four roughly denoted seasons, so verdant where most cowboy settings are so sere. But high on anyone’s list of associations with this film is the music of Leonard Cohen, which suffuses it in memory, an impression nailed down by ‘The Stranger Song,’ which plays over the titles for five leisurely minutes as the protagonist, an affably inscrutable gambler named McCabe (Warren Beatty), rides one horse and leads another up a mountain and across a rude bridge toward the shelter of the local saloon.

“The Future,” in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers

Where all hell breaks loose.

From Sean O’Neal:

Cohen sings the viewer out with ‘The Future.’ With its smirking at the apocalypse, sardonic demands for ‘crack and anal sex,’ and foretelling of dark visions of murder and wannabe Charles Mansons, “The Future” could have been written as the film’s theme song. But as is, it goes a long way toward creating a soundtrack that’s more emotionally sophisticated than its movie, which never smirks when it could scream.

“Dance me to the End of Love,” in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days

An apocalyptic love song.

From Rolling Stone:

Strange Days, with a script by Jay Cocks and producer James Cameron — Bigelow’s former husband — is her magnum opus. It’s a visionary triumph set on the eve of the millennium in a Los Angeles of racist cops, rap-star statesmen, armored cars and widespread anarchy. Lenny Nero, the ex-cop played with seductive grubbiness and an incongruously elegant street accent by British powerhouse Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, Broadway’s Hamlet), is a black marketeer. This ‘Santa Claus of the subconscious’ sells clips that allow anyone with a headpiece to plug in and play back someone else’s jolting experience. Want to steal, fuck or fight? It’s yours for a price.

“Take This Waltz,” in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz

A relationship in fast-forward.

From the Guardian:

The other is an elaborate montage of Margot’s transformed life, which may be going on in her mind: uninhibited sex, sometimes involving threesomes, in a grand open apartment that resembles a ballroom, through which the camera makes waltz-like swirling, 360-degree movements encompassing several seasons. This is accompanied by Leonard Cohen singing Take This Waltz, his mysterious version of Federico García Lorca’s Little Viennese Waltz, a surreal, erotic poem of love, death, longing and desire.