Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The power of "Mad World"

The venerable Tears for Fears song, famously covered by Gary Jules for the Donnie Darko soundtrack, has become the go-to recording for game and movie producers looking to imbue their cultural products with an extra level of gravitas or sensitivity you never knew was there (because it isn't). Darko's "Mad World" montage, which gives us a glimpse of nearly every character in the film, would be nowhere near as moving without Jules' cover:

His take on the song shimmers with the same kind of intelligence and sadness Darko conveys, which makes it something like a perfect match for the movie.

In contrast, the makers of Gears of War 2, a sequel to the extremely popular (and violent) combat game, went against conventional wisdom by scoring their trailer not with balls-out death metal, but with the deeply emotional strains of... yep, "Mad World":

Presumably, this was an attempt not only to suggest that the game had hidden emotional depths but also to attract a more adult audience than the game already had -- or simply to reassure adult Gears addicts that they'd chosen a genuinely sensitive, profound shoot-'em-up as the object of their addiction.

Finally, we come to the trailer for The Crazies, a 2010 remake of a 1973 George Romero horror film about a virus that turns people into zombies:

Et voilĂ ! A seemingly conventional splatter pic becomes a melancholy rumination on the human condition, the existential reality that we're all basically alone, etc. Or something like that. What's also interesting is that Darko, Gears, and Crazies all share decidedly apocalyptic themes. The whole thing reminds me of Mike Barthel's excellent paper on Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," presented at the 2007 EMP Pop Conference. "Mad World" seems well on its way to "Hallelujah"-level pop-culture ubiquity and shorthand value.

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