The 5 “Soul Crushing” Movie Ending Songs of All Time
Happy endings are like rare animals these days. At best, you’ll get a bittersweet one that could just as easily be a downer, but a saccharine sweet conclusion? Outside a Disney movie, not likely.
On the extreme end of the spectrum though, are the very depressing, soul crushing endings that are either utterly demoralizing, existentially sad, unexpected, or all of the above… and their accompanying songs. Below are some of the 5 most memorable ones, in particular order.
– “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” by Moby
Alright, this isn’t that soul crushing. Everyone knew McCauley will die, not just because he’s a bad guy but for his unwavering commitment to his principles (“I’m never coming back”). But there’s just something about seeing Al Pacino comforting a dying Robert De Niro – a cop and a robber that aren’t so different and have mutual respect for one another. The scene serenaded by a then-unknown Moby with a powerful orchestral score that would make people do a double take if it’s really his work considering that the wealth of his songs (mostly of the more mainstream electronic variety) would later be lent to a wide number of films. For other songs in the album, you can check out the Heat OST here.
- Escape From L.A.
– “The One” by White Zombie
It’s debatable whether this is a badass moment or a downer ending of the highest order, or perhaps both. One thing is for certain: a world that re-sets to a practical stone age as a result of a massive barrage of EMPs, is a terrible, terrible prospect. Of course, the late John Carpenter and nihilism go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise… and he’s a fantastic composer to boot, so be sure to check out the rest of his catalog and the entire Escape From L.A. soundtrack.
- Gone Girl
– “What Will We Do?” by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
With the lone exception of the heavy “Immigrant Song” cover from 2011’s The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, the duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are usually known for minimalist electronic beats that quietly complements each scene.
This same technique was used for their third collaboration with David Fincher for his adaptation of the novel Gone Girl but has a deeply unsettling tinge, particularly with the ending, as Nick begrudgingly plays along with his wife Amy’s “pregnancy” and transitions to his earlier narration (now with disturbing context), followed by credits. A friend described it as the ending that made him lose his appetite for the rest of the day despite barely resembling a “Cannibal Holocaust” outtake. Definitely a powerful closer, and there’s plenty more in the soundtrack.
- Requiem for A Dream
– “Lux Aeterna” by Clint Mansell
Yep, the theme that spawned a hundred licenses, mostly as a stock trailer song for anything resembling epic – which is weird, because if you’re familiar with its source (that being Darren Aronofsky’s anti-drug drama Requiem for A Dream) – it’s anything but epic.
Before those big blockbusters repurposed the score, it was used to incredibly depressing effect as Requiem’s closer – showing each character as they spiral deeper into oblivion as a result of their drug addictions, capped off by the director twisting the knife with a mean-spirited “hope shot” that really isn’t.
For most viewers, this is the most soul crushing ending to a movie (and song) that they could ever think of (although the rest of Clint Mansell’s work on the soundtrack is equally great!) – but the next entry has it beat.
- Mysterious Skin
– Untitled 3 (Samskeyti) by Sigur Rós
You can probably come up with something arguably more depressing if you think long and hard and dig deep in your cinephile collection, but I think we can all agree that the ending to the controversial 2004 indie drama, Mysterious Skin – at least deserves a place at the list’s top spot.
Brian finally learns the awful truth (and that’s an understatement) about his unexplained nosebleeds and purported “alien abduction” and collapses into Neil’s lap, as Neil delivers a chilling monologue regarding the futility of closure. It’s without a doubt firmly entrenched in the pantheons of depressing movie endings largely because it’s not even manipulative or designed to appeal to emotion like the average Oscar bait – it’s the sad reality that cheese pizza and its proprietors exist, and the irreparable lives their unfortunate victims have to contend with should they escape such ordeal.
And of course, the scene’s overt bleakness wouldn’t be cranked up to eleven if it weren’t for the music (the entire Mysterious Skin soundtrack is chock full of other somber pieces as well) – culled from the Icelandic post-rock outfit Sigur Rós’s () album, it’s a lonely piano instrumental that appears to stretch for eternity… like two angels ascending to the sky.