It’s Time to Talk About the Awful Use of “Comfortably Numb” in that Sex Scene in “The Departed”

Movie: good. Van Morrison singing Pink Floyd while Leo takes his shirt off: bad.

The Departed just got added to Netflix, which means that people who don’t work very hard to curate their home-entertainment programming (me) are going to watch it again. And, like, what am I gonna do? Not watch The Departed? Give me a break.

So if you happen to pass it in between Adam Sandler joints, know that, before I focus on one of the worst moments in cinematic history, the movie does actually hold up. Even at two and a half hours, it remains extremely tense and immensely watchable. Good, stressful, pre-DiCaprio-dancing-at-Coachella fun. The ridiculous Boston accents, the baggy Ross jeans, the overemphasized mid-2000s flip phones—it all brews just right, as star-bloated as it is, and maybe it isn’t total sacrilege after all that this is the movie that Scorsese got his lone (!) Oscar for.

But you saw the headline, you know why we’re here. And look, it’s not like the whole movie has a bad soundtrack or anything. In fact, most of it is solid—and more or less worthy of the quintessential “Scorsese-soundtracking-his-movies-on-coke” canon. (Yes, even that Dropkick Murphys song, which, sure, man. It kinda works.) (As a side note, it’s pretty crazy that Scorsese has been putting Stones songs in movies for like fifty years and somehow has only used “Gimme Shelter” a mere three times.)

Anyway, it’s all going great until about halfway through the movie, when Leo seeks shelter from the storm in Vera Farmiga’s apartment, and, like, obviously they’re gonna bone, but did it really need to be done to Roger Waters’ 1990 live version of “Comfortably Numb” featuring Van Morrison on vocals?

Two things stick out to me here: 1) If anyone played this song in an effort to seduce someone, it would not work. 2) It’s hard to imagine something less sexy than Van Morrison doing leg-kicks in Berlin just after the fall of the wall. Like, even if you’ve made your decision to soundtrack this scene with “Comfortably Numb” (at this point, you’ll have to imagine Scorsese and Robbie Robertson, who’s worked as a Scorsese soundtrack consultant for decades, sitting in an editing room, super excited to use this song because—get this—Vera’s character had earlier prescribed Leo with anxiety meds, thus making him…comfortably numb *high fives all around*), to go the extra mile and willfully decide that using this fanboy live cut would somehow make that decision even more steamy boggles the mind. 

And don’t even get me started on the question of whether this is diegetic music that Vera was actively playing on her computer when Leo comes in (because that means she was either waiting for him to show up before playing this specific unsexy song and then answering the door or she was simply jamming out to the entire Live in Berlin album *shudders*). Say what you will about Matt Damon’s treatment of Vera in this movie—at least he wasn’t putting her through stuff like that.

Right about now, I suppose it would be only right to give a shout-out to all the great Scorsese soundtrack moments. Some of the best in film, ever. De Niro’s barroom entrance to “Jumping Jack Flash” in Mean Streets; that creepy-ass standalone use of “Late for the Sky” in Taxi Driver; the “Layla” massacre in Goodfellas. The landscape of modern soundtracks wouldn’t be the same without him (duh). And if The Irishman has enough going for it to lure Joe Pesci out of semi-retirement, you’d have to imagine that the soundtrack is gonna slap, too. Here’s to hoping, anyway. But Marty, when Robbie tries to get you to use Rod Stewart’s cover of “Broken Arrow” during Ray Romano’s big sex scene, tell him in a thick Boston accent to fuck off. FL

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