Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” has been a staple on-screen and at gay karaoke bars for years.
It’s never reached “Holding Out for a Hero” levels of ubiquity but since opening the 1998 slasher Urban Legend it’s been used in many movies and TV shows. It’s in Party Monster, it’s in Nip/Tuck, it’s in Austenland and Gloria Bell and countless procedurals. It even inspired the title of Eliza Hittmann’s breakout short. Then, of course, who can forget the Glee cover where Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff roll around on the floor doing ballet together?
But something has shifted this year. For some reason, four different works of queer media have used the song. Four! It seems like maybe once upon a time the gays were falling in love but now? They’re only falling apart.
Much like children’s animated films come in Shark Tale/Finding Nemo pairs, it’s not unusual for multiple music supervisors to select the same song. Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” was notably used in Sex Education, The Half Of It, and Yellowjackets, each one an emotional attack on me personally. But that song came out in 2019. It makes sense a bunch of queer stuff would use it in the years to follow. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” came out in 1983. Why is it so relevant now?
I don’t have an answer to that question, but I do relish the opportunity to look at the many different ways a single piece of music can be used on-screen. So let’s dive in shall we? Forever’s gonna start TONIGHT! (Or whatever time of day you’re reading this.)
The Five Devils (dir. Léa Mysius)
This unique movie about a little girl with such a strong sense of smell she can time travel back to when her mom (Adèle Exarchopolous) and aunt (dad’s sister) (Swala Emati) were teen lesbian lovers uses “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in two pivotal moments. Both instances are diegetic — meaning the song is playing in the world of the film. First, it’s on the car radio in a flashback when the two women are kissing as teens. This establishes it as “their song” adding weight to a scene in the present when the mom chooses it at karaoke. She drunkenly calls up her sister-in-law/former lover and what begins as an awkward duet gives way to a brazen moment of beautiful connection.
Bottoms (dir. Emma Seligman)
Falling somewhere between diegetic and non-diegetic, its use in this comedy about an all-female (gay) fight club is also pivotal. It fills the soundtrack as our girl group drives over to football star Jeff’s house with plans for revenge. We see him jamming out to music — presumably this song — unaware of the bomb about to go off. Literally. As most of the girls are teepeeing and egging, and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and Isabel (Havan Rose Liu) are flirting, Hazel (Ruby Cruz) is planting a bomb. Josie and Isabel lean in for a kiss, the music swells, and BAM. Jeff keeps dancing to the melodic song unaware as the girls scream and scramble, Jeff’s car ablaze.
Rotting in the Sun (dir. Sebastián Silva)
Speaking of gay chaos and violence, let’s go to another karaoke scene, this time in Sebastián Silva’s meta dark comedy. There’s no way to talk about this moment in detail without spoiling one of the film’s most delicious twists, but let’s just say “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is being sung — very badly — at a quinceanera after one of the main characters has been involved in the death of someone. The stress of the moment for them is contrasted with the comic mundanity of this bad performance. It’s such a memorable moment that this same rendition is used over the credits!
The Fall of the House of Usher (dir. Mike Flannagan, Michael Fimognari)
Actually, this has just been a year for gay chaos and violence. The most recent use of the song was in episode five of Mike Flanagan’s Edgar Allen Poe riff The Fall of the House of Usher. While the other examples center the song in their soundtracks, Usher lets it haunt the background. Here the lyrics are quite literal since Victorine (T’Nia Miller) is working on an artificial heart. The song is heard in the background as her partner — in medicine and life — is confronting her about her unethical practices. I won’t spoil this one either, but let’s just say Victorine doesn’t listen.
These are all great uses of the song, but for me its definitive use occurred more than a decade ago. Like The Five Devils, Maryam Keshavarz‘s debut Circumstance features the song as a moment of karaoke bonding between its two lovers. It’s a beautiful pocket of joy in a devastating romance. And I’ve found it impossible not to think about this moment any time I belt the song during karaoke — or in a car or in the shower. A well-placed song can have that power. It enhances the movie or TV show and it forever shifts our association with the song itself.
I hope this trend continues! As long as there is dyke drama, queer chaos, and big gay feelings, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is a worthy soundtrack.
Turn around, bright eyes.