Yet, by the time I watched episode 3 of “The Last of Us,” I had heard “On the Nature of Daylight” so many times in so many movies and shows that it broke my immersion. From those first notes, I understood exactly what was about to happen and exactly what the show wanted me to feel, and that undermined it a little. Was I still moved by the sequence? Yes, but only after a few seconds of annoyance, and a few seconds of me accepting that yes, yet another show is using that song again.
It reminded me of one stand-up comedian’s complaints about jump-scares: “Horror movies with jump scares are like if a comedian went into the audience and tickled everyone. ‘Technically you laughed! I’m funny!'” While I myself have no qualms about the occasional well-timed jump scare in a good spooky movie, there’s definitely some truth here. It’s easy to scare someone just by having something pop up out of nowhere, accompanied by a sudden loud noise. Horror films that make an actual impact, the ones that stick with you long after the credits roll, are the ones that don’t rely on those kinds of gimmicks.
To an extent, music like “On the Nature of Daylight” is the sad story equivalent to the horror movie’s jump scare. It’s a quick and easy way to get audiences emotional, regardless of whether the script or performance actually hold up. Luckily, both of those things do hold up here, but the more this song is used in popular media, the more likely it is that general audiences will recognize the song, and the more likely they’ll feel like they’re being manipulated.