Metallica has recently released a 3D bluray movie called Through the Never. It is a hybrid movie, combining concert footage (carefully planned for the purpose of the movie) and a Hollywood-style apocalyptic thriller.
There are plenty of reviews out there already, but I’m a bit frustrated with them, as they never seem to think very deeply about the relationship between the movie’s two streams (which alternate). Whether positive or negative, most reviewers see no particular depth or sense in the narrative of the apocalyptic parts, and are struck rather by its special effects. Why is this? I wonder if this is an instance of the hermeneutical advantage of being a ‘fan’ – which has its counterpart in the hermeneutical disadvantage of being an ‘outsider.’
So this (positive) reviewer says that he finds Metallica’s music ‘silly.’
This (negative) reviewer admits she finds Metallica’s lyrics ‘incomprehensible’:
This (somewhat positive) reviewer admits to being a ‘non-Metallica fan.’
And none of these can see much sense in the apocalyptic narrative. They complain that the narrative is more visual than substantial, and that there is lack of thought in the juxtaposition of the two streams of the movie, which vie for attention.
But I think that for those steeped in the ‘thoughtworld’ of Metallica, the apocalyptic narrative triggers associations that might otherwise be missed.
I should say that the very fact that it is a vivid apocalyptic scenario means that there is certainly ambiguity in the narrative and its connections – I’m not claiming that knowing Metallica’s music magically provides a key that makes everything neatly decipherable. But knowing the music can confront the viewer with striking connections. I just want to follow one strand that I found striking – that of the puppet.
Towards the beginning of the movie, we see the main character of the narrative taking a drug while he settles himself in his car next to his eerily smiling puppet, which hangs on a noose. For the Metallica fan, this instantly evokes the song Master of Puppets, which is a song about how drugs can turn into an enslaving master, laughing mercilessly at those who thought they controlled them. One wonders: will this be a theme of the narrative? When one learns that the character’s name is ‘Trip,’ suspicions swell.
It is after taking the drug that the world around Trip turns into an apocalyptic nightmare, with chaos, rioting mobs, violent police, and horsemen that appear to thrive on merciless hatred. Trip is still the hero of the story, having to choose how to act in this nightmarish scenario. Will he give in, and abandon any self-will by following the crowds? Or will he stick to his mysterious task of collecting a bag that is needed back at the band’s stadium? He sticks to his task, even when he can’t understand the chaos around him, and we are drawn to identify with him. When he finds the bag, he still can’t understand what’s happening – he looks forlorn when he discovers its contents (which we never see). Yet he still doesn’t give in.
Trip continues to carry his puppet around with him throughout the action, which evokes a certain unease. Suddenly we realise that the Horsemen of the Apocalypse (notably another Metallica song) are hoisting up poor victims from the running crowds, and hanging them to die from lampposts – making them resemble Trip’s puppet on a noose. We begin to wonder: did Trip think he could hold onto his puppet and control it, whereas in fact he is at the mercy of laughing puppeteers? When Trip’s own puppet takes on life as Trip suffers, we wonder if this is exactly what has happened. Trip finds himself trapped and cornered as an incoherently angry crowd poises, ready to attack him. Rather than join in their hate-fuelled violence, though, he chooses to pour petrol over himself and burn himself alive. One recalls the line from the chorus of Master of Puppets, which is at this point juxtaposed with the narrative: ‘Your life burns faster; obey your master!’ There are overlapping connections here: at one and the same time, Trip is a victim and a victor. While he is suffering at the hands of merciless masters and enemies, he has resolutely refused to join their incoherent violence. His burning is perhaps the beginning of his redemption.
Indeed, he experiences something of a resurrection – during the next song Battery, the words echo from Metallica’s stadium, ‘Are you alive? Are you alive?’ and Trip rises and emerges alone, to face the Horseman enemy. His victory over the enemy proves him to be the conqueror that we hoped he could be, and it has the surprising effect of sending shockwaves through Metallica’s stadium, reducing their stage from a multi-million dollar sophisticated set to a garage-like warehouse. Astonishing excess has given way to humble simplicity.
Finally, Trip makes it back to the stadium to fulfil his task and deliver the bag. And this destination – with Metallica now simply sitting down and playing with unadorned simplicity – hints at the achievement Trip has made in throwing off the noose of his would-be master.
There are plenty of other strands one could explore in this movie, and I don’t claim that my own ponderances about the motif of the puppet are any sort of definitive key, but they perhaps illustrate that those bound up in the thoughtworld upon which the apocalypse draws might find fruitful resonances that help one avoid frustration.