Equilibrium – Better Than I Know Myself video
One more time……..or two or…..
During the past few days as I’ve watched the Better Than I Know Myself video countless times, these words rattled around in my mind for no apparent reason. I tried to ignore them but they insisted on being recorded, so here they are. As I wrote them, they sorted themselves into this little order.
Once again, I can only lament that there are so many interpretations, so little time to cover them all, but there are many brilliant minds out there staring at the same flickering images, most ideas are bound to be covered by someone. I can’t wait to read Juneau’s and everyone else’s essays which I have resisted until this is posted. Each of us approaches this narrative with our own mind, experiences, knowledge even baggage, so it’s unlikely any two versions will be completely alike. There is no “right” or “wrong”.
One could undertake a classic Jungian analysis, identifying archetypes, applying definitions and interpreting the iconic symbols that appear. All the masculine traits rolled up in one character, the feminine in the other. One might look through the lens of battling philosophies, existential vs. reason. Passionate vs. rational.
In this film – yes it is a film, a story with a plot, with a beginning, middle and a dramatic end. Sets, characters, crisis and conflict, emotion and commotion tell a complete story in a mere three minutes and forty seconds. Each second, indeed each split second counts, each frame, each shaft of light. There is so much going on, it’s presented in split-screen so there’s even more than a single frame can contain. Is there enough here to justify two frames, two lenses, two visions, two characters. Indeed there is and more.
The duality conveys the impression of two minds, two sensibilties at work: the one who produced Adam’s “For Your Entertainment” video and the other, who produced the “Whataya Want From Me” video and we have ringside seats as each presents his or her case before us. From the opening credit, we are confronted with the genius of Ray Kay, the Norwegian male who also directed the FYE video.
About thirty seconds into the story, the screen splits and we see the WWFM female director’s vision in the soft, sweet, feminine images. Just today, after developing my theories I discovered that indeed, Diane Martel was involved. I suppose that watching each of their videos intently dozens of times singed the different styles in my brain. Kind of like hearing Adam’s voice and knowing immediately that it’s him.
Grainy, ragged edged frame on a jerky spooled film starts up on the projector and organ music which would accompany a dramatic silent black and white film is prelude to the first act of the story. Quivering stills of the desiccated skulls of a macabre collection are presented – cattle, saber-tooth tiger, an antelope. A shot of the cones from the side table is included and the scene closes with the bottle of Matador Tequila before we meet the main character of the piece. He’s flawed, tormented and tragic but nonetheless, the protagonist. How much does this nasty environment contribute to his bad mood?
It’s Nosferatu – the 1922 German film from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. I first saw that film in 1972, have never forgotten how it felt and the same cold shudder came over me as it did the first time. The original Vampire Dracula, selfish, arrogant, evil, night dweller, carrier of death and plague, not the romanticized versions we see today. It would take a week of make-up and pounds of prosthetics to disfigure Adam to look like the original but we’re glad they haven’t as he looks far more seductively dangerous in his handsome guise, features sharply defined with eyes that look as though they have not slept nor seen light in eons.
“Cold as ice, And more bitter than a December….
He sings as he appears before the mirror to primp and lift his collar against the cold. A cold he feels despite his heavy leather coat and boots. His warmth has dissipated.
“That’s how I treated you, And I know that I……
The camera once again glances off different objects in the room – continuing to establish the character of the anti-hero. A large classic Staunton “Knight” chessman on a shelf with a few books – its stark white makes it appear like a captive, perhaps a trophy from a bygone chess tournament, another hunt? Ornate, exotic mirror frame, animated oriental candlestick, animal skin underfoot and that forest of pointy cones, looking like “Liberty Caps”, worn by French revolutionaries or mystic mushrooms of the same name.
This cone shape has been referenced as the origin of the ubiquitus gay male decorator accessory – the obelisk. To the Egyptians the obelisks symbolized the protector who obviously was phalically endowed. These are particularly prickly and sharp, with a smooth surface, you won’t pick up one of these for some licks of French Vanilla. Maybe they’re just a reference to Madonna.
This is the room of some worldly, affluent, sophisticated gentleman who spares himself no pleasure. Wears his coat like the cape of the matador, the armour of a warrior or contemporary super hero. Batman? Neo, the rebel hacker in The Matrix? Stalks the room as the lone wolf agitating for trouble that eventually discovers that his angst is not caused by external forces, but those within himself.
“I sometimes tend to lose my temper……
“And I cross the line, Yeah that’s the truth”
Damn! There’s another film reference in the room design – again a silent film by a German director. “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, 1920. Stark, edgy, sharply pointed – blackened trees and branches in dramatic, German Expressionist sets. Again, the murky, pulsing light, framed with the uneven black edges of film. Another frightening movie with a timeless nightmarish story and dangerous character – the murderous somnambulist Cesare or is it? In Expressionist fashion and philosophy, our perceptions of reality are being challenged in time, space and character.
How fitting to have Adam as that much romanticized original Vampire, the Count who possesses mystic powers and exists only in the darkness, as the club cruiser, sexy and passionate. Ageless and timeless like Dorian Grey. Women want him; men want him or want to be him. A lot of Mesmer too in those golden kaleidoscope eyes. Stare too long and you’ll follow him anywhere…….
We were seduced by the Sinister one, his masculine sexiness and powerful persona. Promise of passion however is ultimately tragic if left alone. Unchecked he is destructive and deadly, self-centred, he needs to validate his existence in the mirror, pleased at first, he preens. Protectively armored in leather and tall boots he can move through a space/time continuum.
He wrestles with whatever beast is within him, temper flares, tempestuous twists, turns and in a short series of quick cuts he expels that which is tormenting him. In a blink of a nanosecond, the shiny, sharp phallic cones appear side by side with red, orange and green spheres, then just as quickly, the screen splits, daylight seeps in and his Righteous self appears. Bathed in warm sepia, pink cheeked and guileless, the boy looks at us as if to say “Hey, I’m the sane one here, he’s dangerous, but hang with me and you’ll be warm and live in the sunlight, not that cold twilight he can never leave. Yes, I can’t step out to breathe the outdoors but I have everything I need right here.” An almost virginal perfection.
Now our attention has been usurped by the sweet boy-next-door, with no eyeliner and not much of a life either. Inexperienced in the world. Who appeared to me? Robert Redford – first sight in The Way We Were.
With the screen split, we now see how the Righteous Boy’s side was created by the same author as the Whataya Want From Me video. Similar set, warm colours, cleanly edged frame. Here things can grow, plants are green, there is a sense that this space has been like this for a very long time. Vintage clock and radio, old suitcase and train case. Ancient fan at the window. Where we see Tequila on the left side, it’s tea on the right. It’s the Garden of Eden.
These two characters appear hermetically sealed with their own air supply and unable to exist out-of-doors. Bubble boys? The Righteous Boy looks out through blinds wistfully while Mr. Sinister keeps the blinds closed to minimize the light and lives forever in a cool sfumato atmosphere. In spite of their completely different environments, one cannot survive without the other, the canisters of air link them, like an umbilical cord to a single womb.
O young innocente! So perfect, so sugary, I feel the cavities forming and feelings of guilt at my multitude of imperfections. Surely I’ve given in to all seven of the deadly sins. He beams and glows so brightly I reach for sunglasses! In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s world in Kansas is filmed in black and white while the fantasy Oz is filmed in powerful colours and bright light. Only Dorothy is eager to return to her real home in bleak Kansas. The Boy strikes a modest pose with his hands clasped in front of him. Have never seen Adam stand that way.
The Boy looks at his twin, his nemesis with pleading eyes “how could you reject me like this?” “You know I can’t exist without you and you need me as much as I need you”. He finds joy in music, peace in words, he’s right-brained, creative, and he is the clean conscience to Sinister’s dangerous playboy. The Boy almost annoyingly persistent as he reminds that there are consequences and Sinister’s own self-destructive nature will take others with him.
Mr. Sinister mocks the Boy with book tearing and Tequilla swilling – trying to bully him into giving up and to which the Boy turns the other cheek and pours his tea calmly. His manner is cool while the tempest rages red hot on the other side.
They sing together:
“I get kind of dark, Let it go too far
I can be obnoxious at times
But try and see my heart
Cause I need you now
So don’t let me down
You’re the only thing in this world I would die without.”
Sinister shows the Boy how their heart can be crushed like the pomegranate he destroys with a powerful squeeze. They need each other to restore their heart and be whole.
Righteous Boy evokes the virtuous Knight in Bergman’s Seventh Seal, challenging “Death” to a chess game in order to preserve his own life or at least, survive as long as he can keep the game going. While Death accepts Knight’s invitation, our Dracula spurns the Boy’s offer.
The Boy pleads and tries to mollify and bargain. Attempts to engage in play are rebuffed but he has such limited means to save himself from Sinister’s determination to die, killing them both. One in flames, the other gasping for the oxygen they burn. Doesn’t that boy know what a lousy world it is out there? He’s better off dead.
“Try and see my heart……
Sinister is playing with a flame, testing his threshold, finally gives up and attempts self-immolation without a thought to the potential for complete destruction. He acts as conjurer to fill the room with cleansing but deadly flames.
Looking in the mirror, he tries to clear his eyes, smearing his face until he has the crying eyes of the tragic Pagliacci but we’ve seen this move before! The Highline concert where he played a similar character but more naughty than bad or evil. Here he is trying to see who he is beneath the mask of paint. He’s lost himself.
In a moment of clarity and desire for self-preservation, Sinister breaks the glass, a mere membrane separating two sides of the same mind.
Finally Acceptance “I can’t fight it; it’s going to happen, it’s inevitable.” He saves the Boy, the virtuous, good and patient one. The bisected mind and heart are restored to the single soul, completing the person.
Emerging from their imprisonment, the reunited whole can stride in the open air, in the sunshine, on the street, right by the police tape.
Ultimately we are shown that we cannot live only in a sombre black and grey netherworld or in a world of perpetual golden light.
Attempting to survive in either world, with either mind exclusively, is surely impotence and death. Allowing only Mr. Sinister to survive, killing off his nemesis would allow evil and violence to prevail. But without the passion, drive and awareness of our Sinister side, the Righteous is unaware of having a purpose since they are inexperienced and innocent, yet full of love. Adam and Eve before the fall, before that sleazy serpent showed up. Actually I shouldn’t pick on him, it’s because of him that we’re all here. That “sin” is integral to life.
Tragically we know people such as Mr. Sinister do exist in the world, incomplete as human beings.
Interesting that in the video of a song Adam tells us is about interpersonal relationships, he and his producer/director(s) raise the bar in the video to present us with a more complex, far more fascinating scenario of an internal battle between the two sides of him locked in symbiotic existence. They are still side by side as we can see through his eyes, windows to his single soul. One without the other would produce an indivual bereft of a soul.