Lens Recap: The Story Behind Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’

Director Jamie Thraves explains his back-to-the-future approach.

Some videos give you thrills, some chills and some are just eye candy. Coldplay’s clip for “The Scientist” is the kind that makes you wonder, “What the hell?”

Director Jamie Thraves had a great idea for a video last year, he just needed to find the right song to fit his odd notion. Then he heard the soaring Coldplay ballad “The Scientist,” with its plaintive chorus about going “back to the start.”

“I had this idea that I wanted to do a story that’s tragic but starts off happy and ends happy, and the video is about rewinding to that happy ending,” said Thraves, 33, who has directed clips for Radiohead, Blur, the Verve and Travis. Knowing that Spike Jonze had already done the backward video thing in 1996 with the Pharcyde video for “Drop,” Thraves needed to find a new way to tell a narrative story that moved forward even as the action moved backward.

Once Thraves and Coldplay singer Chris Martin hashed out the idea for the clip — in which Martin backs his way through a horrifying car crash that appears to kill his onscreen girlfriend — the singer set about the monthlong task of studying his lyrics and learning how perform them back to front.

“The original idea was a straight narrative without the lead singer in the video,” said Thraves. “But Chris wanted to be in the video and he was really excited to learn how to sing the song backward.

“He got a tape of the song recorded backward and he listened to it over and over. He’s a very passionate guy, so he got really into it. What we learned later on is about the problems with phonetics, because you have to be very careful with the lip movement so that when you end on a sound your mouth is formed in the right way.”

With Martin fully versed in singing in reverse, the production moved to North London for scenes of the singer walking through the streets of the city, where he cavorts with backward bicycle riders and street ballers unshooting hoops, both of which fit with lyrics about pulling puzzles apart and “questions of science.” The dramatic action in the clip was then filmed in a forest outside London that previously served as a battleground in the film “Gladiator.”

Martin is seen moping among upward-falling leaves and reliving a frightening car crash in which he loses control of his vehicle and plunges down a ravine, sending his formerly giggling girlfriend hurtling through the windshield. Of course, in Thraves’ version, the woman is sucked back into the car through a shower of glass, the BMW rolls up a hill and the clip ends with the couple smiling and laughing as they cruise in reverse down a country lane.

As Thraves put Martin through his forward paces over the three-day shoot, the singer performed the song in a backward gibberish that the director said was akin to the fictional language Hopelandish created by Icelandic mood rockers Sigur Rós. Of course, when the video was in final edits, the roles were reversed, with the film running backward and Martin singing forward. Got it?

Wait, it gets more confusing. On a DVD released in England, a second version of the video was included where the song is backward, but the video runs forward.

I'm so fancy.