Back in April, a rep for Spike Jonze told MTV News that the director had traveled to Austin, Texas, to shoot “a short film, which is a collaboration with Arcade Fire.” Aside from a few stray details — Jonze was apparently casting “late-teen actors” for the project, which was said to be about “friends growing apart” — little else was known about the film. In the following months, no new information emerged about it, which meant that by the time the band released their sweeping album The Suburbs, pretty much everyone had forgotten about the Jonze film. Or at least figured it would never see the light of day.
Seven months later, all of that changed. On Thursday (November 18), with a single tweet, the Arcade Fire unveiled the video, a stirring, somber, near six-minute short film for their album’s title track. And yes, it was worth the wait.
“The Suburbs” does, in fact, star a group of late-teen actors (and the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, in a quick cameo as rifle-toting sheriffs), and yes, they do grow apart. But it’s the kind of video that cannot be ingested in one sitting, or summed up in a single sentence. Under the ever-encroaching shadow of some phantom military force (which recalls M.I.A.’s “Born Free” clip ), a group of teens is transformed, from skinny-limbed, free-spirited suburb haunters into, literally, the walking dead, sad-eyed ghosts in baggy clothes. And they do so in sublimely subtle — and sublimely sad — ways: glances, gestures, gasps. The video is, in a lot of ways, a very apt metaphor for adulthood. The jack-booted military men may very well be mortgage lenders, politicians, collection agents. They invade and crush and steal away your youth, and you are powerless to stop them. This is the way life works, after all … from the suburbs to the cubicle to the grave, over the course of about 75.6 years.
When viewed literally, there’s a political bend to the clip, too: commentary on colonialism and rapidly disappearing civil liberties and the very real issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, all things that — in one way or the other — are also invading our suburban enclaves, shattering the fragile peace we work so hard to protect with our gated neighborhoods and home security systems. The message, ultimately, is clear: We all grow apart, in ways big and small, and we all die in some way, both inside and out. There is nothing we can do to prevent those things from happening.
It may not be the most uplifting message, but it’s definitely the most impactful. Get busy living, or get busy dying. Either way, you end up in the exact same spot.
What do you think of Arcade Fire’s video for “The Suburbs”? Share your reviews in the comments.