Rihanna’s new video for “Russian Roulette” is an incredible cinematic affair, full of striking images and a narrative that may or may not hold together or even exist. It cuts between Rihanna being monitored in a padded cell, then shifts to the singer sitting across a table from an anonymous man and contemplating the gun between them. Then there are flashes of tigers and Rihanna ends up in the desert, where she is buzzed by a car. Finally, she ends up underwater, shot in the chest and bleeding (theoretically to her doom). There certainly seems like there is a story in there, but it’s unclear and pretty dense.
In that sense, it’s a lot like a David Lynch film. In fact, there are so many similarities between Rihanna’s “Russian Roulette” and Lynch’s 1997 film “Lost Highway” that it seems like it must be a direct homage. “Lost Highway” is a difficult film to describe, but here’s a brief synopsis: It’s a fever dream of a movie wherein Bill Pullman kills his wife, then goes to jail and morphs into Balthazar Getty, who gets out of jail and gets involved with a gangster’s girlfriend. Along the way, the two characters run up against a porn director, a violent mob boss and a guy with no eyebrows who may or may not be the devil himself. It’s a difficult film, and one of Lynch’s most underrated.
There are a number of parallels between “Lost Highway” and “Russian Roulette.” In both pieces, the protagonists both seem to be projecting themselves out of prison into alternate lives that are theoretically free but no less dangerous. They both have scenes that feature cars nearly running over characters in the desert. Even the figure watching over Rihanna in her cell somewhat resembles the evil Mystery Man in “Lost Highway.” There’s also the scene below, which shows both Patricia Arquette and Rihanna standing mysteriously next to dark cars.
Whether it’s intentional or not, Rihanna is not the first artist to indulge in film homages. In fact, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga’s new clip “Video Phone” borrows the opening scene from Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.” Kanye West also dipped into his DVD collection for his video for “Stronger,” which uses images from the anime classic “Akira.” And of course Faith No More essentially recreated all of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” for the video for “Last Cup of Sorrow.”