Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Still So Young

VIDEO: "When You Were Young" The Killers

The opening and closing shot of this video feature a prominent white crucifix, the ultimate historical symbol of purity and innocence. Complimenting this idea is a beautiful young woman in all white, a direct reference to the concept of the "virgin." But she's crying, and suddenly there are flashes of a darker past - and in fact the male protagonist truly "doesn't look a thing like jesus."

The loss of innocence is not a new subject for the Killers. In fact the triumphant single "Mr. Brightside" was partially dealing with the same concept of self-illusion vs. reality. But the religious iconography of both the song and now the video point to a different sort of "loss" in "When We Were Young."

After the foreshadowing of the opening we are plunged into the middle of the story, the woman praying at the church. She emerges to find her lover standing with a cross behind him, exactly in the middle - he seems ideal in her mind. But we quickly learn that he is anything but, and she catches him cheating in her own bed. As she flashes through the idyllic images of the beginnings of love we might anticipate that this is a classic tale of the innocent virgin corrupted by the dirty older man.

But then there is that highly sexualized scene with the water washing across the woman's bare feet and thighs as the man literally licks his lips in lust. In this image there is the hint that perhaps she was not as "innocent" as we had thought. The lyrics of the song seem to point us in that direction as well, "waiting on some beautiful boy to save you from your old ways." She arrives in his bar looking for "work," whatever type of work it is - she clearly sees that he keeps women around and then gets rid of them quite easily. That doesn't bother her, because what she is seeking is re-birth at all costs.

Both of the characters see in each other the chance to start over. The man sees in her the "perfect" virgin and the chance at being a "man", and the woman sees in him "jesus" the savior and the chance at fulfilling her "womanly" role. And while the woman is perhaps more idealistic than him, her complete belief in the ideal is what prevents her from seeing the truth of the situation. It's this same complete belief in ideals and symbols of perfection that let her come back to him after he cheats, and it’s also what leads him back to her. There is no loss of "innocence" in this story, just the cycle of pain that comes from striving to hold to an image of perfection.

They both end up back at the cross, kneeling, crying. There is no hope in this image, simply the foreboding idea that the cycle continues. Every step, from the whiteness of the marriage day to the blue sky above the cross, is marked with an extreme belief in the need and ability for purification. But what neither character understands is that "purity" is not a real thing, it's a harmful concept dreamt up by society to keep people in line; to instill fear in our hearts so that we might not fully experience the joys of life. The religious ideas of virginity, of the savior and everything that they imply are all dangerous to our self-image and our confidence in not only ourselves, but humanity as well. That is the sadness that rests on the final image of the two embracing lovers; it's not that their hearts are broken, but the fact that they pursue a dream that they will never achieve and one that is in fact the root of all their pain.

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie