Scorsese’s Inferno

ImageI’ve been on a scary movie binge, but this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen. There are clues throughout the film the same way there are deaths throughout a horror movie.  As things progress, we’re made aware who is really innocent.  In retrospect, how obvious everything is; how plainly it’s presented — it will chill you to the core.

The socialite society is a metaphor for how any power system functions.  There are leaders; there are black sheep; there are those whom are respected without being admired — and every single person believes themselves to be on their own path, isolated from the rest of the system.  Yet, it’s so obvious where everyone fits and how easily everyone can be placed into a niche.

Newland feels guilt for the entire film and the viewer is led to believe he’s malicious, when in-fact, his desire is the most innocent of all.  May is revealed to be the devil incarnate: never missing the bullseye; maliciously gossiping of others; being distant with her husband; passive-aggressively telling Newland (moreorless), “Oh, do say hi to Ellen for me.”  These are all signs placed within the film, advising both Newland and the viewer just what’s what.

There’s nothing hidden in this world more than how others perceive you, and it’s so easy to manipulate that which is oblivious.  May represents evil as a force; their society, the hellish glamor they are all bound to.  The “scarlet” room is red for a reason; the manors are isolated fortresses; it always seems to be winter — Newland has no escape.  The wedlock scene plays like Newland becoming aware he’s gravely ill: the room spins as all potential life rushes by; he is merely swept along.

The most violent Scorsese film, indeed.

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Lyrical Analysis: “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead

The lyrics can be found here.  You can listen to the song below:

“Paranoid Android”, by Radiohead, is a rather straight-forward song about isolation.  However, because the song uses abstract imagery and manages to tell two, overlapping narratives with only one set of lyrics, the song is ripe for lyrical analysis.  Literally, this is a classic tale of insanity.  Figuratively, and the meaning you’re more likely to connect with, “Android” is a requiem for the outcast; for the leftfield perspective.

The notion of wanting to get some rest in a noisy environment is something we all can relate with, but the outcast of “Paranoid Android” is pleading; begging to fall asleep, because his head is filled with “unborn chicken voices”. This can seem confusing until the line is read literally – imagine that there are actually chickens inside this man’s head.  “Unborn,” in this context, is a clever way of saying “non-existent”; not actually real.  He simply hears noises in his head, and the syncopated call of a chicken is a perfect image to express the chaos of auditory hallucination.

In another sense, these voices in his head are not in his head at all, but actually the sounds of the world around him (with which he feels such disconnect).  The outcast cannot view society as a screaming success because his senses are overwhelmed with the literal screaming of the oppressed; the crack of the metaphoric whip, keeping everyone at work (“the crackle of pigskin”); overwhelming gluttony (“the crackle of pigskin” i.e. bacon); the panic of the chased; the vomit from those who witness it all and of course, those too busy making money to care (“the yuppies networking”).  The outcast begs it all to stop, because he’s simply trying to get some rest.

As if a nagging reminder to his insanity and his disconnect, the promise of a peaceful sleep is lost; replaced by literal paranoia (“What’s that?”).  Already so broken-down, the only way this outcast can cope is to escape to a dreamlike state; to imagine an alternate reality where he is in command, persecuting everyone who has ever wronged him (“When I am King, you will be first against the wall — where your opinion is of no consequence at all”).

Unfortunately, due to what’s been bubbling under the surface, what should be a pleasant daydream turns into a manic episode.  Rather playful, optimistic longing is replaced with aggressive force.  As if he’s shaking the collar of society itself, he screams, “You don’t remember!  You don’t remember my name!”  Now, he’s in control and is using his power to get back at his enemies – “Off with his head now; off with his head!!”

Unfortunately, the mania subsides and is replaced with a calming, static depression.  He’s back to the real world and his fantasy is just that – a fantasy.  The difference is, there’s no going back.  Perhaps in the intensity of his manic episode, he has broken a law or two, for now passersby are scorning and ridiculing him for his insanity.  “Off with his head now!!” is both a mantra yelled at society and the actual response of society to the outcast’s madness.

A crowd draws and he’s told, “That’s it now — you’re leaving,” but he refuses to give-in; instead fighting back and running away (“the dust and the screaming”). The police presumably catch him, but not before he is beaten (“the crackle of pigskin”), shrieking in terror as the walls of his world cave-in (“the screaming”).  All the while, this is taking place in public, with businessmen and women rushing past, far too busy making phone calls to stop and observe (“yuppies networking”).

It is here where Yorke sings with a cruel jest, “God loves his children.”  It is here where the literal story of a man going crazy and the casual observations of the modern cynic merge.  In the literal narrative, this line is a delusional self-assurance, muttered by the outcast as he’s hauled away.   In the figurative narrative, the cynical observer is mocking the idea of “God” with a bitter sarcasm: “God loves his children,” as if to say, why would anyone Godly waste their attention on this hellish world?  Regardless atheistic implications, this line is important because it shows how both the outcast and the observer have lost all hope.

In the chaos of literal arrest (or the figurative personal disconnect felt towards society), the outcast gives in.  The reason we know the outcast is too tired to fight is because the song starts off with “I’m trying to get some rest,” as if to imply should our protagonist not recover soon, there will be no will to continue.  With no hope in sight, the outcast proclaims, “let it all rain down on me — let it pour from a great height, far up in the sky.”  As if lithium had entered, intravenously, into his bloodstream, our lonesome friend finds peace (even if in defeat).

As if to justify the abstract nature of this song, we hear a robotic voice chanting, “I may be paranoid, but I’m not an android.” In other words, the outcast might have been seen as eccentric; perhaps even paranoid for no reason, but at least he was feeling something.  The beauty of this song is that once you understand the general narrative, all the abstract imagery can be applied to a multitude of concepts, all seen from the observer / the outcast’d perspective.  This outcast is holding up a mirror to our world, but before he can even ask if we’re okay with the resultant image, he loses his mind.

Lyrical Analysis: “DLZ” by TV on the Radio

The lyrics can be found here.  You can listen to the song below:

“DLZ” (‘Deals’) by TV on the Radio is a song that deals with “evil” and how it spreads.  The first half of the song describes how a loathsome protagonist rises in power; the second focuses on his impact.  Right away, the song hits you with a massive scale of sound, a crooning arriving from the highest dimensions of the cosmic sphere – the song is profound long before learning what’s being sung.  This elaborates the scale of the protagonist’s misdeeds, as if to suggest this is a dictator, high-end arms dealer or Walter White from Breaking Bad.  When the song closes, all that’s left is a quiet chanting: “This is beginning to feel like the dawn of a loser forever”.  While every human is mortal, one’s impact lives on longer than their life – good and bad.  If we take up “loser” characteristics, they may be passed on, forever.

Indirect metaphor is painted over “DLZ”’s lyrics like a coating.  Taken as a whole, however, all these symbols paint but one color – an angry crimson.  Furthermore, the paint is being thrown in frustration against the canvas, as if the painter has been remaking the same painting over and over, growing weary in the process.  Indeed, the first line of the song, “Congratulations on the mess you made of things,” is sung with condescension and jest, summing up the song’s tone in half a sentence.

“To reconstruct the air” is impossible and the protagonist fails in his attempted reconstruction (making “a mess of things”).  Oxidation is a process in which electrons are lost – this may seem out of place until making the connection that the song is describing the loss of the soul in three sentences.  For going against what’s natural (“reconstructing the air”), you’ve dug yourself into a hole from which you cannot escape (the “mess you’ve made” / “compromise you owe”) and now you’ve lost your soul (the soul representing the electrons lost in oxidation).  Ironically, it’s beginning to feel like the dog (the loathsome protagonist) wants a bone (is starting to feel guilty / wants a break).

If the first verse provided exposition into how the protagonist turns evil, the second describes why he remains evil.  He “forces his fire” then “falsifies his deeds” – his malicious wishes are subjected to the world and when it’s time to answer consequence, he covers up ever being involved in the first place.  The song implies not only does the protagonist avoid accusation; he becomes rich off of his misdeeds.

Unfortunately, no amount of fortune could ever fill the vacuous void of his soul; regardless, the protagonist still tries to satisfy this emptiness with further wealth and power.  This is the beginning of the end, the point of no return – when evil becomes impossible to sustain with a sane mind (“This is beginning to feel like the dog’s lost her lead”).  Again, the song is implying the protagonist has found great success, perhaps even admired by many, but has lost the spark (oxidation/soul) which made him admirable in the first place.

It is now when Tunde cries out “This is beginning to feel like the long-winded blues of the never” – this is beginning to feel like there is no going back.  There is no hope, escape or plan-B.  The protagonist is so consumed by greed that he’s essentially dying (“curling up slowly”) and now looks to bring the rest of the world down with him (“finding a throat to choke”).  He descends down this self-made spiral so fast and with such reckless abandon, it could be compared to a train running itself off the tracks (“barely controlled locomotive”).

At this point, the only thing in his future is downfall – with a tunnel-vision, he ignores all outside perspective and hope (“consuming the picture”).  Again, the song references the protagonist’s desire (“static explosion”) to pass along his disease to whomsoever gets in his way (“devoted to crushing the broken”) so that they too will suffer in the same hell (“shoving their souls to ghost”).

What’s the result?  Eternal admiration; his likeness objectified into stone (“eternalized; objectified”).  His “sights” were set powerfully upon the top and the song has revealed the extent of his success.  However, this is where he begins to face criticism, as Tunde once again observes, “This is beginning to feel like the bolt’s busted loose from the lever” – he’s gone mad with power.  Unhinged, derailed, insane – the public is catching on.

The narrator now enters the song as a second character, the antagonist in this case, and asserts how impossible it would be to ever fall victim to the protagonist’s evil nature (“Never you mind, death professor! / Your structure’s fine; my dust is better!”).  This insult about “dust” seems to say “Regardless how massive or complex these structures are (“eternalized; objectified”), there’s more substance to be found in the dust from my footprint, however small it’s impact may be.”  Additionally, in the same stanza is a jab toward those who are “weak” enough (“your victims”) to be swayed by the promise of power, to the point where they give everything to reach it (“fly so high”) only to realize that at the lowest pit of hell, there’s nothing to do but drag others down with you (“all to catch a bird’s eye-view of who’s next”).

Swept away in hatred for the protagonist, the narrator continues preaching upon his soapbox.  “Love is life!  My love is better!” Tunde declares.  It’s emancipation from any remaining connection the narrator has to this narrative of evil.  He theorizes if more people weren’t “confused with who’s next”, our “eyes could be the diamonds” – our transcendent focus would astound all, the same way a diamond’s shine would catch anyone’s attention.

He elaborates — “Your shocks are fine – my struts are better” – while power’s hypnotism is profound, the ability for the narrator to cast it aside allows him to rant (“strut”) with superior ease.  Still, there’s another reference to how many are swayed by twisted promises (“Your fiction flies so high”) and how these people are past the point of self-correction, for they are tumbling down the spiral (“Y’all could use a doctor / who’s sick? / who’s next?”)

Pen-ultimately, the narrator sings how his love is electric, crystalizing into the psyches of everyone whom experiences it.  Thus, the impact will last longer than any statue or monument.  Promising how “all could be the diamond fused with–” the narrator interrupts himself: “—who’s next?”  Does he question who is next to rise, or fall?  The song ends soon after.

Though filled with abstract metaphor, the song’s overall tone is quite simple to grasp.  From here, you can translate this general narrative into something much more specific.  It is easy to fixate on the song’s phonetic title, “Deals”, as if to say this is a song about the power structure in our society and how TV on the Radio have an antidote – musical expression (“electrified – my love is better!”).  However, the song is as applicable to trust issues in a relationship as it is to a critique on organized religion.  Regardless what you choose to read into and what you choose to exclude, the ending of the song is very much about liberation and the mentality one develops when freed.  What you are being liberated from, is up to you as a listener to decide.