Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Fictitious Lives in Lumineers' Videos

Recently, while digging through Youtube to discover new music, I came across one of Lumineers' latest music videos, Sleep on the Floor. After watching the whole thing, Youtube's autoplay function automatically sent me to one of their older videos, Angela, which to my surprise had subtle references to the previous one. Then, finally, I'm forwarded to a third and even older one, Cleopatra, which likewise was connected to the previous two through common characters and elements.

After putting some thought to it, I realised that the three videos are connected to uniformly narrate the years-long story of a woman through different stages of her life, or rather, a hypothetical, non-existent life formed through questioning past decisions and contemplating alternative lives. It basically plays around the concept of what if in order to imbue regret and nostalgia at the same time by showing her yearning desires and ends up telling a pretty tragic tale of lost love. Let me explain how I see it, but first I'd suggest you watch the videos in that order to avoid any spoilers.

Starting from the newest video and first in the plot's timeline, Sleep on the Floor, we see a young woman with a scar on her left cheek (keep that in mind) at her father's funeral. There, a young man (her boyfriend) proposes to her and asks her to run away with him ("Pack yourself a toothbrush dear, pack yourself a favorite blouse, take a withdrawal slip, take all of your savings out cause if we don't leave this town we might never make it out"). This is a key point in our timeline. We exit reality and enter a "fake or alternative version of reality" where she said yes and run away with him. This is visually portrayed by her literally splitting into two selves: one of reality who stays back and one of the fake version who follows her boyfriend, as well as with the change of aspect ratio during the video, from a square 1:1 to 16:9. After that, and for the most of the video, we see their potential life together, a life they spent together (or, they could have spent together, had she agreed in real life as well) where they face adversities and little victories alike, but above all have each other. Major events in that never-happened timeline: she gets a tattoo, they get married. After that, we come back to reality, going back to 1:1. She literally wakes up from that dream, marking the end of the hypothetical fantasy. Here, the video closes and leaves us knowing that them running away was her mere imagination running wild and in reality she stayed back. The man left broken-hearted with no answer.

LumineersVEVO, Universal Music Group / youtube.com

The story continues in Angela, where the same girl (distinguished mainly by the scar on her face but also later from her tattoo) is now a pregnant woman, married to someone else ("From the second time around, the only love I ever found"). Of course she never forgot the man who proposed all those years ago ("When you left this town, with your windows down and the wilderness inside"). The video like before starts in 1:1 ratio. The protagonist wakes up next to her sleeping husband during the night. Then, in exactly the same manner as before, we have a splitting what if moment again where the story breaks into two narratives: her real self goes back to sleep next to her husband, and her hypothetical self leaves home and escapes to a motel. What does she do there? Well, judging from the video alone it might not be clear, but the lyrics help us realise that she is about to meet the man that left years ago without her ("Home at last, vacancy, hotel room, lost in me, lost in you. Angela, on my knee, I belong, I believe"). Home is where she belongs, him, her true love. She dances and feels free and liberated, excited. During the video, we see scenes of the couple from Sleep on the Floor, with those being fake memories of them running together, her thoughts pondering the road not taken and the dreams she made and made her regret not running away with him. We also notice her tattoo (since this is the alternative reality self, she has it) as well as a keychain they use in the fantasy where they run away together. Soon after that the ratio goes to 16:9 again, like before, to mark the end of the dream. At the end, she exits the motel leaving behind the keys of her car and enters a taxi.

LumineersVEVO, Universal Music Group / youtube.com

The story concludes in Cleopatra, where the woman, much older now, is a taxi driver, again with the same mark. The lyrics still narrate the same story that started years ago ("When you knelt by my mattress, and asked for my hand but I was sad you asked it, as I laid in a black dress with my father in a casket, I had no plans"). She still regrets not running away back then ("But I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life"). The first passenger we see entering her taxi is... well, herself from the previous video. That's the taxi we see her entering at the end of Angela. Cleopatra also drives the couple from Sleep on the Floor. Are those people really passengers? Well, no. The way I see it, these are memories as well as her being able to identify with with her passengers' lives. Through them she lives other stories. It's also her imagination, as always contemplating what could happen in an alternative unfold of events ("So I drive a taxi, and the traffic distracts me from the strangers in my backseat, they remind me of you"). That's the main narrative of the music videos anyway. As always the video expands to 16:9 early on. We also see many other passengers at her backseat but eventually she picks up a young man, her son. They spend the day together and by the end of the video she drives him home (the same house she lives in in Angela) where their ways separate. Her husband exits, greets his son, and they go back inside. For the first time, we have a splitting moment near the end instead of the beginning of the video: her real self gets in the taxi and drives away, but the alternative, her desire, her fake reality self joins her family as they enter their home. Yes, in reality she is now divorced ("And the only gifts from my Lord were a birth and a divorce"). As her real self drives away, our video goes back to 1:1 as she drives through the night, her face illuminated by city lights.

LumineersVEVO, Universal Music Group / youtube.com

It is worth noting that one of her passengers, an old woman, also has a scar on her cheek and could possibly be her future self. How she imagines herself in the future. Or, the potential protagonist of a future video, that will eventually reunite with her lost love. Although that's quite unlikely since the videos so far are released in reversed order.

LumineersVEVO, Universal Music Group / youtube.com

Summing the story up: her father dies, her boyfriend proposes but she never gives an answer, he leaves alone; years later she marries someone else, they have a son and eventually divorce. She never sees her then-boyfriend again after the funeral but she never forgets him. This is what really happens. In three alternative fantasies she either runs away with him, leaves her husband for him years later, or returns to her ex-husband and live happily together.

The little details now may seem more clear. Her scar? Probably symbolises an emotional scar she has since the funeral for different reasons. The ratio changing during the video? The way I see it, being in a 1:1 frame feels more like being trapped, caged in reality. The liberating 16:9 gives the feeling of freedom, space to breath. It is also more cinematic and far more common amongst films which are basically fake stories, like her imaginations in the videos. The weird separating scenes where she has two selves are clearly symbolising two possible paths, dilemmas, decisions, one taken and one left behind. Throughout the videos there are also a lot of cars and roads, usually used as a mean to symbolise transition and moving forward in life. The name of the motel in the second video is The Three Ladies, probably talking about the three different stages of her life we get to see her in.

Seeing it in its complete form, the story we have is pretty sad and depressing but at the same time it is undeniably relatable. A story of regret, wondering, unanswered questions, the immutable past, feeling more and more powerless as we run out of time, feeling sentimental about your life so far, wishing for second chances. This story is inspired by a real story of a taxi driver from Georgia (the country).

Now, keep in mind that this is only my interpretation. Like I always say, the real beauty in art is its polysemy and how different people are able to interpret it in different ways. One look at the comments section and you can tell how many different versions and meanings have been thought of. Personally, I like this version because, let's be honest, we constantly have daydreams like these, thinking what would happen if you had done something different. The story being narrated is fake, it doesn't match reality, but through it we can still see how the protagonist feels in general and her sentimental longing in life. That being said, I believe it's possible to switch some of the reality versions with some of the fake ones. For example, what if in Angela, the protagonist indeed run away from home and that's why she is divorced by the time Cleopatra takes place (and the version going back to bed is the fake one). Likewise, at the final scene of Cleopatra, it could be her real self going back home with her family and a fake one driving away to find her ex-lover, as this is what she desires.

Besides the complex and beautiful plot of the videos, I can't help but praise the filming as well. I really like the direction behind them, the colours, shots, acting, and rhythm. All three manage to imbue the viewer with feelings of nostalgia and longing, especially if watched in union. We feel sorry for Cleopatra, we empathise because we can literally see her dreams and then her falling back to reality. We don't just see a bad day she had, or an unfortunate month; we see her change through the years, ageing as time goes by without fulfilling her life dream of doing what she regrets not doing back then. I really hope we will get more videos of this character. The songs (whose well-written lyrics perfectly match the story as well as the mood of the videos) are also great. Let me know what you think in the comments section. Have you seen the videos? How do you interpret the story?