We’ve now had three videos for the penultimate track on Arcade Fire’s Reflektor - Afterlife. Before the albums release date, the band released the song in the form of a lyric video, accompanied by a selection of footage from Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus. Following this, the dubious and disjointed Youtube Music Awards opened with a Spike Jonze directed live performance of the track, featuring Greta Gerwig. Finally, the band released the track’s official video - this one directed by Emily Kai Bock. Perhaps it is appropriate to have a multitude of imaginings for a term, a concept, with as many possible understandings as ‘afterlife’. It is heaven, hell, purgatory as much as it is moving on, forgiving or forgetting. Three videos. Three visions. Three interpretations.
The lyric video was the first visual accompaniment the song had, and its afterlife is the most thrillingly literal performance. Marcel Camus’ movie, and the Orpheus myth, play a central role in the entire album and contextualise Afterlife in this narrative. The use of Camus’ movie is deliberate, as in a way it set out to achieve a similar task to Reflektor, taking the mythos and heightening the celebration and mourning to fever pitch. Death, on carnival day. On the album the despairing push and pull mantra of Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) is followed by the blindly hopeful, but panicked It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus). At this point, we are to assume, Orpheus has sung to Eurydice and beckoned her across the underworld, only to lose her when he turns to face her. It is at this point where the album turns to Afterlife, a moment that asks Orpheus, ‘what next?’
Taking this question further is Emily Kai Bock’s video, that places familial loss in the space between dream and reality. The father and his two sons, left reeling from the loss of a wife and mother, attempt to perform as a family unit around the table - yet they are barely able to talk to one and other, let alone confess and share in their grief. It is left then to the moments they have alone to bring them together. For the father, he takes comfort in a final dance with his wife and the youngest son is reminded of the comfort of his father in moments of vulnerability. It is the eldest son, in Kai Bock’s video, that leads onto Spike Jonze’s vision. In his dream, the teenager roams though a courtyard, towards a pool where he witnesses a baptism. This act of a rebirth is a new kind of afterlife - a beginning.
Spike Jonze’ new beginning is a torch carried with fear and breathtaking optimism by Greta Gerwig. After kissing a faceless person, who then leaves the room, Gerwig performs a joyful, ungainly ballet; leaving her apartment for a winter forest, breaking out of the previously defined four walls for freedom. What it is that has empowered Gerwig, be it the final kiss of a bad relationship or the first of a new one, is unclear. Yet it is clear that her dance is born from the start of something, not the end. It is no longer a song of mourning, rather one of celebration.
Orpheus loses his Eurydice, yet it takes the family in Kai Bock’s video to show him that he could never of saved her. Both Orpheus and the father visit their lost loves, yet the father realises this is a moment of dreaming. Like Eurydice, once the mother belonged to death the family unit have to fall deep into memories and the process of grief. Having done this, after all the bad advice, having screamed, shouted and tried to work it out, Gerwig shows Orpheus and the family how to start again. Dancing.
Words: Angus Harrison