Pink Floyd – The Wall
Roger Waters (Album: Roger Waters)
Bob Geldof, Christine Hargreaves, James Laurenson, Eleanor David, Kevin McKeon, Bob Hoskins, David Bingham, Jenny Wright, Alex McAvoy
What is the price of fame and is it vicariously experienced in concert with the successful or is it in the foundational underpinnings of a life lived in turmoil. Pink Floyd – The Wall attempts to examine this unusual notion in cinematic form.
When Roger Waters was writing the album from which the film was adapted, his idea was to explore the notion that people who attend concerts aren’t doing so because of their love of the band, but out of a psychological need to experience the glamor and fame the performer has achieved. That idea provides a fascinating basis for the film version, which follows the mental collapse of a rock idol (Bob Geldof) who finds himself becoming disillusioned with life and the necessities of fame.
The film looks back at young Pink’s childhood where his father is killed in World War II fighting for the Germans and his mother smothers him. Moving forward to his schoolyard days, he questions the oppressiveness of the school system and the cruelty of his teacher who mocks him for having written poetry. We then move to the present where Pink’s wife leaves him, a groupie runs away when he destroys his hotel room, and ultimately to a vision of his own concert where fascistic ideals are put on full display as the gathered crowd feeds off his bigotry.
Geldof’s performance as Pink is somewhat on the inexpressive side. This works in some parts, but fails in others, leaving the audience disconnected from the character in a way that seems detrimental to embracing the fractious narrative. Yet, the emotive quality of the music itself helps alleviate these concerns, delivering one familiar refrain after another giving visual evocation to songs like “Another Brick in the Wall,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “Run Like Hell.”
It’s Pink Floyd’s music along with Alan Parker’s directorial eye that help elevate Pink Floyd – The Wall into a seemingly otherworldly experience. Perfectly fitting the lyrical inspiration of the concept album, the audience is given plenty of visceral pleasure as the fascinating themes of isolation, depression, and populism come alive in the hands of a master storyteller.
The most memorable elements of the film are the animated sequences, crafted by noted British illustrator Gerald Scarfe. In “Goodbye Blue Sky,” we’re treated to the symbolism of the military industrial complex and the horrific threat of war and, to a less obvious extent, nuclear annihilation. In “What Shall We Do Now?/Empty Spaces,” the images run the gamut of sexual domination, commercialization, and isolationism. In “Waiting for the Worms,” it’s fascistic symbolism with goose-stepping hammers declaiming the evils if conformity.
And for the finale, “The Trial,” after Pink has finally isolated himself against the world by completing his metaphorical wall, he’s forced to come to terms with all that has defined him and how his sudden realization of his fallibility is a threat to societal strictures that prohibit nonconformity. It’s ultimately a brilliant conclusion for the film, bringing together all of the preceding themes into one fantastic animated package.
While the making of the film was fraught with confrontation, there’s no denying that the final result is a singularly unique experience in cinema. Few films have been able to so viscerally and perhaps viciously tackle the themes on display. It’s a film that cannot be fully understood with a single viewing, nor should it be. Pink Floyd – The Wall might not be a film that everyone can understand or appreciate, but there’s little use in denying that it’s an utterly fascinating piece of filmmaking.
November 2, 2021