I’ve had to learn how to grieve in the last year. These are some of the things that I’ve glommed onto that have made me feel less lonely in that work.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
From his seventeenth album, some fragments of images Nick Cave remembers: a “spiral of children” climbing up to the sun; a “Jesus freak on the street” proclaiming the Messiah’s imminent return, because “sometimes a little faith goes a long way”; a “you,” possibly his dead son, but also possibly a fiction of Cave’s own making, “skinny and white as a wafer,” which is to say, maybe, white as the body of Cave’s Christ. Whether these things are real or imagined hardly matters. They have the tenor of visions hallucinated by the faithful or the grief-stricken, two states Cave makes to seem like the same thing, and as he bobs in the wake of his child’s death, we bob along with him, the distinction between his loss and our own eroding.
Thom Yorke and Paul Thomas Anderson
In the P. T. Anderson–directed Netflix short for Thom Yorke’s 2019 album Anima, Yorke awakens on a train to make shy eye contact with a fellow passenger, and they pursue each other through a dystopian landscape of eerily choregraphed dancers, whose frenetic, uniform movements resemble those of the reanimated dead. The heroes frolic in a darkened city, grinning at each other in incomprehension, caressing each other endlessly, fleeing the spasmodic bodies pursuing them in the night, until it turns out that their destination all along has been that same train car, where they only almost embrace before going back to sleep. The shadows of birds taking flight in the dawn flit across Yorke’s face, beautiful even if he can’t see them. Love, the film seems to say, is mourning waiting to happen, and loving even if you know the destination.
I cried during this movie. I mean, I cry at a lot of movies—that’s the kind of person I am—but I really cried at this one. There’s a scene near the end where a memory of a stuffed animal tumbles out of a wagon and disintegrates into the haze of a child’s mind. The stuffed animal’s name is Bing Bong. His demise is one of the most affecting things I have ever seen on the screen. A movie about empathy, coming to grips with the inevitability of loss, and what it means to experience joy, Inside Out reminds us that grief is indispensable. In a world where there are more ways than ever to avoid sadness and self-reflection (neither sell, nor are they good for production), this feels like an essential movie about an emotional life that is quickly giving way to the hegemony of good vibes.