The last piece of this quasi-triptych centering around loss deals with it in a more implicit fashion- it’s never stated, never fully present, just looming in the subtext. It doesn’t reduce loss to an isolated incident or promise the inevitability of death but it does hint at a struggle that stretches across multiple generations. Contained in that struggle is the loss of innocence, racial tension, police tension, and the inherent flaws in violence as a tactic. All of it’s portrayed in stark black-and-white cinematography, punctuating the simplicity that’s continuously, infuriatingly absent in the execution of proposed solutions. Music video director AG Rojas teamed with Run The Jewels to bring his vision into a reality that becomes the driving force behind the most arresting music video of 2015’s first three months.
Enlisting Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham as the determined police officer and Short Term 12‘s Keith Stanfield as the young man whose attempting to evade the officer before locking into an endless. emotional fight that drags out over the course of what could be just one day or several. Every time it seems like there’s going to be a break in the action, the duo lunges back into attempting to batter each other into oblivion. It’s impossible to avoid reminders that this fight is built on a racially-motivated foundation, from the cinematography to the uninhibited nods at troubling recent events (the shot of the chokehold cuts especially deep), rendering the video as much of a necessary activist piece as a piece of art. Whigham and Stanfield both turn in fiercely dedicated performances, providing their final grace notes in the extended epilogue.
In those closing moments, there’s no violence, only rest- but it’s impossible to shake a feeling that rest’s only occurring due to the overwhelmingly tumultuous events that led them to both cave in after failing to find a resolution. With each character looking away, it’s a striking visual that emphasizes a divide that’s somehow only managed to deepen over the past year. While Whigham’s performance is an intimidating one, it’s Stanfield (whose performance in Short Term 12– easily a contender for best film of the decade- rattled me to my core) who strikes the deepest nerve with his already visibly-beaten character. By holding a mirror up to one of most infuriating recurring pieces of something that we should be ashamed to accept as culture, Rojas and Run The Jewels (with a notable assist from Rage Against The Machine’s Zach de la Rocha) have created something deeply meaningful and genuinely important.
Even though it’s been posted several times on other publications, it stills necessary to post the note Rojas wrote to accompany the video. Read his words below and watch the video for “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” beneath that piece.
“When Run The Jewels sent me this track, I knew we had the opportunity to create a film that means something. I felt a sense of responsibility to do just that. We had to exploit the lyrics and aggression and emotion of the track, and translate that into a film that would ignite a valuable and productive conversation about racially motivated violence in this country. It’s provocative, and we all knew this, so we were tasked with making something that expressed the intensity of senseless violence without eclipsing our humanity. For me, it was important to write a story that didn’t paint a simplistic portrait of the characters of the Cop and Kid. They’re not stereotypes. They’re people – complex, real people and, as such, the power had to shift between them at certain points throughout the story. The film begins and it feels like they have been fighting for days, they’re exhausted, not a single punch is thrown, their violence is communicated through clumsy, raw emotion. They’ve already fought their ways past their judgements and learned hatred toward one another. Our goal was to highlight the futility of the violence, not celebrate it.
I am really proud of where we ended up, and I am very thankful that our actors Shea Whigham and Keith Stanfield committed to these characters 100%. They breathed complex life into two people who are usually portrayed in simplistic ways – as archetypes. I can tell you it was an emotional shoot day. It is tough to re-create moments that are so fresh and prevalent in our world today. It affected all of us in deep ways. But I believe that it is important that the way we feel when we see these events in real life has an effect on us. That we resonate with what we know to be right and we don’t numb ourselves out so those feelings can simply be swept away, we must confront them and take some action, however small, or we’ll be stuck in the same cycle of violence and hate.”