Metallica: Through the Never's Weird Provocation of White Aggrievement

Spoilers abound below—for a concert film!

When the Death Dealer pursues Trip, the audience avatar, the lynching and dragging imagery seems an appropriation of the moral dimensions of racial injustice to arouse feelings of cheap outrage. Anger-mongering isn't a sin in itself; music and film can stoke as well as pacify feelings of violence. But Through the Never exploits historical black suffering to provoke a sense of white aggrievement (represented by the angry white fans in the film's audience). It's about as racially sympathetic as when white anti-abortion activists cite the "Black Genocide" in America without mentioning institutional oppression or cyclical poverty.

The tack of provoking without questioning what exactly it's provoking is irresponsible and insensitive. But it gets worse when Metallica ultimately push the self-destruct button on their own film. In the climactic fight, Trip steals the Death Dealer's Thor-like hammer and slams it into the ground to destroy his foe—more specifically, to cut him up into evil confetti. (Magic works in mysterious ways.) The impact also shakes and explodes the CGI skyscrapers around him, causing the band's show to collapse mid-performance. Light beams fall, props tumble away, crewmembers are set on fire.

Lead singer James Hetfield shrugs off the cataclysm and says in an aw-shucks voice, "We don't need all this fancy stuff anyway, right?" It's a naked bid for authenticity—Metallica resume playing "unplugged" without the pricey spectacle. But in disavowing the theatrical extravagance of their stage show, Hetfield also renounces the pretentious, special effects-laden film he and his bandmates are in. Thus, Metallica don't just fail to give meaning or value to the feelings of anger they incite—they wash their hands of it.

Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo
Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo
Metallica onstage
Metallica onstage

Through the Never, then, is ultimately a fascinating experiment in a kind of shorthand narration, in seeing whether the catharsis of storytelling can be achieved with a truly crappy story. The answer seems to be yes; as so many TV or even print ads demonstrate, images are powerful in and of themselves without the benefit of a compelling narrative. For all that this film lacks in smarts and responsibility, though, it's at least an interesting failure, and certainly more ambitious than the branding exercises Justin Bieber and One Direction have put out recently. Given their promising filmography thus far, it's easy to look forward to the band's next big-screen project. Maybe it will have a little more thought—and a lot fewer sweat-soaked leather vests.

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