Metalhead Movie Review
Metalhead is a movie about the wo(man) behind the mask. Full Disclosure: I love Metal.
With a coldness reminiscent of early Bergman (i.e. Through a Glass Darkly and Seventh Seal) Metalhead tells a simple tale with startling clarity: trauma-complications-revelation-catharsis. Very little happens but many wise things are said about pain, memory, forgiveness, and the need to not let anything define a “you.”
The star of the Metalhead movie is not the narrative or the actors but the environment – Iceland is simply breathtakingly gorgeous and the cinematographer (August Jakobsson) and director (Ragnar Bragason) use the camera to demonstrate their love of that green island far to the north. The film makes you want to pack your bags for Iceland and spend the rest of your life freezing in a hut just to be closer to such natural beauty. (And listen to Icelandic metal, which is very often considered the best of modern metal).
Particularly beautiful wide angle lens establishing shots combine the brilliant eye of the Swedish movie master at his black-and-white best, with the modern music video – slow-mo abounds. There is no moment more beautiful or music video like in the Metalhead movie, than the last – the family gathering, celebrating all their pain, in a moment of catharsis tracked by a moving camera slowing pushing away from the story it has finished telling with a Smells Like Teen Spirit aesthetic.
In the opening moments of the Metalhead movie, the family loses its eldest son to an agricultural incident. The main character, Hera ( Thora Bjorg Helga) then devotes her life to metal, the chosen music genre of her now deceased brother. She burns all her colored clothes and lives a life in black and white, an austere fashion choice that seems particularly appropriate to the Icelandic countryside.
Metal is used here in the most beautiful way, as a device for a child to express her anger, horror, and disappointment with the cards that life has dealt. For many metal fans (at age 12 I would blast early Metallica every single day until my parents came home from work) this is exactly what Metal represents, the perfect formation of concepts to express an early understanding that life does not provide a set of easy answers. See Richie Blackmore’s Catch the Rainbow – “life’s not a wheel, with chains made of steel.”
Metal is the vehicle for Hera to prove that society does not understand, her music is too loud, too fast; her outcast status is a sign that everyone ignores the truth the metal reflects – life’s is too loud, too fast, too brutal, too meaningless.
Metalhead captures metal at is most pure time period, and the movie has the perfect playlist to recollect an entire generations moment of angst. (The Metalhead movie soundtrack is awesome – buy it if you can find it). When Hera’s “normal” best friend states that “He hates Dio,” it is proof that the writer/director Bragason has lived the life he is making a film about. This moment is going to feel familiar, almost comfortable to most metal fans (though my parents happened to have had an appreciation for some Metal ) whom spent their lives trying to explain why Dio was a “metal god.” At this very moment in Iceland there is probably a teenager actively defending Solstafir as the best active metal band in the world to parents that don’t get “it.” She/he is probably right.
The Metal Mask: Metal Youth, Metal Identity, Facepain(t)
Metalheads movie promotional photos would lead one to believe that the film will be about a girl that wears face paint throughout the entirety of her screen-time- as if the facepaint were a focal point. Hera wears face-paint for perhaps three minutes in the entirety of the movie. Yet, she always wears the metal mask, the sadness, the frowns, the running away from conversations with “norms.”
Even in the fact that the promotional photos do not necessarily reflect what is happening in the movie, we find more genius from its creative team. A lesser filmmaking team would have really played up the face-paint within the film (see Frank), because the image sells. The Metalhead movie is smart enough to have the facepain(t) in the film so it can sell some tickets, but leaves this gimmickry behind just as quickly as the metal genre did (sorry Kiss fans).
It is only when Hera leaves the facepaint behind, and loses herself as a “normal” that she is able to find her true voice, a voice that can even speak to her own people. There are two moments near the end of the film that really speak to the message that Metalhead is submitting:
- After an adoring pack of metal boys arrive from across the ocean to follow Hera wherever she may take them, they help her community rebuild what she has broken (and at the same time help her rebuild herself). In the act of carrying wood for a community (while very importantly, not wearing facepaint) they barely know, the metal boys show a real concern for the other which both provides comic relief, but also demonstrate how metal eventually grows out of its angst and rebuilds; people as well as society. Prior to rebuilding however, is first the refusal to accept society as it is “given” – Metal like all other youth rebellion, is at first an important saying “no” before it turns into a cathartic, loving, understanding, “YES” to life.
- At the final metal show the metal boys are wearing face paint, while Hera is paintless. They play the hardcore version of their song, all muffled screams and cries and agony. In the next moment, Hera and metal, grow up, and speak to an audience that shares the same pain, the same agony, the same cries. In changing her voice but not her message Hera has taken off the metal mask and put on the Metalhead.
The metalhead is the strong, clear, unafraid voice that speaks to a people about a shared experience, it has learned to turn to an other and see.
Metalhead, the movie, is about returning to the love and understanding of the community that loves you and that you love. Though people may choose all different vehicles for expressing the hurt and anger that keeps them apart, in the end, all mature expressions speak in a rather unified voice – acceptance.
Metalhead is a remarkable movie (probably the best movie I have seen in 2014) that never wavers from its commitment to tell a true story – a story about what it means to become a person.