Music

Thom Yorke and Paul Thomas Anderson Capture the Dreamlike State of Our Modern Dystopia

The Radiohead singer's masterful new album and Netflix film, ANIMA, is the year's most powerful artistic statement.
IMAGE DARIUS KHONDJI
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In 2007, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and director Paul Thomas Andersoncombined forces for There Will Be Blood, a cinematic masterpiece. It marked the meeting of two masters of their craft—PTA's grand vision of the greed and tyranny of powerful men and Greenwood's bold soundtrack of experimental orchestration and tinkering tools. Greenwood and Paul Thomas Anderson have joined forces on two movies since—Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread—but it wasn't until 2016 that the director worked with Radiohead in its entirety.

Leading up to the release of their new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead released the stunning video for "Daydreaming" in May of 2016. Cleverly edited into what looks like a single shot, the video shows Yorke strolling through settings ranging from musty house interiors to washed-out beaches. It's a video that, through the mastery of Anderson's filmmaking, captured random jumps in logic like a lucid dream. Anderson also directed the videos for other singles for that album. Though simpler, videos for "Present Tense" and "The Numbers" captured the pure joy of just watching Radiohead play music.

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Now, Paul Thomas Anderson has teamed up with another member of Radiohead, this time directing a short Netflix film inspired by vocalist Thom Yorke's new solo album ANIMA. This one most closely resembles the lucid state of "Daydreaming," but with elevated political commentary.

In an interview with Zane Lowe, Yorke explained the intent behind ANIMA:

I think the reason it ended up being called ANIMA was partly because I’m obsessed with this whole dream thing, and it comes from this concept that [Carl] Jung had. But, also, we have started to emulate what our devices say about us and emulate the way we behave from that. The reason we can watch Boris Johnson lie through his teeth, promise something that we know will never happen is: we don’t have to connect with it directly because it’s a little avatar. It’s this little guy with a stupid haircut waving a flag…..“That’s all right, that’s funny." And the consequences are not real. The consequences of everything we do are not real. We can remain anonymous. We send our avatar out to hurl abuse and poison and then trot back anonymous.

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People have come to terms with the idea, [that] the only way that things change is fundamental structural change. And the only way that can happen when you have a bunch of clowns, is to be angry. But right now we have this performance going on: we have a Punch and Judy show in America, another one in Britain that apparently is what goes for politics these days. And when it breaks, the likes of [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez will walk in and go, “Right. Shall we get started?” That’s what I think.”

And so ANIMA opens with Yorke among a group of grey-clad drones nodding off on a commuter train. For the next 12 minutes, Yorke stars in a silent short film—its story told only through songs from his new album and through mesmerizing interpretive dance. Yorke is a compelling and innovative dancer, which he's proven pretty consistently in the band's recent years.

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This storyoriginallyappeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by Esquiremag.ph editors. 

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Matt Miller
Matt Miller is the Associate Culture Editor for Esquire.com
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