written by David Steffen
This is one of a series of articles wherein I examine a music video as a short film, focusing on the story rather than the music, trying to identiy the story arcs and characters motivations, and consider the larger implication of events.
The film this week is Run Boy Run by Woodkid, a black-and-white fantasy thriller chase.
The first image we see is of an isolated stark white building in the mountains, with a narrow tower that resembles a skyscraper design, though much smaller. The only sound is the deep and resonant ring of a deep church bell. On the third stroke of the bell the visual stillness of the scene is broken as the title character, the boy who is never named, exits the building on the right, sprinting as though his life depends on it.
After the fourth toll of the bell we see the boy much more closely. He is wearing what appears to be a schoolboy’s uniform with short pants, a lapeled jacket, a collared shirt, and a backpack. Even as he runs at an incredible pace, he checks over his shoulder for signs of pursuit and his terror is evident as tears stream down his cheeks. The pounding percussion of the music underscores the urgency, as do the lyrics: “this world is not made for you” and “they’re trying to catch you”. It’s not clear what exactly is pursuing the boy, but with his evident terror and the superhuman effort he is putting into escape, I can’t help but root for him every time I see this. As the film opens, we
He is joined by a pack of crows flying in the same direction, and at first we have to wonder if these are what he is fleeing from, or at least if they are agents of what he is fleeing from. And soon the boy outpaces the flying crows anyway.
After the lyrics say “this race is a prophecy” and “break out from society”, a new creature joins the scene: what appears to be an earth elemental of moss and grass and stone with long pointed horns rises up from the level ground directly under the boy, and the boy falls. The pace of the music slows as the creature rises to its full height from the ground, humanoid and as tall as a tall man, and it appears that everything may be lost; he may have lost the chase. The boy struggles to raise himself back to his feet but before he can the creature scoops him up under its arm (roughly but the roughness appears to be from a sense of urgency rather than malice) and begins running in the same direction the boy had been running.
When the boy has had a moment to catch his breath, the elemental returns the boy to his feet and they run together. Meanwhile the elemental beckons offscreen and soon more and more elementals of a similar size, some that appear to have cattle skulls for heads. The original elemental hands him a sword, and others arm him with a two-horned Viking helmet and a round buckler shield. At this point in the film the boy no longer appears scared–he looks determined and fierce. This support from an unexpected corner has bolstered his courage, though we still have not seen what pursues him.
When the boy leaps from a rock he lifts off up into the clouds before landing safely back among the elementals again–clearly this boy is just beginning to discover his extraordinary abilities, and reveling in his newfound freedom! He beckons to the elementals and yet more of them rise from the ground, and in more variety, ranging from tiny ones that run on all fours, to ever larger and larger that are dressed and armed as warriors and seem to be built of stone and tree trunks. An airship rises in the distance, presumably associated with the rest of these warriors supporting the boy. The boy at this point appears happy for the first time in the film, smiling and joyous and confident.
We see ahead to his destination: a major metropolitan center of immaculate white buildings that recall the style of the building he is running away from, but many more and denser. We see one building with banners flying a sigil of two crossed keys: the symbol of the rulers of the city? The boy finally stops on a rocky promontory with a view of the city and he raises his sword to it, though it’s unclear whether this is a sign that he is saluting it as a sign of safety or home or if he has hostile intent. Are the elementals merely an escort to ensure his safety, or does he plan to lead them in an assault on the city? Why do the elements follow him? Does he have family or friends waiting for him? What is the prophecy that speaks of his escape? At no point in the film do we see his pursuers–is he trying to run away from responsibilities, from becoming a man? Or is there a real pursuer, and what is their intent?
The film ends there with more questions than answers, but in a way that left me hungry for more: I have seen at least one other by Woodkid that seems to tie into the events of this one somehow, with the boy and the sigil of the crossed keys, though I haven’t seen enough to understand the story of this one better–I will try to watch more and give my interpretation as I can!
(Next up in the Music Drilldown series will be Genghis Khan by Miike Snow)