“You Make a Fool of Death With Your Beauty”

Murphy Leigh

Or, how Florence + the Machine’s “Hunger” visually expresses the need to be loved.

source: “Hunger” by Florence + the Machine

By now, the music video for “Hunger” is a couple of weeks old, but I’ve had it on repeat for basically the whole time. I can’t really stop myself; the song is anthemic, its repetition the kind of thing hymns are made of. I imagine that, in a concert set, at least part of it will be performed as a call-response.

But it’s the visuals that have set my imagination on fire.

The music video has a sort of a plot to it: it opens in black and white, with a group of men who have unearthed a statue, made in a familiar Ancient Greek style. From there, we witness people falling in love with the statue, starting with one of the researchers himself, who we see touching and caressing it throughout the video. A black woman in a late-sixties style of orange dress encounters the statue in a museum; it consumes her thoughts until she has it with her. An actor who has it makes it part of his theatre production, reaching for it in yearning. And Florence, herself, gets up close and personal with the statue in a garden.

The video ends, though, with the statue becoming overgrown with flowers and greenery on that museum plinth. Then, a black title card bearing the statement: “How many have to die / So that you can feel loved.” Not a question, a statement, which I think is important, especially given the next shot, the final in the video: the flower-covered statue up to its chest in shifting, surreal red desert sands.

Those final two shots remind me powerfully of Shelley’s Ozymandias, with the powerful laid low by time — like Ozymandias, every lover of the statue has gone to dust, and the statue itself is going now. “How many have to die / So that you can feel loved,” too, is an observation that wouldn’t be out of place in Shelley’s poem, which focuses on a cruel king immortalized in a broken statue, whose image is all that remains of his kingdom.

Another big thing for me is the statue itself: it is completely androgynous. While it doesn’t have breasts, it doesn’t have a penis, either — an inversion of the famous story of Hermaphroditus, who is often depicted with both. This androgyny seems to allow for the multiple genders of people who fall for the statue, but, arguably, it also queers those affections by default.

We don’t know if the statue is a man or a woman; therefore, we don’t know how to identify our own relationships to it.

This ambiguity and “other” nature to the statue can also associate it with the Greek god Dionysus, whose cults often engaged in wild, convulsive dancing not unlike the way Florence moves in the video. She, in very little visible makeup, jerks and throws herself through space, swaying and moving much like the intoxicated and ravenous maenads of Dionysus would as they hunted down their god to consume him.

“I can’t dress, they’re going to crucify me…”

Given that the song itself is about hunger, specifically romantic and sexual hunger, I think that’s fitting.

Finally, the statue’s hand, with a tiny bud of a plant growing out of a hole in it, references Florence + the Machine’s “Sky Full of Song” video, which features a small budding plant in Florence’s hand as a major image.

I’m really curious to see if there will be further music videos for the upcoming album, High as Hope, and how they’ll expand on and and respond to the thematic elements that these two videos — especially “Hunger” present. Since the album comes out next month, any further videos would have to come soon to precede it, if they’re going that promotional route.

We’ll see! Either way, though, I really think that “Hunger” is very symbolically dense, and I hope that other people enjoyed it as much as I did. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here, and I hope you do.

This shot is probably the moment I realized that “oh, this is exactly up my alley”

Murphy Leigh is a lifelong nerd and student of The Aesthetic. Lately, the subject matter has been pop and indie music videos, the West Coast, and other beautiful, romantic, and surreal American myths.

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Murphy Leigh

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Music video critic. Aesthetic goblin. Searching for the beautiful and the surreal in the monstrous.

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