Like any other art form, a song is subjective and open to interpretation. R.E.M. explores this concept in two new films featuring their song “We All Go Back to Where We Belong.” Both take place a white room and focus on a single figure: Dial-A-Poem artist, poet, and activist John Giorno in the first video, and Kirsten Dunst in the second. Directed by Michael Stipe and Dominic DeJoseph, and shot in black and white with a strong key light, both films have a simple concept: capture their subjects reacting to the song.
Giorno barely moves and stares intently at the camera, betraying little emotion until the line “I woke up thinking we were free,” showing a wistful smile and then at the halfway point, where he can’t help but react to the flutes and trumpets. There’s the strong sense that he is going back—his gaze never wavers, as if he is looking so far into the past he’s momentarily displaced from the present.
Dunst seems to be looking only towards the future, her eyes wandering and closing in imagination, biting her lip in anticipation, and anxiously playing with her hair. But like Giorno, she’s unable to resist smiling at the halfway point before seeming to lose herself to the music at the end. There’s a telling a moment at the end where she looks to the side, anticipating Giorno’s reaction. As for us, our main reaction is that we love both of these films—and now we wish more than ever that R.E.M. wasn’t breaking up.
Fans of the band can take heart, though: there’s still something to look forward to. “We All Go Back to Where We Belong” will be included on R.E.M.’s final album, R.E.M., Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, 1982 – 2011, a 40-song retrospective of the band’s three-decade career, which will be out November 15 and is currently available for preorder.