25 April 2019
My Mind’s Playing Tricks On Me
There is no shortage of times one can recall being stuck in their own head. As the years pass, humans experience a multitude of situations that can help shape and alter their perspective of life. For most, a certain occurrence in our adolescence, specific to each person, can have the power to control our behavior later in life. People can create any scenario to describe the nature of the thought process that goes on in their head while juggling a certain thought . Most would describe it as talking to themselves or spacing out. In the music video “Elastic Heart” by Sia, viewers can witness a visual representation of being haunted by beckoning thoughts and how such self-to-self interactions can play out.
To give a visual of the video, as well as an understanding of the intentions of the artist, a Skeleton of the video will be laid out first. The only scenery of the five minute, seven second
video is a grayish toned room comparable to a large city loft. There are about two large windows that take up almost the entire height of the wall, which allows some natural light into the room. There are also some fluorescent light bars on the ceiling, which is exposed of its support beams. Inside the large room is only a massive bird cage where two people, a young girl and a bearded man, stand on opposite sides, but still facing one another. The cage represents the skull of the man, and so being inside it means they are in his head. The plain room helps accentuate the feeling of only existing in his thoughts. This visual is often seen in movies when the main character is unconscious, but is still active in thought. The young girl, played by renowned dancer Maddie Ziegler, plays the role of the man’s thoughts or “self states” (DanceOn). She can be viewed as his inner child, representing a crucial interaction or trauma he experienced growing up that is still present in his mind even later in life. She can also be seen bad thoughts in general, like that inner voice that tears down an individual. Either way, she is always representing a “self state” of his that has control over his emotions because she is his thoughts. He, played by Shia LaBeouf, can be viewed as the person whose head we are inside. We are watching him deal with his emotions in his own head. The two perform a dance throughout the entirety of the video that demonstrated the back-and-forth we may go through when dealing with our minds.
The lyrics to the song at first glance can be interpreted and related to a relationship that is broken, but the singer is persevering through it. Alongside the video, it seems to sort of narrate the dance, which really looks like the two chasing each other around the inside of the cage. When the video starts, they are on opposite ends. Shia looks a little afraid and curious while Maddie looks focused. When the first lyric is said, “and another one bites the dust,” they start to circle counterclockwise slowly as if they were two animals in a standoff ready to fight. By the next lyric, “but why can I not conquer love” Shia walks through the cage instead of continuing the circling path, as if trying to approach this emotion of his. Right as the next lyrics start “and I might’ve thought that we were one, wanted to fight this war without weapons” Maddie lunges forward at him, flapping her arms like a chicken with widened eyes, and an opened mouth as if she was yelling. This action scares Shia and he retreats. The two continuously make motions towards each other that make them look like they are pretending to fight without actually touching one another. Two more lines of lyrics are said at the same yelling tempo as Maddie conveys with her face. As the song approaches the chorus, the singer’s voice gets softer rather than yelling, and the two dancers calm down their motions as well. Again on opposite ends, they slowly approach each other to the lyrics, “you did not break me, I’m still fighting for peace.” This lyric is perfect to follow their previous “fight” scene because it shows that he feels broken inside because of his thoughts, but he is still trying to find balance.
As the chorus begins, we see the dancers seem to actually fight. Maddie grabs Shia’s wrist and spins him around to release him against the cage wall. She makes motions of kicking him while he is down, chasing him, punching him, and even jumps on his back while holding a him in a choke hold. This whole fight is accompanied but the lyrics, “I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart, but your blade might be too sharp. I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard. Yeah, I snap and I move fast, but you won’t see me fall apart. ‘Cause I’ve got an elastic heart.” These words seem to be a message from Shia to his thoughts. He knows he is strong enough to handle his own mind, but feels that the specific trauma Maddie brings upon him could be enough to make him break. Again, it is not specific what certain negative experience she represents as she seems to represent any emotion he feels. She is a fluid representation of emotion. To say one has an “elastic heart” is to assume one has been through many misfortunes that granted them the ability to bounce back from hurt quicker than most (Elastic Heart). Though this may ring true for some, the term also insinuates that the person claiming to have such a heart does not actually heal themselves properly, although they believe they are capable of such bounce backs. Thus, they think they have an elastic heart, but it is actually just an excuse to not deal with their own issues.
As the video progresses, we see the two come close to being civilized with each other, but not quite. And the slow down of the chorus into the next verse, we see the two do separate things for the first time. Maddie continues to dance in the center floor of the cage while Shia climbs to the top of the inside of the cage. Shia is gripping the center ceiling with both hands as his body dangles. Meanwhile, Maddie seems to slow down her movements as if she is tired. She does two spins and collapses to the center of the floor. She lies on her side looking out of breath and not moving. Shia drops down and mirrors her laying down position. The lyrics to this part are, “and I will stay up the through the night. Yeah, let’s be clear won’t close my eyes. And I know that I can survive. I’ll walk through fire to save my life.” Those words narrating this part where he separates himself from her long enough for the fuel of her emotion to dwindle down, shows that he loses sleep over trying to get away from this thought. But at some point, he and this voice in his head are both at subtle levels to where he feels comfortable enough to face it once more. He is hesitant to reach out to this thought, or emotion, as he lies in front of her. His hand slowly reaches toward her and he lightly pokes her heart. She wakes up startled and backs away. This reaction from her represents the patternistic flow she is used to. In other words, our mind can be hardwired to think and react in routine ways when a certain situation is brought back up, or awoken in this case. An example would be being avoidant towards a topic one does not like to deal with. As soon as she backs away, he remains in a kneeling position facing her with his hand out in a begging pose. She sniffs out his hand slowly, very animal like, trying to become familiar with his openness to the emotion or thought she represents. Just when we think she will reconcile with him, she bites at him and we see her face change from almost understanding to raged like we saw in the beginning.
Another round of the chorus plays and so does another round of chasing and fighting. These altercations represent the fight between and individual and their own thoughts or emotions. Finally, there is a break in the song that is only the sound of the harmony of the song sung by SIA. Here, Maddie easily slips through the space between the bars of the cage, but Shia cannot do the same. The shot shows him holding onto the bars and screaming very hard, though he cannot be heard. He eventually grows tiresome. On all fours, he faces the ground panting. Maddie reenters the cage and for the first time, voluntarily attaches to him. She does a handstand against his back, so they are back-to-back, but she is upside down. He holds her ankles so she can sit up, and is now sitting on his shoulders. He slowly walks around the cage while holding her in a shoulder sit. His face looks tired and defeated. Contrary to these facial expressions, it seems that this part of the video shows him finally being able to carry the weight of his emotions. He seems like he is having a realization as he just stares off while walking. She, for the first time, seems nice and loving towards him. This represents the troubling thoughts being able to nurture a growing person into becoming stronger. The rest of the dance seems a lot less bipolar in emotions as the two are in a common calm state. They do look tired by the look in their eyes, but are still slowly maneuvering through. This portion of the dance seems to show acceptance. A psychology journal reads,. “…individuals who tend to accept their mental experiences may attain greater psychological health because acceptance helps them experience less negative emotion in response to stressors”(Ford). Therefore, we can assume he is making progress towards conquering his thoughts and hopefully moving forward with his life.
Eventually, she leaves the cage again. This time trying to pull him out with her. She tries with all her night to yank him out by one arm, but we can see it will not happen. He has both arms out trying to keep hold of her. Shia seems to want to be freed judging by the sort of tired, yet frantic look on his face. This facial expression, as well as his strength to hold onto her soon dwindles away. His eyes just stare out into nothing while Maddie continues to pull on one of his arms. This is the ending of the video. This part showcases a turn of events. For, at first, we see she has more control over him throughout the whole video because she is his inner thoughts and emotions. After the acceptance half of the video, the end should have been met with him being able to let go of this thought he has tried so hard to conquer. But in the end, we see that he simply cannot let go. Though she has the power to escape the walls of his head, it is him who ultimately decides his own fate, which is decided by whether he lets go or not.
“Elastic Heart” did get some skeptical reviews because of the age difference in the two actors, but that interpretation does not go as deeply as the artist intended for. The interpretation of the self wrestling with its own mind is brilliant in the way it is depicted. The use of a young girl to represent his inner self state begs the viewer to see passed gender and focus on the interpretation the human being is acting out. She is also able to portray youth and innocence within a man, although we do not always consider these characteristics when thinking of factors that make up a man’s mind, she allows us this different perspective. Facial expressions play a huge role in the expressing of emotion throughout the piece, so it is important to keep that in mind when watching the video.
“Elastic Heart.” Urban Dictionary, Bek3000, 11 Jan. 2016, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=elastic heart.
Ford, Brett Q., et al. “The Psychological Health Benefits of Accepting Negative Emotions and Thoughts: Laboratory, Diary, and Longitudinal Evidence.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, vol. 115, no. 6, Dec. 2018, pp. 1075–1092. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/pspp0000157.
DanceOn. “The Story Behind Sia’s Elastic Heart Music Video! | The Edge.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Jan. 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVJtWWH2qWk.