The Perfect Drug of Nine Inch Nails enhanced by Mark Romanek

Perfect Drug 1

Released in 1997, Romanek’s music video is the quintessential related text for students studying gothic literature. I used this text to open both of my 2012 Melbourne presentations titled Multimodal Texts: engaging reluctant learners through music videos at the Mulitliterate-Multicultural-Multifacted ALEA Conference and the Screenfutures ATOM and Screen Conference. Perhaps a little confronting for some audiences, yet it remains one of my all time favourite music videos. I wonder if it features at Spectacle, the music video exhibition at ACMI?

Senior students are able to comment and discuss the obvious iconic references, especially if they have looked at the gothic context in studying a text. Included in the Multimodal Texts presentation was an English Extension student’s reflection which demonstrated his sophisticated understanding. Here is his unedited analysis:

Nine Inch Nail’s 1997 music clip ‘The Perfect Drug’ directed by Mark Romanek is a visceral exploration of despair, rebellion and a human consciousness that transcends ‘the rational’. It tells a story of pain and escape; depicting a man who is haunted by the images of his dead daughter and finds freedom only in his reliance of absinthe. The clip is essential Romantic in nature; an adaptation of styles and tenets to tell a story of primal humanity: one punctuated by overwheming emotion, uninhibited action and a sense of spiritual connection with nature, the ‘interior’ of oneself, and with the supernatural.

Perfect Drug 33

Perfect Drug 20

My initial reaction to the clip was energetic; the resto drum beat containing an almost primal urgency that attempts to evoke the frenzy inherent to every human. This, I found, is a clip that is not romantic only within itself, but one that intends to provoke a similar sublimity in its audience. This is epitomised in the climactic slideshow of green-tinted shots, accompanied only by the austeric yet powerful drum beat, and laden in symbols representative of the human experience. A skull shows death, the face of a child is the beginning of life, a hawk representing power, a man slashing pristine hedges is rebellion: this montage is paced rapidly for visceral effect which cumulates with the symbolism to demonstrate that humanity is human only through its latent and unfettered emotions.

Perfect Drug 22

Perfect Drug 12

Although the ‘Perfect Drug’ is a contemporary text, it is foremost an adaptation of the romantic style, and as such is steeped in contextual allusion and intertextuality. Immediately Romanek alludes to recognisable figures of the Romantic period: Byron through his pet bear, Frankenstein’s monster through the connection to brain electrodes – to establish the tone for the clip. The clip adheres to the Romantic tenets and appropriates the context accordingly: the clip is permeated by a gery filter that obscures and evokes a gloomy atmosphere, emphasising the gothic notion of sublime fear and the supernatural. The protagonist of the tale is entirely individual; never once being framed with another character, and unorthodox in mannerisms – completely consumed in emotion evoked through pathetic fallacy (the reflection of human emotion in weather), and addicted to Absinthe.

Perfect Drug 8

Perfect Drug 34

It continues to explore pantheistic elements, with the overt symbol of a man running down hedges slashing them – a rebellion against restriction, and a return to ‘genuine nature’ – wild; unrestrained. This is a contextual reference to the Romantic rebellion against the strict rationality of Neoclassicism, their exploration of humanity in its primal form.

Perfect Drug 17

This video clip had an immediate and powerful effect on me. The soundtrack itself is idiosyncratic; individual in its varying pacing, primal drum beats and minor harmonics; while the visual explores symbolically the primary tenets of the Romantic genres. These factors culminate into a visceral, powerful whole on a superficial level; and for those familiar with its (somewhat esoteric) subject matter, it is an experience steeped in cleverly incorporated intertextuality and contextual allusion.

Perfect Drug 18

This was written on the last day of term and Finn included a disclaimer, apologising if his reflection was ” … light on textual detail, convoluted or bloviate.” To improve this analysis, you might consider including

  • an important aspect, through the title and repeated lyric, is the notion of obsession – metaphorically linking the object of desire to an addictive substance
  • the lyrics also reinforce an intense self focus on the soul – such lines as ‘but my heart is no good’ and ‘my soul so afraid to realise’ ‘ take me, take me with you’ and ‘without you, without you everything falls apart’
  • close up shots of persona in a windswept, isolated and vacant landscape
  • series of images support Romantic notion of the muse (abstracted in many forms) and its influence on creativity
  • shift in energy highlights torment – veritas (still life) initially portrayed through skull and vulture comes alive: opening, unfurling, spreading
  • ultimately, the slowing pace and re-introduced piano concludes the music video with a lingering, pleading tone
  • funeral attire

Perfect Drug 2

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