At first glance How to Destroy Angels music video for the song How Long? appears to have a primitive feel to it, with the first images being of a young man covering himself in what appears to be tribal markings and foraging for food. However, anyone who knows the work of Trent Reznor, Mariqueen Maandig, Atticus Ross or the London visual artist collective known as Shynola knows that nothing coming from their collaboration is likely to be without a technological facet. As Shynola stated in an article for music website NPR, the video came about through conversations where “the band articulated their ideas about modern identity, the effect of technology on culture and our inability to connect with others” and toyed “with ideas for a feature film about a post-technology civilization, in which humans have reverted to primitive behavior”. While much of what the group did together became a concert tour with stage production leaning towards a visual art installation representation of this idea, the music video for How Long? seems to have taken some of its post-apocalyptic imagery from The Road. As was depicted in The Road, the characters in How Long? appear dirty, emaciated and are not only in conflict with other survivors but also against nature itself. How Long?’s nameless protagonist at first appears to be scavenging for food on the hillside, and when he comes across another person in the distance, he waves frantically. The enthusiasm of the videos unnamed protagonist makes it almost seem like he’s looking for human interaction, which makes what happens next between them all the more shocking. This interaction can be easily compared to the Man and the Thief in The Road. While both the Thief and the protagonist of How Long? initially appear villainous, it becomes clear that their respective actions represent a new paradigm of relative ethics in their respective post-apocalyptic worlds.
While most of the video seems to contain monochromatic color, the one pop of color comes from the eyes of the three characters in the music video. The glowing eyes of the characters reminded me almost immediately of physical depictions of cyborgs in film. It has become a trope of science fiction genre to depict cyborgs or AI with an “otherworldly” glow to their eyes. It’s presence in this particular video made me question whether the creators of the video were attempting to depict characters who had internalized their connections with technology, despite their external world being very primitive. Another theory I had about the depiction was that they possibly represented another reference to The Road, and its inference that human beings “carry the fire.” Were the video creators attempting to pose a question about the relative ethics of the apocalypse in relation to our humanity? If so, the insinuation might be that one does not necessarily preclude the existence of the other. Despite the video depicting murder and insinuating cannibalism, the main character of the video is still shown as compassionate (specifically in the final scene where he is depicted caring for an elderly woman). Arguably both The Road and the music video for How Long? push viewers to question what it means to be human in the face of apocalyptic desolation. Even in the darkest moments of humanity, both works seem to argue that human beings still have the capacity to “carry the fire”.