By David D. Robbins | The Fade Out
“Scenes from the Suburbs”
Director: Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze’s new short film “Scenes from the Suburbs”, set to the music of Arcade Fire’s 2010 record “The Suburbs”, is a story about lost youth and a world bent on destroying itself with mindless violence. The film is available for free viewing here on MUBI (two days only). The movie is told, in flashback, by a young boy named Kyle, who is like any other suburban teen. He pals around with his friends, ghost-riding bikes, being bored together, smoking the occasional joint, and other harmless pursuits. But there are flashes of a world around them losing control, lost in violence. Kyle spends the summer with his best friend, Winter, Winter’s girlfriend, and a handful of other friends who live in a town that exists more as a military state, where raids, random police shootings, border patrols, and intercity military fights interrupt what would otherwise seem an idyllic state of youth.
This is a short film with many soft and unexplained allusions. Jonze cuts away about three times to the kid’s looking up into the sky and seeing an airplane floating across its clear blue space. One can’t help anymore but to associate planes in downward trajectory with the World Trade Center — the film perhaps suggesting even an image of innovation and freedom is forever altered. At one point in the film, Kyle, Winter and his girlfriend sit in a garage making each other laugh — before Kyle suggests people who wear trench-coats are generally serial killers or Columbine shooters. It’s as if these national tragedies have entered the psyche, never to leave. Or in a more general sense, violence leaves an everlasting effect, like a scar.
There are really funny, touching moments in the film that give the youth-filled scenes an air of authenticity. The soft-spoken, introspective Kyle closely watches Winter and the loving nudges and caresses he exchanges with his girlfriend. It inspires an endearing piece of dialogue. Kyle asks her, “How do I know when to kiss a girl?” She jokingly suggests that he “get totally hammered and fall into her face”. Winter is more politically correct and suggests Kyle move his mouth 60-percent of the way towards the girl, then let the girl move her’s 40-percent of the way and then everything will be consensual. The transitions between scenes are fades, more like the blinking of an eye than a rough cut — suggesting just how quickly moods, friendships and youth flickers by like fading snapshots.
Winter’s brother returns from a prison stint, and we’re never told exactly what he was incarcerated for, but we can assume it’s for something violent. He bosses Winter around, and his return changes Winter for the worst. He cuts his long hair in a more military-styled fashion, neglects his girlfriend and even beats up Kyle. Winter, much like the world around him, becomes a sort of ticking time bomb. He becomes strange and distant. The kids go out to a secluded spot to sit around a campfire and smoke pot together. Again, they make each other laugh. But Winter, high as hell and standing upon a large dirt mound, tells the group he believes they’re all characters in a dream and he’s going to wake up one day and go back to his own world — and he isn’t sure what will happen to them. It’s the point Kyle realizes his friend is changing. Something is wrong with him. The outside world of guns, violence, tragedy, hate, and adulthood has crept its way in. There’s a very telling scene between Kyle and Winter’s older brother that distinguishes the difference between the carefree youth, full of peace and love, and the doomed nature of the rest of the world. The brother asks, “Kyle, do you like humanity?” (The assumption is Winter’s brother does not.) When asked why, Kyle replies, “Well, we’re all human, and I like humans, so …”