Arts Desk

“Black River Killer”: Blitzen Trapper’s Calvinistic New Music Video

Oregon folk-rock posse Blitzen Trapper this week released a music video for the song "Black River Killer," off the band's 2008 record Furr. The song is a sociopath's anthem; the diary of a murderer who keeps getting released by the state then consistently kills the first person he encounters. The video, directed by newcomer Daniel Elkayam, depicts the faceless recidivist's travels from victim to victim and jailhouse to jailhouse in a series of scenes sewn together as a single, swooping tracking shot.

(Video embedded after jump.)

Elkayam's video seems to draw heavily from the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, which emphasizes the song's thematic similarities with the Oscar-winning film (and book). The the song's chorus, "Oh when, oh when / Will the spirit come a-callin' for my soul to send? / Oh when, oh when / Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?" evokes not Anton Chigurh, No Country's wayward mercenary, but Sheriff Tom Bell (played in the film by Tommy Lee Jones), who in the penultimate scene tells his invalid brother, "I always thought as I got older, God would just sort of come into my life somehow. And he didn't."

Bell's struggle to maintain his faith against the inexorable cruelty of the world is the film's central tragedy; in the song, this tragedy unfolds within the Black River Killer himself. "I've been wandering in the dark about as long as sin / But they say it's never too late to start again." The songs puts this optimism on trial. By its end, the Killer comes to the same conclusion as Bell, replacing that hopeful axiom with a much bleaker one: No man can expel darkness from the world, or himself–and neither can God.

In the music video, "Black River Killer" seems less a tale of a troubled ne'er-do-well and more a criticism of the criminal justice system. The civil authorities–particularly the sheriff–seem at once outraged by the Killer's behavior and eager to give him yet another change to go straight. Elkayam gives the lyric "It's never too late to start again" to the sheriff (played by Jeff Gorham), whose evangelical bluster only reinforces the phrase's naive reductionism. To wit, the next scene shows the sheriff dead with a knife in his back while the Black River Killer breezes off to Oregon in search of his next victim.

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