The Music Man
The most captivating scene of the entire movie is when Sam goes and confronts the song writer of Jesus and the Brides of Dracula song “Turning Teeth”. The soundtrack creates such a captivating soundscape to the film and there’s fascinating aspects to consider if you are willing to dive in. Especially with how it’s stressed in the song I wonder if anyone would agree that the phrase “Turning Teeth” is meant to be a linguistic word play meant to sound like “eternity”.
Under the Silver Lake is a story that there’s some truth in ever lie. Sam’s delusion and paranoia are constructing this fictional realm of mystery and extraordinary circumstances to cope with the real ills and woes of society, of a meandering existence.
There are a few instances where the illusion is broken such as when exploring the underground tomb,do we see him behind the diary of a grocery store. Other elements make this clear too, his methodology for discovering the location of the tent is very convenient. He perfectly had the right magazine and right prize in a cereal box to discover the location of a secret cult without having to leave his living room?
Is there a secret omnipresent illuminati overlords that have been placing secret codes in cultural touchstones with sinister intent…? Probably not. However, the music man doesn’t represent that as much as he does commercial producers. Are some of our favorite media the byproduct of disingenuous intentions of people who know how to grift and manipulate certain demographics and profit… that one’s a little harder to answer or rather accept. This scene is just a diamond mine of cynical quotes about how rotten the music, film and other “art industry” tend to be uglier than we want to believe.
“I don’t care what’s fashionable or cool. It’s all silly and it’s all meaningless. I created so many of the things that you care about. The songs that give your life purpose and joy.”
Media is such a fundamental part of our shared culture and interests, and many of the: shows, songs, and celebrities only matter because we the audience place such a significance onto them. Yet, to some in the industry it’s nothing more than a product and they don’t care about what the people want but knowing what will work. They way the song writer describes “his creation” of Nirvana’s Smell Like Teen Spirit further illustrates this.
“That song was not written on distorted guitar. No, I wrote it here on piano, somewhere between a blowjob and an omelet. There is no rebellion there’s only me earning a paycheck”
This statement is damningly nihilistic, and it stings to consider how truthful it might be. Now to be clear, I don’t think the intention is to specifically call out Nirvana but to use them to represent the point. Nirvana is known for being the voice of counterculture youth and being personally connected to its author Kurt Cobain. The point is to show how the greed infects all art and the fluctuating of songs he has created shows that no genre, medium, or time was safe from this cynical truth. The list of songs (compiled by effyonline on r/underthesilverlake) in the sequence include:
Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne)
Jump (Van Halen)
I Want It That Way (Backstreet Boys)
Cheers TV Theme Song
I Want to Know What Love Is (Foreigner)
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly)
Earth Angel (Marvin Berry)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
Push It (Salt-N-Pepa)
I Love Rock n Roll (Joan Jett)
Where Is My Mind (Pixies)
Ode to Joy (Beethoven)
Axel F (Harold Faltermeyer) aka Beverly Hills Cop theme
La Bamba (Richie Valens)
Pinball Wizard (The Who, but it sounds like Elton John’s version with piano)
The one that clearly indicates that this is a dramatized or well fictional portray is the inclusion of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. It’s not truly the work of one man, but the problem of insincerity in the art is as old as music itself.
Finally, we get a glimpse of what seems like a statement directed towards Sam as well as the audience:
“Everything that you hoped for, dreamed about being a part of, is a fabrication. Your art, your writing your culture is the shell of other men’s ambitions. Ambitions beyond what you will ever understand”
It seems very likely Sam ended up in LA, following some dream but failed to match the ambitions of the men who actually achieved it. Sam is shown to be a failure, moments away from the homeless folk he sneers at… he stinks of failure and he has no where to go but down the rabbit hole of trying to find self-importance in unravelling twisted truths that don’t exist and even if they did… what can he truly do about them.
The Dog Killer (Heavy Spoiler Section)
If missing people, global conspiracies, and the unexplained are not enough surreal mystery to partake in then there is also the issue of The Dog Killer lurking in the shadows. There’s a lot of wild directions this plot point can be taken it’s the omnipresent force throughout the narrative, subtlety and persistently looming like the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg over this version of Los Angeles. There are a lot of interesting ways to interpret the Dog Killer, Dog is an anagram for God and that with a twisted perspective of women might draw a “bitch” connection.
Clicking on the Reddit link here, you can see all the convincing evidence that appears to point towards Sam being The Dog Killer. Given that this film follows an unreliable narrator, and an unreliable universe so it wonders what is the truth?
There’s a mountain of evidence, coincidences, and strange happens that all seem to point to Sam being the Dog Killer and that’s what most people seem to believe…. But I’m quite skeptical. Sam has violent outbursts, a perceived vendetta against dogs, has a misogynistic outlook on women… so why would I feel that he may be more innocent than you might believe he is? The film is illustrating how Sam’s reality is a warped by his obsessions, paranoia, and delusions… what if instead of being in denial of his killings, he’s actually is deliriously accepting of it.
I believe Sam might be someone giving a “false confession” which is a often occurrence in criminal justice. I believe Sam’s final confrontation with the Trash King is representative of Sam’s interrogation over the killings or how he perceives such an integration would go. The Innocent Project that hopes to aid those who give self-incriminating confessions and police force on how this issue could be combated; they list the following as factors that may cause one to commit a false confession.
- Compromised reasoning ability of the suspect, due to exhaustion, stress, hunger, substance use, and, in some cases, mental limitations, or limited education.
- Devious interrogation techniques, such as untrue statements about the presence of incriminating evidence
Putting these in the film’s context, Sam has been all of the above; abusing the edible and jumping around town in an exhausting effort to unravel the mysteries around him. Then in the scene where he is interrogated by the Trash King, the smoking gun of the case is that Sam carries Dog biscuits in his pocket. Sam gives us a mentally unsound explanation as to why he has that… but not something I would entirely dismiss. Notice how it’s the Trash King pressing him to admit the connection, instilling in him that the only plausible answer is for Sam to be the Dog Killer.
The Dog Killer also has a strange existence as being a fictional character within the works of the comic “Under the Silver Lake” therefore, it’s hard to know if there is an actual Dog Killer or if it is just a heinous urban legend. At the very least, I feel most will agree that the Dog Killer throughout the film is for Sam and the audience both to question just how sinister our protagonist could be underneath the surface.
I fricking love this movie, please go watch it. It’s bizarre, thought-provoking and is such an interesting deep dive into a sub-culture that usually isn’t explored. David Robert Mitchell follows up It Follows with another film that is painting him as a director who feels so much in tune with millennial contemporary and twisting our current times and using film-making to create nightmarish trips. It reminds me a lot of Blow Up (1966) in that you got to worry less about story, character, and congruity and just let your self get sweep up in an off-kilter journey that you can’t find anywhere else.