By Catherine Falalis
The music clip for singer Rihanna’s song titled Russian Roulette, received negative responses from critics for being ‘too dark’. The clip which was released on October 26, 2009, was a change from Rihanna’s usual lighter toned music clips, known for being full of colour, carefree scenes and sexually explicit images. The soundtrack underscores dark videography within this music clip, but the unnerving tone created by these scenes is exactly what makes this video a refreshing change for the singer.
THE LIGHTER SIDE OF DARK IMAGERY
Stylistically, dark and earthy tones consisting of greys, blacks and browns encapsulate the screen. From the padded grey gas chamber, to the small, dimly lit brown room in which she and her ‘lover’ play Russian roulette with a gun as they contemplate suicide. The scene in which Rihanna stands in the middle of the road as a car accelerates rapidly towards her also takes place at night, allowing for a very dark mise-en-scene barely lit by street lamps. The only time the audience sees any vibrancy of colour is in the form of red gas and blood.
All these elements of style within the mise-en-scene and the selective choice in colour set the mood throughout the entirety of the clip. Due to the predominance of dark colour, the audience is in a sense ‘left in the dark’ about what the characters are going to do. Will they pull the trigger? Will she escape the gas chamber? Will she be run down by the speeding car? Lighting resembling a strobe light is the only thing which offers the audience a glimpse into the answers to these questions. But as everyone who has been to a party or club knows, the strobe only offers a limited timing worth of visual aid, usually only a second before it turns off, again leaving you left in the dark. All these elements work together to provide not only an interesting complexity within the clip, but also create an unnerving feeling, similar to that of many good thriller or horror films. The audience can only assume what happens next because they are never shown the full picture.
THE DARKER SIDE OF LIFE – THEMES
The video clip should also be commended for not shying away from realistic themes which many turn a blind eye to because of their dark nature. While Rihanna has openly stated that she does not want to be a role model, the clip does offer some valuable elements to take away.
Firstly, an overwhelming sense of vulnerability within this clip is depicted by the male dominated force thrust upon her in the gas chamber scenes. Given the clip was released after her abusive relationship with singer Chris Brown had ended, one can assume that elements of the song relate to this tumultuous relationship. Sometimes, women can feel entrapped within their abusive relationships, almost suffocating not knowing a way out, just as Rihanna feels within the realms of the gas chamber. Other scenes show her drowning and being shot, again, there seems to be no escape. This feeling of vulnerability and feeling of entrapment will be relatable to many women in a domestically abusive situation. Although unnerving, it’s worth drawing attention to so others know that they’re not alone.
The music clip also depicts suicide as Rihanna’s lover pulls the trigger, ending this game of Russian roulette and ending the song. In a world of searching for an escape route from life’s difficulties, whether it be an abusive relationship or other matters, many turn to suicide as a way out. A very difficult topic for many to think about, but it’s a reality some people face. The clip is not crafted in a way to glamorise suicide but to instead create an unsettling atmosphere for the audience to watch. Ending with this scene also allows for the issue to stick in the audience’s mind after having watched the video clip.
What the critics who negatively critiqued this clip failed to note was that it was constructed in such a way of stylistic and visual complexity that while it is dark and unsettling, it’s exactly what Rihanna was aiming to do in order to convey difficult themes. Therefore I believe the clip achieved doing so at a high level of competency.