Agnus Dei: Marc Webb’s Lamb (Part 1)
Marc Webb, director of the upcoming Spiderman relaunch, The Amazing Spiderman and the romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, is also a prolific music video director. He has directed music videos in a wide array of musical genres, with groups and artists such as, A.F.I., Pussycat Dolls, Weezer, Ashley Simpson and Switchfoot. In at least three of his music videos he has incorporated a signature stamp, an image of a lamb. The lamb functions not only as an identifier that Marc Webb directed the music video but acts as a symbol, which only appears at pivotal moments in the storyline in each of the three videos. In this three part series we will explore what the lamb symbolizes in each of the music videos and if there any kernels of truth that can be seen in this presentation of the lamb symbol as it relates to the true lamb, Jesus.
The Saving Lamb: Brand New’s Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades
The post-hardcore band Brand New frequently uses Christian symbols and imagery in their music. For instance, the title of their third studio album is “The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me” and contains songs with titles that are clear references to Christianity such as Jesus Christ, Sowing Season and Millstone. However, as seen in the lyrics to Jesus Christ below, Christian imagery is used to voice the singer’s inner struggles:
Well, Jesus Christ, I’m alone again
So what did you do those three days you were dead?
’cause this problem’s gonna last more than the weekend…
I know you think that I’m someone you can trust
But I’m scared I’ll get scared and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up…
I know you’re coming for the people like me
But we all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we sleep inside of this machine
With Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades, the title of the song is another reference to Christianity, containing a portion of the Latin phrase that was once used for the coronation of a new Pope in the Catholic Church, “Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi!” (Holy Father, so passes worldly glory!) Additionally, one line in the lyrics of the song echoes Isaiah 53:7 (part of the suffering servant passage in Isaiah 52 and 53 about the coming messiah, Jesus), “He is the lamb, she is the slaughter.” Interestingly, this was the first Marc Webb music video to contain the image of the lamb so it could be possible that Webb was inspired to include the lamb symbol in the video because of this particular line.
The music video opens with the lead singer running away from something but the viewers are never given any idea of who he is running from. He stops as he encounters a door with a lamb on it and with a slight bit of hesitation he opens the door and enters the building. The lamb symbol provides the singer a way to escape but it is not without cost and he knows it. In a similar fashion, when a person chooses to follow Jesus it costs something and that something is the person’s life. Jesus states this in Luke 9:23-26 and Paul also states, when you follow Jesus you are baptized into his death, yet raised to life like he was (Romans 6:3-4).
After the singer takes a quick look around in what looks like a bar he sings the line, “This is so messed up,” an indication that he is second guessing his decision to walk through the door. The camera then focuses the viewer’s attention to the sign on the back of the door stating, “Watch Your Step,” and as the singer passes by a mirror, his reflection is shown in a droste effect (think of a hall of mirrors). Both of these images give the viewers a visual foreshadowing of the strange events that will occur in the rest of the video. As he sits at the bar the singer realizes that every person at the bar is mimicking his every action and out of frustration he screams the line, “It used to be the reason I breathed but now it’s choking me up. Die young and save yourself.” Here he realizes that the lamb he encountered on the front door is not going save him in the way he wanted and chooses instead to take control of this situation to save himself.
In the same way, following Jesus is often perceived as being difficult compared to relying on a person’s own ability to save themselves in any given situation. This is what was occurring when the author of the book of Hebrews addressed his recipients (Jewish Christians) about going back to the rites and rituals of the Jewish faith, instead of relying fully on the gospel of Jesus. In Hebrew 4:14-16 it states:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The singer now tests out on his new found power of controlling people like puppets to see how he can use it to escape. He begins simply with tapping his foot, then knocking over a glass of ice tea, then reaching out his hand towards a woman’s lips (who oddly enough he does not have the power to control) and lastly, he turns over a table screaming once again, “It used to be the reason I breathed but now it’s choking me up. Die young and save yourself.” Lastly, he bangs on the wall in frustration but as he turns around he cracks a smile as he sees a woman.
Upon approaching the woman, the viewers see that her shirt contains the same image of a lamb, which was on the door of the bar. The singer sees this woman as his way out of this alternate reality, thinking that the image that brought him in can also provided him with the means of escape. He reaches out towards her but unlike the woman earlier in the video, he has control of the woman with the lamb shirt. He is confused by this at first but instead of continuing to reach out to her so that he can escape; he takes advantage of the situation and starts to undress her. Immediately, his hand is pulled back, he loses control over the woman and now he is the one who is the puppet. As he is forcibly turned around he sees a man whose face is obscured in the shadows. This shadowy figure lifts the singer’s hand and draws a single finger across his throat, indicating the death of the singer. A grim end to a highly symbolic music video.
Here we have a picture of what occurs when a person defiles the lamb (Jesus), they are handed over to the shadowy figure (Satan), however, in the biblical portrait this occurs to bring a person back to the gospel. We can see this handing over to Satan most notably in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, where two men are “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” And what are these two men blaspheming? That Jesus did not come to save sinners, which is similar to the singer’s belief that the lamb was not enough to save him. Jesus is not only enough to save a person but he is also enough to transform a person, as we will see in Part II of our discussion with Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue music video next week.