Kanye West's film, Runaway, is 35 minutes of lurid fantasy, complete with a model covered in feathers, a giant papier-maché bust of Michael Jackson, tutu-clad ballet dancers and an inter-species sex scene. What does it all mean? We have answers.
The film begins with Kanye running through the dark woods. When interpreting dreams, woods or forests are symbols of the unknown, the unconscious. Shit is about to get deep!
But soon, instead of Kanye running, we see a car driving through the same woods. The sky burns with orange.
Forest creatures are innocent bystanders to the drama.
There's a flash of fire, the car stops…
…And there's a creature in the road. Later we will learn that she is a phoenix. But women are often associated with avian qualities. Wearing feathers — a boa, marabou slippers, a fascinator or other plumage — is associated with being "coquettish," or flirty. Coquette, of course, comes from the French coq; which means chicken. Just like young women are called chicks — birds in the UK. These of course are positive connotations, negative bird/woman ideas — like the harpy or a women who "hen pecks" her man — also exist.
Anyway: Kanye "saves" the creature. Takes the Phoenix home.
The lady on the news talks about a comet that has caused forest fires. Kanye warns the Phoenix not to pay attention "to anything you see in the news." At this point, we must consider that the Phoenix is Kanye's alter ego. His creative life force. It burns, brightly, but also destroys.
(As a Gemini, Kanye is obsessed with doubles, duality, partnerships and coupling.)
The Phoenix has a child-like fascination with the world, and the simple wonders of nature. Just as artists paint landscapes and take photographs of wildlife, the Phoenix seems to recognize how delicate and awe-inspiring the planet is. A planet which it would be easy for her to singe. Kanye fits into this scenario quite well, since he has a certain clumsy love for society, often attempting to do good as he does damage — think praising Beyoncé while interrupting Taylor Swift.
The Phoenix likes beats, which makes sense, because Kanye likes beats. The beats make the Phoenix move, and since we know that the Phoenix is Kanye's creative force — his spirit animal, his muse — of course he wants to make beats to keep the Phoenix happy.
Kanye takes the Phoenix to see fireworks.
This is fire, but controlled, man made. The Phoenix is mesmerized. Drawn to fire, of course, because that's her lifeforce. But also seeing it from a different vantage point, perhaps for the first time.
This celebration, which features a glowing head of Michael Jackson — lead by a marching band and flanked by a black angel and a white angel — made my brain hurt, so let's move on. (But yes, MJ was villified and idolized. And: It doesn't matter if you're black or white.)
Back at the house, Kanye tries to teach the Phoenix how to sip from a gilt cup. Yeezy recently Tweeted about using an ornate bowl "to eat cereal out of." It's as though he is trying to refine and civilize the Phoenix — and since she represents his inner muse, he is really trying to refine and civilize the burning artistic passion inside himself. Also, he likes expensive-looking "King ish."
Kanye takes his Phoenix to a dinner party. He's bringing his creative force out in public. Exposing the recently-tamed side of himself.
Folks are all, OH SHIZNIT.
But Kanye's excited! Also, he probably had a conversation that went like this: "Yo, you know when you watch an old movie and they always have these big-ass dinner parties, and the only black people are the ones serving? Imma do that shit, where it's all black people eating and the only white people are the ones working the damn thing. For real."
"Your girlfriend is really beautiful. Do you know she's a bird?"
"No I never noticed that."
C. Mind your own fucking business about my birdgirlfriend, SHE IS ME and I am she and it doesn't matter how or why she is different. I am exposing my soul to you and you are pointing and staring instead of loving me. I often confuse love with attention, I seek attention when what I really want is love, and since I never knew my father very well and my mother is dead I need it more than ever. But I'm learning to look inside myself instead of outside and IT'S A PROCESS.
Musical interlude! Kanye goes to the piano and begins "Runaway." With lyrics like "I always find something wrong/I'm so gifted at finding what I don't like the most," it is a song that pulsates with sadness. Every plink of the piano key is like a tear falling, like a broken heart struggling to beat.
When there are 100 tiles on a ceiling — 99 square, perfect tiles and one water-stained tile — all most people can do is focus on the ruined tile. The negative draws us in, even when the positive outweighs the negative. Often, just recognizing this is half the battle. Kanye is owning his douchebaggery while pointing out that we've all been there.
Additionally, this part of the film is really beautifully shot. The choreography by Yemi Akinyemi is stunning, the music is spare, and the vibe is meditative. Notice that the Phoenix takes a backseat here: Kanye is the vessel through which the creativity is exhibited.
After the performance, dinner is served.
Serving bird to a bird? Party
The Phoenix's screams scare all the other guests away. How can Kanye keep his Phoenix — his creative self — under control, without offending people? Taylor Swift, for instance?
After the dinner party debacle, the Phoenix finds solace in nature — much like Kanye spent time in Hawaii after the Taylor Swift drama.
Kanye and the Phoenix talk about statues; she claims that they are Phoenixes that have turned to stone. In other words: If you don't let your creative fire burn brightly, you're dead inside.
"I have to burn," she says. Having a gift that's also a curse is a really classic character flaw. A phoenix can't reproduce without burning to death. Icarus flew too close to the sun, Edward Scissorhands couldn't hold his girlfriend, etc. Kanye's still navigating, finding the balance between self-expression and assholery.
Sex break! Kanye being straddled by the Phoenix is his new album cover. You may ask: If the Phoenix represents Kanye's creativity, then isn't he just fucking himself? The answer is yes! Creativity is masturbatory, after all.
As is often the case when you fuck someone from out of town, Kanye wakes up alone.
Guess who has to do what comes naturally and can't be someone she's not?
In the words of Information Society, Kanye is running so hard to find her, running so fast.
…And we're back where we started.
The lyrics here speak to some of the ironies and the duality that the film touched upon:
you're my devil you're my angel
you're my heaven you're my hell
you're my now you're my forever
you're my freedom you're my jail
you're my lies you're my truth
Obviously, Kanye is grappling with opposing concepts, taking the black and white and finding gray areas. As an amateur armchair psychologist an former film student, I think his work exhibits quite a bit of sadness, which makes sense, following the year he spent being a punchline after losing his mother. The ideas he's exploring — feeding and nurturing your creativity and expressing yourself without harming yourself or others — is one many artists have tackled. But he's done it in a lush, visually stimulating way that simultaneously promotes his album.
As far as hip-hop videos go, "Runaway" may not be as fun as "Teach Me How To Dougie," but you have to admire Kanye for creating this film. Some may call it egocentric, but the truth is, he took a risk. Rising phoenix-like from the ashes, he tapped the visual artist Vanessa Beecroft (whose work often deals with identity), did some soul-searching, and still remains a commercial pop star who can move product. Runaway may not be Purple Rain or Thriller, but it's a solid effort. And you know, IT'S A PROCESS.
Here's the full "clean" version of the film; you can see the "dirty" one (wihout "asshole" being bleeped out) here.