David Bowie and the Indestructible Metaphors of Mirror Scenes

A video essay examines our most private moments.

Strap on your thinking caps for this one, film fans, because it’s a doozy.

According to director Nicolas Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don’t Look Now, The Witches), mirrors are cinema in all its glory and in fact the essence of the medium. See, mirrors are the only time we truly look at ourselves; photographs of us are from other perspectives, for other people or posterity, and as such we don’t show our real faces in them, we show projections of who we think we should be or how we think we should feel in a certain situation. But the mirror isn’t public, it’s private, it is us alone with ourselves and thus the way we look into mirrors, into ourselves, is different from every other face we show the world.

The mirror is an eye, Roeg argues, one that never blinks and never stops seeing. Mirrors are inescapable like that, they will always show the truth no matter what lies you set before them. Mirrors see all, including the things we keep below the surface but cannot hide from our expressions. In this sense, the mirror is like a kind of god. It’s also like a movie camera in that besides visible reality it also captures the condition of being human, of living in a world where a person can be constantly surrounded by watching eyes, but also constantly alone.

This is just a vague intro to Roeg’s thoughts and the practical, narrative, and emotional connotations and implications of mirrors in cinema. For a more thorough and erudite explanation, I present you with “Death at Work,” a video essay from VoorDeFilm that collects scores of mirror scenes and categories them in one of four ways: as self-reflective, as a device for exposure, as a gateway to the unknown, or as a reflection of the soul. As if all this wasn’t heady enough, there’s the added bonus of David Bowie as the common factor between them all.

Now, before you press play, a couple of warnings. First off, people often get naked in front of mirrors, so this video is definitely NSFW. Secondly, mirrors also spoil, so if you haven’t seen, say, the end of Twin Peaks or The Man Who Fell to Earth, you might want to skip this one. Otherwise, highest recommendations here.

Films:

David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
The Lady From Shanghai (1947)
Eureka (1983)
The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
Performance (1970)
Track 29 (1988)
Bad Timing (1980)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Walkabout (1971)
Duck Soup (1933)
American Psycho (2000)
Frankie And Alice (2010)
Happy Days (1974–1984)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Taxi Driver (1976)
La Haine (1995)
The 25th Hour (2002)
Raging Bull (1980)
Under The Skin (2013)
Op Afbetaling (1992)
Die film met het badkamerspiegeltje
An American Werewolf In London (1981)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Twin Peaks (S02E08)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Alice Through The Looking Glass (1988)
Dead of Night (1945)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Triangle (2009)
Sucker Punch (2011)
Orpheus (1950)
Blood of a Poet (1932)
The Fly (1986)
Black Swan (2010)
Nymphomaniac (2013)
The Shining (1980)
Carrie (1976)
Over Canto (2011)
Dracula (1931)
The Mirror/Zerkalo (1975)
David Bowie – Lazarus (2016)
David Bowie – Look Back in Anger (1978)
David Bowie — Loving the Alien (1984)
David Bowie – Thursday’s Child (1999)
David Bowie – Boys Keep Swinging (1978)
David Bowie – Miracle Goodnight (1992)
The Hunger (1980)
David Bowie – Pierrot in Turquoise (1967)