Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” : A Complete Analysis
by Bret Urick
When the Tigers Broke Free, part 1
(singer: Roger Waters)
It was just before dawn one miserable
Morning in black 'forty four.
When the forward commander was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn.
And the Generals gave thanks as the other ranks
Held back the enemy tanks for a while.
And the Anzio bridgehead was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives.
Before I get to the first part of “Tigers,” I’d like to address the non-Floyd song vaguely heard in the background of the movie’s opening section. It’s called “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot,” by Vera Lynn (see “Vera” later in this analysis). The lyrics are as follows: "Christmas comes but once a year for every girl and boy/ The laughter and the joy/ They find in each new toy./ I tell you of the little boy who lives across the way/ This fella's Christmas is just another day..." At this point, the vacuum cleaner whirs into electric life and “When the Tigers Broke Free, Part 1” begins. After the song ends and we get that wonderful close-up of the Mickey Mouse watch, Vera’s song continues with : "He's the little boy that Santa Claus forgot/ And goodness knows, he didn't want a lot./ He sent a note to Santa, what he wanted was a drum/ This broken little heart when he woke and he hadn't come/ In the streets, yes he..." Once again, the vacuum drowns out the song. From the outset, Waters sets up a few brilliant parallels that will recur throughout the movie (and album). The very title of Vera’s song, “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot,” is steeped with ideas of anticipation and disappointment, of longing for something and being (seemingly) overlooked. The connections with Pink are fairly obvious when viewing Vera’s song in this light of hollow expectations. Maybe the little boy of Vera’s song received nothing because Santa does not exist in reality. I know this seems a bit oversimplified, but perhaps the point is that placing your faith and hope in the unseen and the unreal is as futile as, say, expecting to be born into a loving world, a stable country, and a loving family complete with two parents. Further into the song (a part not played during the movie), Vera sings: “I'm so sorry for that laddie, / He hasn't got a daddy, / The little boy that Santa Claus forgot.” Yet another reason as to why the boy wasn’t visited by Santa Claus: he has no father figure to take on the role of the gift-giver. As a result of this lack of a paternal head in his family, the child is thus alienated from society, from those who at that very moment are enjoying Christmas with both their mothers and fathers. It is an ominous prologue Pink’s story of failed expectations and all-consuming alienation.
If anything, “The Wall” is a postmodern requiem for both former and present times, lamenting the pass of a pre-war era that will never be again while grieving the state of the post-World War II world. Correspondingly, Vera’s song becomes less a charming song about a down-on-his-luck kid and more a dirge concerning the uncertainties of life during and after the War. In a sense, her message is the very first message one would learn in a highly fragmented, postmodern world: there is no certainty. Accordingly, Pink’s life is bookmarked by post-war fragmentation and uncertainty, both literally and symbolically. The artistic “first chapter” of Pink’s life (i.e. the opening of the movie) is Vera’s song about the futility of hope while the real “first chapter” finds Pink fatherless. Even more interesting is the vacuum cleaner that interrupts Vera’s song in order to segue into “When the Tigers Broke Free, Part 1.” The vacuum is both the object that obstructs Pinks thoughts in the present as well as the physical embodiment of the void around which Pink’s entire life is based. Therefore it is only fitting that Waters, known for his fascination with cycles (as evidenced throughout most, if not all, of Pink Floyd’s albums), leads us from Pink/the-little-boy-that-Santa-Claus-Forgot to the vacuum/void before taking us to the main root of this abyss…the absent father.
“When the Tigers Broke Free” is perhaps one of my favorite songs from “the Wall” movie simply for its astounding emotional depth. Although it is one of my favorite songs in the movie, I can see why it wasn’t included on the album: it’s too straightforward. (On the DVD commentary, Waters says that “Tigers” was written specifically for the movie, although he later says that it was a song that was just lying around. Could be that it was a fragment during the album’s recording but wasn’t polished until the movie was in production.) The album “The Wall” is beautiful and compelling in the very fact that it is so hazy and cryptic. Rarely is there a song with straightforward narrative chronicling one incident at one point in time with such a clear and concise point of view. But that’s what we get with “When the Tigers Broke Free,” a rare and extremely raw portrait (at least in terms of “the Wall”) of personal loss more in tune with the songs from the follow-up (and quasi-sequel) album “the Final Cut: a Requiem for the Post-War Dream.” Yet even this is fitting for the album’s beginning as a sort of parallel to the beginning of Pink’s life. Pink doesn’t start building his wall until after he is born and, even then, after he comes to certain key realizations. Therefore it is fitting that Waters uses “Tigers” during Pink’s symbolically pre-birth state (with his birth taking place during “In the Flesh?”), a time when there are no bricks and therefore no wall; a quiescent time when emotion is just that, raw and unfiltered. While the narrative voice is grown up and reflective and, in this first part, almost detached, like a historian recounting events of the past, it is still very prenatal both in terms of chronology and narrative action. Chronologically speaking, the events recounted are, as previously noted, events of the past taking place before or just after the narrator’s birth, thus accounting for the semi-detached tone of the first half of the song. In terms of the album’s story, the song acts as a kind of prelude to Pink’s own story, with Pink still lethargic in his hotel room/womb until his metaphorical birth into narrative action with “In the Flesh?”
The tone of the first part of “Tigers” is very detached and observational, only hinting at the more personal voice that breaks out in the second part of the song later in the movie with certain colored (and therefore subjective) adjectives such as “miserable,” “black,” and “ordinary.” As previously noted, the song is very straightforward and calm in comparison to the rest of the album, lacking the more dense metaphorical imagery of subsequent songs. As such, the actual song lyrics need little explanation in terms of narrative and symbolism: the action takes place in a trench at the frontline of the Anzio bridgehead in 1944. Waters comments on “the Wall” DVD commentary that his father, who served as the model for Pink’s own dad, was 2nd Lieutenant of the 8th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers Company C. The company held the frontline in February 1944 when the Germans launched a counterattack against the Allies in an attempt to drive them back to the sea. The fate of the men is still undetermined at this point in the film / album as is that of the still unborn Pink. Yet history (and Waters) reveals that the Royal Fusiliers Company C was completely destroyed by the counterattack, taking a “few hundred ordinary lives,” among which was Roger / Pink’s father.
One of the most interesting things to me, cinematically, at this point is the plethora of extreme close-ups during “the Little Boy that Santa Clause Forgot” and “When the Tigers Broke Free, Part 1.” The movie opens with a gorgeous long shot of the hotel hallway, very ghostlike and almost sterile in its absolute barren whiteness. The shot also is evocative of the birth canal leading to the womb/room that Pink currently occupies. Yet from here, the viewer is treated to one close-up after another, from Pink’s father lighting his lantern with Lions matches (perhaps suggesting the noble cause and hearts of the Allied forces) to Pink in his hotel room with a cigarette burned down to his fingers. Every scratch on the glass of Pink’s Mickey Mouse watch is visible (the watch serving as a reminder of the childhood he never had) as is every hair on his arm. The effect is both intimate and unnerving; we feel a certain closeness with Pink’s father as he lights his lantern and a cigarette, utterly alone in a womb of darkness as sounds of bombs and guns fire sporadically all around him; yet at the same time, we feel a paranoid sense of scrutiny as the camera details every pore and hair of Pink’s arm. In an instant we become both the rabid media / fans obsessively observing every facet of Pink’s being as well as Pink himself under the world’s microscopic eye as a result of his fame.
Another shot which has many fans guessing is the transition between Pink’s father and Pink in which a young boy (presumably Pink) runs across an open rugby field with only a goal post breaking the horizon. I’ve received many e-mails specifically addressing this one shot alone, a few even speculating that the goalpost, resembling the letter H, foreshadows Pink’s drug addiction, particularly heroin. While this is quite possible, I believe that the shot is used to set up the contrast between Pink’s psychological stages at many points during his story. The young child running across a playing field as well as the quick cut to the Mickey Mouse watch both denote a certain childlike innocence that Pink seems to keep trying to revisit throughout the narrative. The field is open and limitless save for the goal posts, alluding to the infinite possibilities of life before birth and during childhood. Yet as every scratch and blemish on Pink’s watch shows, one’s past childhood is etched and unattainable, especially for Pink whose innocence was marred far too early by the loss of his father. Like the watch, Pink’s mental landscape is quite different in later, parallel scenes when the older Pink sits in a chair watching television surrounded by a hostile, barbed landscape. Even the childlike innocence of the child on the rugby field is underscored by his very solitude. He is the only visibly living being in the landscape. Viewed in this light, the scene might not only foreshadow Pink’s drug dependence but also his alienation as a child as the result of losing his father in the war. As such, the sequence creates both a visual and thematic chain of events, starting with Pink’s father engulfed by the darkness of war leading to Pink’s pre and after-birth isolation eventually spawning the drugged-out, unresponsive man who is so mentally fragmented that he doesn’t even notice that his cigarette has burned down to his fingers let alone the maid’s knock at his door.
Interestingly, the conclusion of the calm, pre-album sequences (those cinematic events that take place before the album-proper begins) focuses on both the chain on Pink’s door as well as the locked doors preventing the concert-goers from entering the stadium. The chains which held Pink together to this point are about to burst, not only allowing for Pink’s conception and birth on the chronological plane of the story but also for the release of the very emotions and memories against which Pink is building his wall.
In the Flesh?
(album: Roger Waters, movie: Bob Geldof)
So ya, thought ya
Might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion,
That space cadet glow.
Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine?
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes
You'll just have to claw your way through this disguise.
Roll the sound effects.
Drop it on 'em!!!
DROP IT ON 'EM!!!
Unlike the movie’s rather calm introduction into Pink’s life, the album begins with as much roaring lightning and thunder as the “Let there be light” of Genesis. The pounding guitars, monstrous organ, and heavy bass and drums automatically inundate the listener with an abundance of aural spectacle, propelling the audience into the story without a preparatory breath…or so one might think. Actually, those with attentive ears will notice a little prelude to the musical story in the form of background music and a quick, nearly imperceptible voice. The music is from the ending of “Outside the Wall,” the last song on the album and the spoken message is “…we came in?” Now if you crank up your speakers and listen to the ending of “Outside the Wall” you’ll hear, at the VERY end, “Isn’t this where…” If you were to set your CD player to automatically start the first disc at the end of the second one, you’d hear the continuous, uninterrupted music of “Outside the Wall” with “Isn’t this where we came in?” Why the disjointed message? Put simply, it introduces us to Roger Waters’ fascination with cycles. The story of “The Wall” is not limited to the war babies, those who grew up feeling the first-hand effects of World War II. The story is universal, portraying the (possible) lives of anyone who has lost a loved one, whether they are like Waters who lost his father in the war or any number of countless people whose parents, caretakers, or loved ones are absent from a great portion of their lives. No matter what era we are viewing or experiencing, we will always “come in” to the story of one person whose life is affected by the loss of another. The story is cyclical, spanning every generation since the beginning of civilization; the music is never-ending. Once one man’s story ends, the next one begins. When Pink’s wall comes down, the children in “Outside the Wall” collect the bricks, perhaps building their own walls and thus restarting the cycle with “In the Flesh?” In fact, as is the case with Pink, the very moment of conception is often the moment the cycle begins.
Just as the cycle begins with Pink’s conception, his father having already left and died when Pink was born (George Roger Waters was born September 6, 1944, nearly seven months after his father’s death that previous February), the album begins with two birthing transitions on two narrative planes: the conception and birth of young Pink in 1944 and the current, rock-star Pink’s transition into the Wall’s completion and his subsequent final descent into insanity in the present. Young Pink’s conception isn’t so much as portrayed as implied in the movie and album. From the very first time I watched the movie, the procreative process immediately sprang to mind upon the opening sequence of the song. The countless young concert-goers bursting through the doors and encountering obstacles like the police before reaching their destination, the coveted inner room of the concert house, perfectly parallels procreative sperm obstructed by the body’s natural defenses. The title itself suggest conception as well with the question mark after “In the Flesh?” suggesting that a physical body has not been formed yet, that there is still potential either way towards birth or miscarriage. Accordingly, the lyrics can be read as instructions for a child who has not yet entered life, although the speaker is quite uncertain by this reading. Whether the speaker is God, the parents, or Life itself, the message automatically sets up the theme of expectation and disappointment. The unborn child wanting to “go to the show,” a metaphor for life, expecting to feel the warmth of love and acceptance from the world will most certainly be disappointed when that expected love eludes him, replaced by a world teeming with “cold eyes” and “disguise(s).” Although the song doesn’t introduce the idea of the Wall, it does prepare the child/listener for a world of disguises that can only be torn down by “claw[ing],” implying that violence rather than love is necessary in order to get along in life. This violence is further cemented by the ensuing images of the concert-goers being beaten by the police cross cut with grisly images of war. After giving the instructions, Pink’s birth is arranged as the Speaker yells for “lights,” “sound effects,” and “action,” further equating “the show” with life, much like Shakespeare’s Macbeth comparing life to a play and every person an actor on the stage: “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.” (Act 5, scene 5) The final “Drop it on ‘em!” and the airplane dropping a bomb introduces Pink’s birth as well as his first brick, the death of his father.
The second and more obvious plane of narrative is Pink’s concert taking place in the present. As you will notice in the film, Pink’s eyebrows have already been shaved, an event that doesn’t take place until the second half of the album/movie. This technique of starting the story in media res or “in the middle of things” is a characteristic of most traditional epic works such as Homer’s Odyssey and Vergil’s Aeneid. By design, starting the narrative in the middle of the story immediately grabs the audience’s attention, forcing them to accept the current situation while waiting for the exposition to be revealed in flashbacks. Such flashbacks not only set up the present story but also offer a sort of chiaroscuro between the character as he was and what he is. “The Wall” offers an interesting beginning in that the story-proper (the album’s beginning and the “beginning” of Pink’s story in the movie) starts in media res, but more towards the end rather than the true middle of the story. The first few songs introduce us to Pink as a child as well as Pink as a famous and equally alienated rock-star, but “In the Flesh?” shows us Pink further in the future, after his wall is complete. Consequently, the audience is getting three different versions of Pink almost simultaneously: the way he was (Pink as a child), the way he is (isolated Pink whose Wall is almost complete), and the way he will be (dictatorial, delusional Pink completely shut off from the world). By starting “in the middle of things,” we can see just how far Pink has come from his innocent birth, making us all the more eager to find out why he is that way, to witness his development from “Baby Blue” to “Comfortably Numb” as revealed in flashbacks.
Interestingly, all of the original ideas and emotions that spawned the original concept of “the Wall” are buried within “In the Flesh?” The song title itself is taken from the 1977 tour entitled “Pink Floyd in the Flesh” which promoted their “Animals” album. On the DVD commentary, Waters comments that the police and riot scenes are inspired by true events which took place on that tour, most notably an incident in Los Angeles when the local police chief Davis attacked “rock and roll in general” because he was upset that there was to be a rock show in a downtown sports arena (Waters, DVD). The police apparently beat many fans, searched everyone with a ticket, and made numerous arrests, all for the sake of “order.” The original spark, though, is recreated in the images and lyrics of “In the Flesh?” when Pink, in the role of demigod, dictates a set of instructions and clues to the mindless audience. Pink’s balcony performance is reminiscent of the theatrical portrayal of gods and other supernatural entities who are often portrayed on a balcony overlooking the action of a play, both observant and detached from the world. Such is the very feeling that produced the idea of “the Wall” in Roger Waters’ mind during the “In the Flesh” tour; standing on stage while the audience members either got drunk and broke out in fights with each other or starred in rapt and almost brain-washed attention at the band as if Waters and company were gods rather than men. These observances made Waters feel completely detached from his audience and the world, eventually causing him to take on the godlike persona that his audience was placing on him, resulting in the infamous “spitting” incident in which Waters spat on a fan in the front row just because he could. This idea of blind obedience lavished on a rock star is fully unleashed later in the album with the second “In the Flesh” and will be discussed in further detail there.
The juxtaposed shots of the concert-goers being brutally handled and the soldiers who appear to be roughly the same age as Pink’s audience signal a birth in the metaphorical narrative, that of the world coming out of the World War II era. Whereas the Allied soldiers fought a centralized enemy, the kids in the present must fight the world devastated by the war. The postmodern fragmentation stemming from the world’s loss of innocence caused by the war can be seen in many forms during “In the Flesh?”: the brutal force used by supposedly civil protection, the brain-washed look of the audience trained by social norms to humble themselves in front of celebrities, even the commercialization of the “Feelin’ 7-UP” billboard looming godlike over the crowd outside the venue, observational and detached. It’s a disjointed world that tries to fill the void of personal meaning with reverence for corporate products and celebrities; a postmodern world introduced by Hitler’s campaigns and the total devastation of the firmly-rooted familial and social milieu. While the world’s population increased with the baby boomer generation, humankind never regained its sense of purity and innocence, arguably corrupted with WWI and the birth of Modernism and fully shattered with the second war. Thus it is only fitting cinematically to cut from the death of Pink’s father to an English garden and little Pink in his stroller, already doomed to construct a wall.
The Thin Ice
Momma loves her baby, and daddy loves you too.
And the sea may look warm to you babe
And the sky may look blue
But ooooh babe
Ooooh baby blue
If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear-stained eyes
Don't be surprised when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet.
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice.
On the album, “the Thin Ice” begins with the wails of young Pink newly born into the world. Although “In the Flesh?” can be interpreted as both the start of Pink’s story as an adult as well as the start of Pink’s physical life, “the Thin Ice” is the first “true” flashback of the album. The song abandons the present story (Pink as an adult) and begins to acquaint the listener/viewer with the events of Pink’s early life starting with his birth. However, the song itself is not a traditional flashback (a recollection of past events) as it is an instructional lullaby of sorts sung by either Pink’s mother, Life itself, or perhaps both. While the song may first appear as a simple little tune, it is as multifaceted and both musically and lyrically schizophrenic as are most of the songs in the Floyd catalogue.
After being bombarded by the pounding music and assaulting sounds of the destructive war from “In the Flesh?,” the listener is immediately lulled by the soothing chords of “the Thin Ice’s” wispy piano and synthesizers. Gilmour’s soft, almost feminine voice in the first half further creates this feeling of peace and comfort. Whether singing as Pink’s mom or as Life, Gilmour’s maternal reminders that young Pink is loved by both mother and father instill a sense of hope in both the listener and Pink, especially after the unsettling instructions of “In the Flesh?” concerning the disguises of life. This feeling of peace is further compounded by the introduction of “Blue” into the album, an incredibly important color and symbol in the album’s first half. Psychoanalytically speaking, blue is considered to be a color of purity, innocence, and life. In dream and literary analysis, the color is often associated with the ocean and sky, both symbols of life and creation. Evolutionists purport that life arose from the oceans, an idea that sparked psychoanalysts to view the ocean and water as symbols of the maternal, of life’s origin. The blue sky is similarly procreative in that it produces the rain which creates and sustains all life on earth, once again feeding the cycle of water=creation=life. Being that blue is most often associated with the color of water, the color frequently takes on the connotations of the water symbolism. Getting back to the song, young Pink’s appellation “Baby Blue” given to him by his mother / Life reinforces his emergence into life and his natural innocence. Yet despite the seemingly straight-forward music and lyrics concerning birth and innocence, there are little disturbances in the first half of the song; these little ripples on the water’s surface, so to speak, not only foreshadow the song’s second, more acrimonious half but also the rest of Pink’s life to date. Although the inclusion of such words like “may” and “but” (“and the sea may look warm to you, babe”…”But oooh babe”) may seem casual, they nevertheless plant seeds of doubt and false-appearances that disrupt the complete peacefulness of the song’s first half. Linguistically speaking, when we as a listener hear “the sky may look blue,” we are trained to listen for a “but” to finish the concession, something that negates the previous statement as in “The sky may look blue but it’s actually purple” (or something of that nature :-) ). The “but” that continues the concession does come but the rest of the phrase is cut off with the maternal address of “oooh Baby Blue,” as if the speaker is hesitant to continue, allowing the caustic voice of the second half of the song to fill in the missing gaps.
Roger Waters launches into the second half of the song with all the sarcasm of one jaded by life. This masochistic Life-voice (I happen to think that this is Life and/or Experience addressing Pink at this point) does not bother with word play but rather dives (excuse the pun) straight into the insignificance and treachery of “modern life.” Although the symbolism of the second half borrows from that of the first, the symbols negate or possibly redefine the previous connotations of “blue” and water. As previously mentioned, the symbol of water often carries implications of life, innocence, and creation. However, changing the form of water or even the way it’s presented drastically changes its meaning. It is a symbol of both procreation and destruction in that the very thing that gives you life can also take that life away. The rain that causes plants to grow can wipe out a mass of living things through one massive flood. The water that gives man life can drown him. The maternal waters that foster a new life can change, freeze over, and abort or abandon the life it has just created. Such is the life into which Pink enters. What he thought to be a warm, nurturing ocean turned out to be cold and sterile; the loving mother and the embracing life have become frozen and unyielding. The “sea may look warm” but it is, in all actuality, a layer of thin ice covering a frigid, aqueous landscape.
According to psychoanalytic theory, water symbolism also connotes ideas of the self. While water is often a symbol of a person’s mind, images of deep, unfathomable water are frequently connected with the unconscious mind, the part of the psyche that houses the majority of a person’s most basic and unrealized self. In this sense, a person’s mind has been compared to an iceberg: he is conscious of the 1/8th of his persona that juts out from the water and oblivious to the 7/8th of his personality’s submerged base. Accordingly, the upper part of Pink’s psyche is frozen over with thin ice, illustrating (or perhaps foreshadowing) the rigid and unemotional person he is or will become. Yet at the same time it’s this very thin layer of ice that keeps him from slipping into the uncharted depths of his subconscious, an action that would (and will) lead to insanity as a result of being submerged in his repressed and unrealized emotions.
Yet it’s not just his weight on the ice that causes the cracks and pitfalls of life to appear. By being born, one is automatically subject to the “silent reproach of a million tear-stained eyes.” With Life comes the fact that one will be despised, envied, and blamed for a multitude of things; a plethora of expectations that, whether justifiable or not, lead to an even greater number of weights to drag one down. Each expectation adds another burden and brings the fragile ice of our lives closer to the breaking point, each time bringing us, like Pink, closer to the seething waters below. However the difference between Pink’s life and the majority of the population is that, as we will see (or have already seen in “In the Flesh?”), Pink’s ice finally cracks and he is instantly consumed by the waters of his unconscious mind as a result of all the bricks that he has collected over the years. Correspondingly, the knowledge that Pink will spiral out of control into an all-consuming depression and dementia redefines the earlier appearance of “blue” in the song, transforming the innocent color of Pink’s childhood into a premonition of Pink’s depression later in life. In a sense, Pink is destined for a blue, melancholic existence from the very first utterance of his childhood nickname, Baby Blue.
True to the disjointed and contradictory maternal/caustic tone of the song, the images of the movie further explore the effects of war and Pink’s present state. According to Gerald Scarfe on the DVD commentary, the post-war scenes were directly inspired by the work of Robert Capa, a World War II photographer famous for unflinching war photographs, most notably his pictures from the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Using Capa’s photos as a base, Alan Parker captures the absolute brutality of war while focusing on the human subtleties of the individuals who make up an army. One of my favorite examples of this macrocosm / microcosm effect takes place at the beginning of the song. As the haunting piano chords creep in, the scene switches from a pool of collective blood of soldiers to a landscape desolated by war. When Gilmour begins with “Mama loves her baby,” the scene switches from the desolated landscape to a shot of a man pulling a blanket over the exposed arm of another wounded man being carried off on a stretcher. The scene of nurturing counteracts the previous and subsequent shots of devastation and ruin, reflecting the contradiction between comfort and pain in the lyrics of the first half of the song. The final war shot (towards the end of the song’s first half) shows the soldiers marching single file from screen left to right, walking from daylight into a consuming mist that blurs them from sight. The scene appropriately fades into a shot of Pink’s hotel room and the rock star’s current state of an all-consuming depression and dementia, being erased of all identity much like the soldiers marching one by one into the unrelenting mist.
Fading between the two scenes offers another comparison paralleling the destruction and desolation of war to the emptiness and personal devastation of Pink’s life. Although it might seem flippant to compare the gravity of war with the triviality of one man’s life, war itself is spawned from personal instabilities (eg. Hitler’s own obsessions) and is little more than “glorified” killing over property and “moral right.” And so the violence of war is no different than that in an individual’s life, a violence instilled from the earliest of ages as apparent by the cartoon cat and mouse in “Tom & Jerry” battling on the television in Pink’s hotel room.
Just as Gilmour’s soothing voice contrasted with the images of war’s bloody aftermath, the slow, composed shot through Pink’s hotel room contrasts with Waters’ scathing singing while offering a bit of calm before the storm of the guitar solo. Interestingly, as the shot proceeds from inside the room to the patio area, the viewer finds Pink floating on the surface of a crystal blue pool, recalling the “blue” and “water” symbolism mentioned above. With the onslaught of the blistering guitar solo, the water stylistically turns from blue to red while Pink thrashes around, drowning on thoughts of the war and his father. As with the color blue, red can signify a variety of different things, most of which, if not all, arguably apply to the song. Red is usually a symbol of raw emotions: passion, anger, frustration, lust, insecurity. It’s fairly easy to see how all of these fit within the scope of Pink’s mind as both a child and an adult. These feelings created out of a loss of his father and every other “brick” are just as resonant in his current state of mind as they are in his past, if not more. As he grows, these repressed feelings begin to boil to surface more and more, resulting in his infamous “fits” made popular in songs/scenes like “One of My Turns.” The fit in “the Thin Ice” is far from that in “One of My Turns” but nonetheless important in that it indicates the indomitable nature of one’s confined feelings. Repressed emotion will only lie in the subconscious for a certain period of time before erupting onto the surface. The pool scene in “the Thin Ice” is just one tiny crack, one minor eruption of the very emotions that will ultimately cost Pink his sanity.
Just as the water carries with it ideas of creation and life, so too does the color red, evoking ideas of life-giving blood. Therefore the red water of the pool takes on a womb-like quality, recalling Pink’s violent issue into the world (ripped from the tranquil womb, born to a fatherless family, etc.). The blood red may also signify the birth / continual life given to Pink’s dementia and his final “birth” into madness. Simultaneously, red also conveys ideas of death similar to the creative / destructive nature of water. The loss of blood can take one’s life just as quickly as any number of blood-related problems. As memories of his father and the war bombard his mind, Pink frantically flails in the blood-red water possibly out of a fear of sinking / death. And so the red pool is both a symbol of the birth of Pink’s unbalanced self as well as the death of his former self. While the transformation doesn’t fully take place until his wall is complete, the process has already started. The origin of the transformation (cycle of water=origin=life=death) is once again shown in the quick cuts to memories of the war and more specifically the absence of Pink’s father. It is his “snapshot in the family album” as shown in this scene and sung about in the next song that provides Pink with his first brick.
Another interesting aspect of the pool scene in the movie are the theological undertones of Pink’s swimming (or sinking) episode. Lying in the water, Pink’s prostrate form is reminiscent of the classical depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion. The blood-red pool further emphasizes the Christological sacrifice, seemingly equating Pink with Christ on some symbolic level. However, I personally don’t agree with the idea that Pink is a Christ figure. Christian theology teaches that Jesus was a selfless man / deity who devoted himself to the world and absolved sinners by means of his death on the cross. Furthermore, Christians believe that Christ arose three days after his crucifixion, thereby conquering death and reaffirming his disciples’ faith in God. Even a cursory glance shows that none of these distinctly Christ-like features are evident in Pink. Contrarily, Pink is completely selfish (as we will see later in the album / movie), building his wall out of a need to escape rather than aid the world. Furthermore, he dies metaphorically in “Goodbye Cruel World” in an attempt to elude the external world and it is still arguable whether he is ever resurrected or not. Accordingly, Pink is the antithesis of everything the Scriptural Christ is; therefore Pink becomes a mock-Christ, an anti-Christ of sorts (not the literal Anti-Christ in Revelation, but rather someone who is opposite of Jesus). In this light, the sacrificial elements inherent in the blood-red pool become tainted. Pink’s “sacrifice” (his building and completion of the wall) is only made for personal reasons. Pink is the only one covered by his sacrificial blood in the pool; his sacrifice is in vain. In addition, the color red in the New Testament is often linked with Judas Iscariot who, according to tradition, possessed flame-red hair. And so the red pool emphasizes both Pink’s selfish “sacrifice” as well as his past, present, and future betrayals (as seen later in the album and movie), the ultimate betrayal being that he completely turns his back on the world and those who love him by escaping behind his wall.