Arcade Fire’s video for “We Exist” is a moving, if sometimes heavy handed, look at our universal desire to be loved for who we are.
Andrew Garfield plays a transvestite who beautifully portrays the conflicted anguish, shame and pride he feels as he gets dressed in a black bra, shirt tied at the midriff, a blond wig, and short cut offs, ready to head out for a night on the town.
As we hear chickens in the background, we know he’s in a rural setting, so that explains why it seems like his only option is a rough-looking biker bar with one older couple country line dancing in the background.
He sits demurely until a someone comes to ask him to dance. It’s unclear if this person knows Garfield is a transvestite, but his buddies sure do. They grab Garfield and the ignorant rednecks beat him up. I’m not saying this wouldn’t happen in a small town, and part of the reason the story is set in a small town, I imagine, is that it’s less likely that Garfield’s character would be able to find a sense of community there, but it feels stereotypical and very, very predictable.
After Garfield’s character gets knocked down, he’s transported to an empty room where he goes into an interpretive, “Footloose”-like solo dance.
As he falls to his knees, exhausted from his dance, he dreams he’s visited by four older men, in cut offs and plaid shorts tied at their midriffs, who serve as his (not meaning to be un-PC here at all) his fairy godfathers of sorts. They do a fun “Full Monty”-style dance (while staying clothed) and are clearly as comfortable in their skin as Garfield’s character is not. They’ve been down this road before him and can serve as his guide to let him know that it gets better, and more importantly, he’s not alone.
They open the doors to a bright light which you can interpret as either Heaven… it’s not clear how badly the jerks beat him up… or, in this case, Arcade Fire’s show at Coachella. Reinforcing the idea that this may be Heaven, Garfield’s character is now in a demure, white, lace dress. He also has a bandit’s mask painted on pink. He approaches Arcade Fire leader Win Butler, who also has the bandit’s mask on, turns the crowd and dances ecstatically, happy to have arrived home.
Butler has said he wrote “We Exist” about a son coming out to his father, but the greater point of the song and of the video is that all of us, regardless of gender, race, or sexual preference, just want to be acknowledged that we are here and have just as much right to exist as anyone else. And to be loved. And that’s a message, even if it’s delivered a little hamfisted here, we can’t hear enough.