In the 1990s Radiohead with the music video “Karma Police” enchanted an entire generation of young people, who remained glued to MTV for hours. The elements are few but essential: a car with the Radiohead singer on board and a man on foot, who is chased by the car. But what does this video mean?
How the idea came to director Jonathan Glazer
The director of the video is Jonathan Glazer, who seems to have been inspired by David Lynch’s film “Lost Highway”, a surreal thriller story, with chases and scary scenes.
Glazer had previously been contacted by Marilyn Manson to shoot the video for the song “Long Hard Road Out of Hell”. But the idea that Glazer had in mind did not appeal to Manson.
Radiohead had been of a different opinion: the story of the short film looked really cryptic and mysterious, in line with their style.
The protagonists of the short film
As we said at the beginning there are only two protagonists in the video. The first is the Radiohead singer, Thom Yorke, sitting on the back seats of a Chrysler New Yorker car, whose steering wheel does not seem to be anyone. Or at least there is someone who is never framed.
The second is the Hungarian actor Lajos Kovács, who flees chased by Chrysler on a dark and wet night. The setting is Cambridgeshire, in England.
The video starts at an unspecified moment in the story: we understand that something happened before but we don’t know what. We only see the car with Yorke on board that moves slowly following the man.
Who is the bad and who is the good? It is not known. The video wants to remain open to multiple interpretations, like a work of art.
At the end of the video the fugitive throws himself to the ground exhausted and the car goes back to take a run and hit him. But the man sees that some fuel has come out of the Chrysler’s tank and set it on fire, thanks to some matches he has with him. In the last scene we see the burning car, where however the Radiohead singer is no longer there.
The meaning of the lyrics Karma Police
As we know, “karma” is that law of the universe, according to which in the present life each individual must atone for the faults of past lives.
Whether it is true or not, the law of karma seeks to justify the meaningless suffering that can be experienced in life.Karma tells you why you’re unlucky! And it tells you that it depends on wrong deeds done in your previous lives!
But why “karma police”? The members of the band Radiohead used this expression on certain occasions: when they saw someone behaving badly, they said that the “karma police” would come to punish him.
The karma police was a kind of inner executioner, a hell of the soul or revenge of destiny, as the law of retaliation in the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.
At this point we can give our own interpretation of the video: the singer on board the car represents the one who behaves badly, while the fugitive is the weak person: but in the end he manages to take revenge and return evil immediately.