When I saw the trailer for Metallica: Through the Never, I was confused. Was this a 3D concert movie? An action film? A weird arty fantasy? After seeing an advance screening of Metallica's latest movie, I still don't know. Much like their "Through the Never" song, I'm left with "disturbing thoughts" and "questions pending."
But before you head into the film, here are a few things that can help you get the most out of a bizarre but memorable cinematic experience that marries a narrative (starring Dane DeHaan from The Place Beyond the Pines) to Metallica concert footage. But remember: There are "limitations of human understanding."
1) The Concert Footage Is Scripted, Too
Metallica play throughout the entire film. So even when you're watching the narrative portion, the live music from their stage show provides the soundtrack. Curiously, though, what happens to the main character affects what happens to the band during their concert. For example: Trip (DeHaan) spends the film questing for a mysterious bag in a nightmarish city landscape. When he falters, bad sh*t happens to Metallica: James Hetfield's mic dies, a stagehand bursts into flames, etc. So even the concert footage in Through the Never is scripted.
2) The Stage Show References Metallica's Past
During the concert portion of the film, a mammoth statue of Lady Justice from ...And Justice for All makes an appearance. And the snake pit—a diamond-shaped pit that extends from the middle of the stage and fits about 150 fans—returns from their Black Album days. Also, keep an eye out for a toilet with the words "Metal Up Your Ass" on it. That was the original title for Kill 'Em All until the label forced them to change it.
3. The Action-Movie Storyline Features a Mysterious, Meaningless Villain
The Death Dealer—a lethal, gas mask-wearing rider on a horse—menaces Trip throughout his quest. When it's all over you might ask yourself, "What was that all about? Was he a deep metaphor for something?" The answer is a resounding "no." According to producer Charlotte Huggins, "The Death Dealer represents hate, hostility and everything that is wrong with the world." In other words, he's more generically evil than Darth Maul.
4) The Lyrics Frequently Match Up With the Action
Taking a page from Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon, the lyrics to Metallica's songs sometimes relate to the narrative. For instance: When Metallica perform "Fuel" on stage, the movie cuts to Trip doing something with gasoline. Some connections are fairly obvious while others are more subtle—so keep an eye out for those.
5) Don't Expect to Walk Out With Answers
If you couldn't tell from the trailer, Metallica: Through the Never is a willfully confusing film. It wasn't made to make sense—it's made to look cool and sound loud. It succeeds on both counts, but you will leave the movie with a big question that does not get settled.
P.S. The unanswered question pops up in a brief post-credit sequence. But it's all a tease: Even then, it remains shrouded in mystery.