The symbolism behind Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”
The symbolism behind Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”
by Holley R. Coleman
Intro and film synopsis:
THE WALL (1982) is based on the double album created in 1979 by the band Pink Floyd. The film is centered on a man named Pink. What makes this film so different than any other made during the 80’s is not only the soundtrack that flows like a rock musical but the lack of actual dialogue. Pink is the protagonist and the narrator of the film. Each moment for Pink is pushed through to the next by intense images, flashes of suggestive animation, and the rock of a historical band.
The symbolism behind the film is opened to a viewer’s own interpretation. I consider “The Wall” something that the main character built out of emotional issues, feelings of isolation, and even alienation. Each brick of this imaginary wall is constructed with something that has happened to Pink in his life. The very first bricks come from his own mother who is extremely overprotective and also spoils him by giving him anything that he wants. During Pink’s adolescence he starts to become more curious about the world, his own sexuality, and even his individuality. His mother inadvertently starts to add the bricks to Pink’s “Wall” through her over protection to keep him safe. Having lost her own husband (Pink’s father) to World War II, she wants to keep her only son from the same fate. The obsessive smothering resulted in the psychological projection of his mother’s fears onto him. By excessively trying to keep him safe she only further isolated him from the rest of the world.
Pink’s rock stardom as an adult helped him to build the wall even higher. Everyone wanted a piece of Pink. He became addicted to drugs, extremely paranoid, and emotionally detached from his wife. The film flashes several times to various moments in their marriage. There becomes a breakdown in communication between them and a point where she is almost invisible to him. One moment in particular that impacted me the most was when his wife interrupts him while he was watching television by draping herself across the bed. She is topless in front of him trying to get his attention and he moves to look around her. The drugs and fame are pulling him further away from everyone, including her. Pink calls his wife in England while he is on tour in the United States and another man answers the phone. He comes to the realization at that moment that he actually may have been responsible for pushing her into the arms of another man.
Scene possibility for the song "MOTHER"
I decided to base my scene on this moment and use one of the songs from the film as dialogue:
Just another brick in the wall
Pink lies limply on his oversized bed in the expensive California hotel room. He can’t even remember what city he is in. Everything seems so insignificant to him. He squeezes a pillow to his chest hoping to push all of the air out of himself. All he can hear is the unknown man who answered his wife’s phone. This voice is now haunting him. He wonders if he knows this man but then realizes that he doesn’t even really know his wife anymore. He can’t remember the last time they even had a conversation that lasted more than a few minutes. Pink is always busy with interviews, photo shoots or traveling on tour with his band. The many appearances that his manager has set up to promote the new album coming out consume what little spare time he has. He tries to remember the last thing that his wife had asked him or the last time that he made love to her; but he can’t. Flashes of his wife being touched by another man are all that he can see now.
He rolls on his side still clutching the pillow tightly to him, afraid to loosen his grip. He tries to remind himself why he is even alive. He knows that at some point he did love his wife but tries to remember what his life was like before her….before the money….before the fame. Pink starts to daydream about his childhood. He longs for the innocence he had as a child, before he knew how horrible the world really was. When he would have a bad dream he would run into his mother’s room as quietly as he could. He was afraid that eventually she would tell him he was too big to sleep with her at night, but that moment never came. Sometimes he would lie in bed next to her and ask her all the questions that were on his mind that day until he drifted off to sleep.
“Mother, do you think they’ll try and break my balls? ……Oh, mother should I build a wall?”
Pink’s mother pulls him closer to her while wrapping the blankets tightly around him.
“Mother, should I run for president? ……Mother, should I trust the government?”
She smiles at all of her son’s curious questions and wonders where he gets all of these ideas from. He is her sweet, perfect child. She knows he is young and isn’t aware of all of the dangers in the world, but she will always protect him.
“Mother, will they put me in the firing line?......Ahhhh, mother am I really dying?”
She brushes the hair away from his forehead with her fingertips and kisses her son gently on his forehead. Pink nestles himself deeper into the side of her breast and outstretched arm.
“Hush now baby. Baby, don’t you cry. Mamas gonna make all your nightmares come true. Mamas gonna put all her fears into you.”
Pink’s eyes are getting heavier. He is just a little boy. He isn’t the super star yet. Nothing else matters in this moment.
“Mamas gonna keep you right here under her wing. She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing.”
She watches her precious boy drift off to sleep and prays to herself that he will never leave her. She can’t bear to think of her life alone without him. She discourages him from liking girls at school and tells him constantly that there is plenty of time for girls later in life. After all, they have each other.
“Mamas gonna keep baby cozy and warm… Oooh babe….. Oooooh babe……. Oh babe…….. Of course mamas gonna help build a wall.”
Pink rolls over, back and forth on his bed still clutching the pillow that he was holding hours earlier. White knuckles and aching fingers reminded Pink that he had been in the same position for hours. He could feel that his underwear was damp and assumed that he must have wet himself at some point. Every movement seems like he is sinking into a pile of mud. His body is weak from lack of food and his head is pounding from too much booze. He reaches for the other side of the bed hoping to feel someone there. For one brief moment he hopes that he is still lying with his mother in bed. Pink tugs at the empty space next to him and knows that he is alone.
He starts to hear the haunting voice again, the unknown man at the other end of the phone. He knew that he did not have the wrong number because he had the operator call the number twice. Each time the operator asked for Mrs. Floyd, the person on the other end of the phone would hang up. He flings the booze and piss soaked sheets off of him. The stench of his surroundings fills his nostrils swiftly. He knocks over several empty bottles of wine and whiskey while he reaches for the syringe on the bedside table next to him. The syringe is already loaded and is calling to him. He picks up the guitar strap from the floor and begins to wrap it tightly around his arm. His arm quickly begins to change color from lack of blood flow and he feels for a vein. He holds his breath and pinches his skin with the dull needle. He knows that his release will soon come. Pink pushes the needle as deeply as it will go and watches the blood spurt into the syringe to let him know that it is time. He feels a warmth creep up his body like an electric blanket being wrapped around him. Before his eyelids close from the sedation he glances at a Polaroid picture of his wife that is propped against the lamp.
Her face….her smile….her lips.
“Mother, do you think she’s good enough…..for me?”
Pink remembers his mother crying when he told her that he got married after his first tour. Why couldn’t she ever be happy for him?
“Mother, do you think she’s dangerous…..to me?”
He welcomes the clouded thinking. Pink doesn’t want to remember the disappointed look from his mother’s face. That was all he seemed to be to her when he started to become famous. She warned him about all the fast women that will try to steal all of his money and give him diseases.
“Mother, will she tear your little boy apart? Ooooohhhh, ah mother, will she break my heart?”
The hallucinations began to intensify as he reaches out again for his mother that is not there.
“Hush now baby. Baby, don’t you cry…..mamas gonna check out all your girlfriends for you. Mama won’t let anyone dirty get through.”
Pink drops to the floor and pulls his knees to his chest. He didn’t feel the broken glass cutting his feet as he dragged them across the carpet. He longed for his mother’s touch and could almost feel her fingers running through his hair.
“Mamas gonna wait up until you get in. Mama will always find out where you been.”
Pink drifted in and out of consciousness. He felt a sharp pain in his fingertips and realized that the cigarette he couldn’t remember lighting was now burning his fingers at the filter. He could hear his mother’s voice whispering in his ear.
“Mama’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean. Ooooooh babe. Ooooooh babe. Oh babe. You will always be baby to me.”
Pink crawls into the hotel bathroom and collapses onto the cold tile floor. Each breath he takes becomes harder. He can’t bear the thought of going on stage tonight or any other night.
“Mother, did it need to be so high?”
Ryan from Louisiana, USA on June 29, 2017:
I love that album and pretty much anything Pink Floyd does. I love the way you broke this down. Makes a lot more sense. I enjoyed this article very much. I look forward to reading more of your works.
Holley Rich Coleman (author) from New Orleans, LA on June 29, 2017:
@Finn Liam Cooper, thanks so much for the comment. Yes, actually I did know that the teacher is quoting the lyrics to "Money". It is actually one of my favorite scenes in the movie. The picked such an excellent person to play the teacher too! He was so pretentious and snooty. I love seeing his mother force him to eat the meat he spits into his napkin during that dinner flash. Showing that he gets it at home, so he is going to go to school and take it out on the kids.
Fin from Barstow on June 28, 2017:
interesting interpretation. did you know the scene in the classroom where the teacher reads his poems is actually the lyrics to Money