INTERIORS: Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors"

Interiors is an online film and architecture journal, published by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Interiors runs an exclusive column for ArchDaily, analyzing and diagramming films in terms of space.

The rise of the director in music videos came in the early 1990s, when MTV started crediting directors alongside artists and song titles. The influx of visionary directors such as Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze and David Fincher emphasized that music videos were becoming an auteur’s medium, much in the same way as film. The shift from stylized and performance-based music videos into narrative-based works, however, came much later, as the medium became more “cinematic” in its look and narrative structure.

Justin Timberlake’s music videos similarly parallel this evolution. His earlier works have always focused on locations and space, his choreography and the physicality of his performances. In “Cry Me a River,” we follow his movements through various rooms in a house. In “Rock Your Body,” his choreography and performance is the center of attention as he is surrounded by lights in an enclosed space. In “My Love,” we see the contrast of black and white while focusing on the vastness of empty space. However, the narrative-based music video for “Mirrors,” from his long-awaited album, The 20/20 Experience, marks a departure for the artist. 

Courtesy of INTERIORS Journal

The director of “Mirrors,” Floria Sigismondi, previously directed music videos for Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Muse. In 2006, she directed her first feature film, The Runaways. In “Mirrors,” she expands on her previous efforts, diverging from a continuously moving camera into a much more assured aesthetic with a static camera. The emphasis is placed on story, space and composition, with each of these elements being inherently linked together.

The story, which consists of four timelines that span several decades, focuses on a woman who looks back on her life and marriage. The fact that the music video is dedicated to William and Sadie Bomar, Justin Timberlake’s grandparents, hints at the personal nature of the story. The artist’s grandparents were married for 63 years until his grandfather’s death in 2012.

The first three timelines follow the lives of a couple – a young man and woman meet in a bar and have their first date in a funhouse, the couple is then married and are expecting a child, and an elderly couple spend their time together at the final stages of their life. In the last portion of this timeline, the woman, now older, reflects back on her life as the absence of her husband is reflected through mirrored images of them together. The fourth timeline focuses on Justin Timberlake, which comes at the outro portion of the song.

The music video is concerned with parallel stories, continuously cutting back and forth between timelines. The director connects these multiple timelines through a single space – their bedroom. In a number of scenes, we see how the director creates various “levels” for these timelines within the same space. By passing objects (such as a book, a wedding ring) from one level to another, the various timelines are linked and a legacy is established.

“Mirrors” is a song about loved ones being a reflection of one another, and the music video takes this belief in a very literal way, using mirrors within the production design to reflect the state of mind of the characters and comment on the status of their relationship. The opening scene (0:12), for instance, introduces us to the elderly couple, whose actions mirror one another. In the background, we see a reflection of them in a mirror, one that doesn’t match with the main action in the foreground. In another scene (4:20), we see the wife crouching over her husband, who lies on his back, and on the opposite side is a mirror with multiple angles. The mirror’s fractured state reflects the relationship of their marriage at that specific moment in their relationship. This is later referenced (5:23) when we see the older husband and wife separated by four planes of images. This cleaner separation and their very clear reflections suggest their distance because of the husband’s passing.

It’s also interesting to note how the bedroom itself changes throughout the course of their lifetime. The opening shot of the music video, which shows the couple at the early stages of their marriage, is contrasted with a subsequent shot of them as an elderly couple. The majority of the bedroom remains the same, except for a few minor details in the production design. In their younger years, at the start of their marriage, their fireplace mantle consists of sculptures, various objects, and a candle. In their later years together, these objects are all replaced with photographs of the couple, in various stages of their life together, further emphasizing the theme of “reflecting” on their past. Their wall arrangements also change, as the decorations on their wall, which include frames and décor, (0:06) are replaced with more mirrors (0:12).

In our diagram, we analyzed the mirrors that surround Justin Timberlake in the final portion of the music video. The fact that “Mirrors” has an outro means the song is broken into two parts, which by extension, makes it feel like two different music videos, with one mirroring the other. 

The diagram captures the exact moment when Justin Timberlake slides in front of the mirrors (6:53). The location where he slides is noteworthy because it’s the apex of the two sides. The camera moves across him in a wide shot, showing off the entire space, giving us a look at the design of the mirrors behind him. Justin Timberlake’s positioning is also where the two sides mirror each other. The space consists of three planes that intersect one another, forming triangles. The complexity of the space comes from the positioning of the mirrors, providing a much larger sense of space. In this sense, space is determined by the illusion of multiple angles and mirrors.

There has been much discussion about the number of dancers used in this scene, but there are, in fact, four dancers in the background. Their movements are reflected in the adjoining mirrors. There are four pockets within the mirrors (a nod to the four timelines presented in the story), where the dancers are positioned. Justin Timberlake dances around the mirrors, interacts with them and talks to them, until his image is reflected with a dancer’s and the two mimic each other’s movements. The complex use of mirrors thus echoes the song’s sentiment: that every individual is in constant search for their loved one, their own mirrored image.

This diagram, along with others, are available for purchase in our Official Store.

Interiors is an online journal, published on the 15th of each month, in which films are analyzed and diagrammed in terms of space. It is run by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Check out their Website, Issuu Site and Official Store and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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Cite: INTERIORS Journal. "INTERIORS: Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors"" 05 Aug 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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