The Life of the World to Come: For Mountain Goats Superfans Who Have Never Seen the Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats album The Life of the World to Come consists of 12 songs, each named after and corresponding to a verse of the Bible—so that, say, "Genesis 3:23" ("So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden...") is a song about how you can't go home again. Mountain Goats singer/songwriter John Darnielle has widely described the album as "12 hard lessons that the Bible taught me." This film of the same name depicts Darnielle playing these songs to an empty Pomona auditorium (the same place he first played a piano recital at age 8), but it begins with "Enoch 18:14," a number that didn't make the cut for either the Mountain Goats album or the canonical gospels—a fitting start for a film most notable for what it fails to include.
The Life of the World to Come is essentially a concert film, but it lacks even the few conventions that make those films occasionally thrilling—the tension between the performer and the audience, the sense of anticipation on both sides of the stage, the unpredictability, the people, the spectacle. This is a concert-rehearsal film. Darnielle speaks to the camera occasionally in his typically excited, abruptly halting cadence, but he doesn't say much about the songs (each of which is introduced with an on-screen caption that quotes the accompanying scripture). It's like VH1 Storytellers without the stories.
All of which is a terrible shame, because Darnielle's a fairly fascinating character: a giddily anxious and affable raconteur (and a credible music critic), a lapsed Catholic turned small-c catholic religious seeker, a trained pianist raised by an English professor who spent time in the wilderness of mental-hospital work before taking his practically preordained place behind a microphone. And an honest to god documentary about the man and his music could be fascinating. Hell, even a making-of-the-album movie could've been cool. Instead, it's an intimate live performance, but if you're not already invested in the world of the Mountain Goats, it's not especially inviting.
Conceivably, this could be for the Mountain Goats superfan who's somehow never managed to see the band live before—and also has only months to live and so might not be able to catch their next tour either. But even then, this is barely better than just listening to the album at home.