Nothing wants answers more than a broken heart. You loved, you believed, you were betrayed. What went wrong? Was it me? Was it my performance? Something I said? My looks? My age? My manner? Maybe it's not me but just him/her. Maybe this has something to do with the way he/she is or the way men/women are.
When the heart is broken, it turns over every rock in your world. And this is exactly why Beyoncé's film Lemonade is so packed and so vast. It is not her looking for answers so much as it is her heart, which has been torn to pieces by the filthy rich rapper Jay Z (her husband), demanding them. And her heart looks for answers in her looks, her body, the color of her skin, the history of the skin in her society. This broken heart does not stop there. It can't stop anywhere. It even turns to Malcolm X, to the streets of the city, to the deep forces in nature.
As a work, Lemonade recalls "the face of the whole universe" that the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Spinoza once proposed to explain how parts related to the whole. The parts are modes, and the modes are involved with what he calls attributes. Attributes can be either extensions (spatial) or ideas (mental). All of this comes to form "the face of the universe," which can also be called nature or god.
Lemonade is a totalizing (meaning, godlike) megamachine of cultural modes. Some of these modes are drawn from mainstream music, others from African diasporic poetry, yet others from underground art-house black cinema. An example of the last is Khalik Allah's contribution, which I'm sure appears in the "Emptiness" section scored by the track "6 Inch." (The film has seven directors and seven cinematographers—and because Lemonade refuses to attribute a sequence or scene to a specific director or cinematographer, one has to guess who did what.)
Allah, who is one of the cinematographers, is also the director of the hypnotic documentary Field Niggas, about the nocturnal street life on 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem. He interviews drunks, junkies, homeless people, and the mentally ill about their life and their theological beliefs (which tend to be apocalyptic). For them, the world is always about to end. They go on and on about it. Certainly life after the destruction of humankind is, in their eyes, much better than life on Lexington Avenue.
Visual elements of this documentary appear in the sequence that has Beyoncé roaming the city streets in the backseat of a 1960s-era gas-guzzler. She is looking right and left at the fallen men of the night. None of them speak. But we see their eyes, their desperation, their theological nightmares.
This is one mode among many that all together form the face of Beyoncé that was shattered by Jay Z's infidelity—whether it's autobiographically true or not.
Lemonade, however, ends with a statement of confidence called "Formation." Beyoncé has her groove back—her dance routine in the old Southern home is just stunning. This is her power; this is her world.
Find tons more reviews at thestranger.com/film