In Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Daydreaming,’ Thom Yorke Walks Through Radiohead’s Past, Searching for His Other Half

Radiohead’s new album A Moon Shaped Pool dropped this past weekend, but as many fans and critics have noted, it’s not exactly new. Several the songs have been performed live for years and/or hinted at on past releases, most notably the heart-crushing “True Love Waits.” As an album, it looks backward as well as forward, making for a reflection on the lives and art of one of the most influential rock groups of all time.

Nowhere is this theme more present than in the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed video for “Daydreaming,” the second single from A Moon Shaped Pool. Anderson has a long history of working with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood — Greenwood has scored several of Anderson’s films (There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice), and Anderson directed the companion film to Junun, Greenwood’s record with Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express. (Interestingly, Anderson almost always uses the same cinematographer, Robert Elswit, but there are no cinematography credits on “Daydreaming,” suggesting that perhaps Anderson handled this himself.)

The “Daydreaming” video follows Thom Yorke as he passes from space to space through various portals, with each space discordant from the one that preceded it. As he passes through each space, no one engages Yorke, and he doesn’t interact with anyone. His direction and pace change constantly — his gaze is scanning, looking for something. The clip is mostly composed of PTA-signature Steadicam tracking shots; it switches perspective from behind, to in front, and next to Yorke, speaking to the nature of his stroll. He’s familiar with these spaces, and he’s looking for something specific. There are moments (like at 1:50 and 2:05) where Yorke’s face is drawn into a seemingly involuntary half-smile. We’ve all experienced it; the moment in which you relive a memory, and it brings you a fleeting moment of joy at its remembrance, only to fade away just as quickly. Taken in the context of a love lost, it’s absolutely crushing.

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By its very nature, the “Daydreaming” video appears to be allegorical. It can be hazardous to try to intuit the intentions of the artist making a work such as this, but there are clear signifiers, both in the video, and on A Moon Shaped Pool, that hint at a possible broader theme — and a fascinating one at that, because several of the scenes in “Daydreaming” resemble visual elements of Radiohead’s past work: the icy mountains of Kid A, to the grocery store aisles of the “Fake Plastic Trees” video, and the snowy stumble in the clip for “Motion Picture Soundtrack.”

For those so inclined, an enterprising Redditor has taken a deep dive into this idea, surmising that the video shows Yorke walking quite literally through the band’s past, reflecting on moments in his life through the lens of his work. Jonny Greenwood apparently even posted the Reddit theory on his Facebook page, though he stopped short of confirming its veracity, going only so far as to call it “interesting.” It’s also curious that PTA left his long-time cinematographer at home; could it be that Yorke and Co. had specific images in mind that they wanted to recreate?

Our own Tom Hawking took a look at how the content of A Moon Shaped Pool clearly references Yorke’s relationship with his partner of 23 years — which ended last year. And thematically, it’s clear that the album is a retrospective of sorts, revisiting work and ideas from the band’s past, finally committing them to tape. So when Yorke finally finds what he’s looking for in “Daydreaming,” crawling into a mountain cave, curling up by the fire, and chanting “Half my life,” backwards, over and over… it’s hard to take these signifiers as mere coincidence. When someone is half of your life, and you lose them… what do those memories you shared become?