Roger Waters is a provocative musician. For 55 years he’s been asking the kinds of questions that make you squirm a bit. Recorded in Amsterdam in June of 2018, this concert film captures his 2017-18 tour following the release of his most recent album, Is This the Life We Really Want?
Fundamentally, Us + Them asks whether we care. Does anything happen in our hearts when we see a poor village destroyed by a bomb? Does something happen in our soul when we see a refugee, dead, washed up on the beach? In interviews, Waters has said he wants viewers to weep.
Waters was a founding member of the British psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd. After a legal battle with the band in the mid-1980s, he launched a solo career. His music has tenaciously grappled with what he believes are various forms of death that have taken root in Western culture: capitalism, militarism, and nationalism, to name a few.
In an age when many popular artists attempt to merely distract us from the challenges of life, Waters probes the philosophical and theological substructure of catastrophes such as global poverty, consumer greed, technological enslavement, and political-religious ideology. He doesn’t mince words and he’s often dismissed for his caustic worldview. But I hear him as a prophet of hope.
Though an outspoken atheist, Waters reminds me of Mary who sang in joyful hope that one day the brokenness of the world will be healed: oppressive tyrants will be toppled, the greedy rich will go bankrupt, and the hungry multitudes will be fed (Luke 1:52-53). The hope that Waters calls us to ponder in this concert is that the political and economic realities of our world that cause unfathomable despair can be resisted and reformed. Because it is a human creation, the status quo doesn’t have to last forever. “The arc of history is long,” Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “but it bends towards justice.”
It is regularly asked why the 1960s was a period of such radical cultural change with atheism often at the forefront. One perspective is that important issues needed to be addressed (for example, gender, racial, and economic injustices), but much of the church at the time retreated into otherworldly spirituality rather than the difficult work of modeling and advocating for women’s full equality, racial reconciliation, systemic equity, and workers’ rights. By not recognizing the comprehensive call of Christian discipleship, the church marginalized itself at a crucial point in history.
In “Us + Them,” Waters looks and sounds like the 75-year-old man he is. But he’s impatient, frustrated, and beyond disbelief that the world keeps rumbling on as before: the rich and powerful are safe and sound; the poor and marginalized enslaved and killed. It is a reality that I am regularly asked about by university students—and whether Christianity has anything to do with (or about) it. Waters jolts us awake with impolite probing that is uncannily reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets.
Potential listeners beware: this isn’t for the faint of heart. I would expect many readers of The Banner will be offended by the film. But there are few artists who so brilliantly and dramatically hone their craft for maximal emotional and rhetorical effect about such important global issues. It’s an awfully clear message if the church has the ears—and the stomach—for what very well might be the truth. Content Advisory: Graphic violence, drug use, nudity, profanity
(Us + Them Production Limited and Grasshopper Films Ltd.)