In the landscape of popular music, there is a small minority who are listening to indie rock, smaller who are listening to the critically acclaimed band, The National, and smaller still who know that the lead singer, Matt Berninger, has a metal head younger brother. In fact, the only people who may know or care about Tom Berninger are his parents. It isn’t easy to see your older brother become one of the most celebrated musicians of the 2000’s while you toil away, living in your family’s basement. So sets the scene for the film , Mistaken For Strangers, taken from the name of a song off The National’s fourth album, Boxer.
“I feel like the only reason why he thinks I’m on tour is because I’m your brother.
“Here’s the truth. The only reason that you are here is because you’re my brother”
Filmed in 2010, while the band was on tour in Europe, Strangers outlines the tension of the family golden boy vs the underachiever, in a clear, but subtle way. Matt was tall and athletic growing up (though I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Matt Berninger’s awkward teenage brace-face). Tom was short and had a belly. In an interview with their mother Nancy who is a painter, she shows us two paintings that she uses for inspiration. One is a modern, abstract painting, clean lines and very sophisticated – Matt’s creation. Then next to it is three panels of drawings, cartoonish figures (akin to something you would see on Adult Swim) that tells the story of a man who wants to make his own legs – Tom’s. God bless Nancy, who reminds her son, “I always told you, you were my most creative. My most talented. Matt was harder to raise. He was always moody growing up. But you were happy, you just took things as they came.” To which Tom says, “Until now, now I’m the depressed one.” Continue reading