What is the meaning of the “Heart Shaped Box” Video by Nirvana? This post goes second by second through the video and provides a likely meaning based on the lyrics, imagery, and Kurt Cobain’s history:
Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” music video was visually created by singer Kurt Corbain and directed by Anton Corbijn (director of videos for Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” (1990) and U2’s “One – version 1” 1991). Kurt drew out images for the video and would fax them to Anton Corbijn. Anton said that the video was “15% mine” and 85% Cobain’s.
- The video begins and ends with the band members in a hospital setting watching an old man lying in a bed over a black Latin cross on the floor and receiving a morphine IV drip.
- Suddenly the old man wearing a Santa hat is in a field of poppies – signifying the morphine which the old man is receiving through the IV drip.
- The old man climbs onto a cross surrounded with crows.
- Nirvana performs the song in the field of poppies, where Cobain’s face moves in and out of focus in the camera – with a lens that feels like a “nifty 50.”
- The second verse shows us a young girl in a white robe and peaked cap jumping and reaching for human fetuses hanging from creepy trees.
- An overweight woman with human organs painted on her and with angel wings affixed to her back reaches out. The obese painted woman was not envisioned by Kurt Cobain but randomly added by Anton Corbijn to Kurt’s approval and delight.
- At 1:48, the old crucified man is now wearing a Catholic bishop’s mitre (a jeweled pointy hat) that is worn by Catholic pope’s and bishops.
- At 1:58, the white robed girl appears and is now jumping up trying to reach the mitred old man on the cross.
- At 2:15 Nirvana is now playing the creepy trees.
- At 2:43, Kurt puts his hand over his eyes as if he’s closing his own eyes in death (rather ominous).
- At 2:52, the little girls pointy white hat falls into a black puddle and turns black – like a witches hat.
- At 2:57, the little girl is now in all black – like a little witch. She was innocent and pure (white) and now she is corrupt (black).
- At 2:59, we see the IV drip is not really morphine, but an aborted festus and Kurt suddenly appears in the hospital room with his guitar and with the little girl in black.
- At 3:05-3:41, the three members of Nirvana are in a room topped by a heart. This section is “Kurt as Narcissist” section with close ups on him and even a fan blowing his hair (like in the 80s hair bands).
- At 3:51, the little girl is back in white robes and holding an open heart shaped box.
- At 3:54, David Grohl is reflecting the same heart shaped box into the camera.
- At 4:17, Kurt falls on his face.
- At 4:36, Krist Novoselic opens the blinds and lets the light in.
Meaning of Heart Shaped Box Video
The “heart shaped box” refers to a box given to Kurt by his wife Courtney Love, but it also refers to the female uterus as featured in the album’s title In Utero, Latin for “in the womb.” The tracks on the In Utero album reveal Kurt’s interest in human procreation, motherhood, procreative anatomy (“Heart Shaped Box,” “Rape Me,” “Milk It,” “Pennyroyal Tea” (an abortifacient). The album cover says it all. It depicts the anatomy of a female – with wings.
The video is a slap against the Catholic Church’s teaching about abortion.
Christianity is depicted as the old man and Nirvana is waiting for it to die. The old man is crucified and wears a Santa hat showing that religious belief in Christ is like belief in Santa, a mere fairy tale to make us feel better.
As Kurt sang in “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam”:
Jesus don’t want me for a sunbeam
Sunbeams are never made like me
Don’t expect me to cry for all the reasons you had to die
Don’t ever ask your love of me
Kurt Cobain is saying, “I don’t cry for your/Christ’s death. I won’t love Him back.”
So the old man wears a Santa hat and later a Catholic mitre. The little girl is dressed like a KKK member but also like a Pope.She represents the conservative, Christian, fascist, fundamentalists. Her costume relates her to the Pope (pro-life) and the KKK (conservatism, nativism, fascism). She is jumping and reaching to save the hanging fetus and jump to reach out to the crucified man with the mitre.
The climax happens a 2:43. Kurt closes his eyes in death. He dies. The girls white hat blows away and falls into the black puddle and turns into a witches hat. The old man is back in bed. The IV is being fueled by an aborted fetus. The little girl is now dressed in black. It’s disgusting and shocking. Kurt is in the hospital room. This time he isn’t sitting there passively. He has his guitar. He’s active and playing things out.
The remainder of the video from 3:05 is pretty crappy. It’s filler. It’s simply the band in a room. The girl comes back in white a few times, and at last the light fills the room, ending the video.
What was Kurt Cobain Saying?
Kurt committed suicide less than a year after this video was produced and he said very little about it. So what’s going on here? There was a strong anti-Christian drift in Cobain’s life.
- In his teens, it’s alleged that Kurt became a born-again Christian but soon abandoned Christianity.
- A Rolling Stone article from April 16 1992, “Inside the Heart & Mind of Nirvana,” reports how Cobain and his bass player, Chris Novoselic, graffitied a church with the phrase “GOD IS GAY” and “ABORT CHRIST.”
- On another occasion, police were called after Cobain had completely destroyed an expensive church crucifix.
These facts along with his cover of the Vaselines “Jesus Don’t Want Me As a Sunbeam,” reveal a strong anti-Christian bias. The “Heart Shaped Box” video screams it.
Was Kurt Angry at Jesus Christ?
Kurt Cobain’s life and lyrics center on rape, homosexuality, drug abuse, abortion, suicidal tendencies, and isolation. I can’t help but wonder whether Kurt experienced sexual abuse as a young man. Lots of anger. The birth of his daughter Framces Bean might also have something to do with this. Did he previously lose a child to abortion?
It’s said that Kurt’s apartment was decorated with blood and disfigured baby dolls. We’re dealing with mental insanity or Satanic possession, or both.
Heart Shaped Box seems to be an angry reflection on the weakness of Christianity, dead fetuses in utero (“in the womb” or the “heart shaped box”), and the corruption of youth (the girl moving from white to black).
Question: What do you think the video means? You can leave a comment by clicking here.