Running in from seemingly nowhere, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith & Peter Tork - better known collectively as The Monkees - disrupt a bridge opening ceremony. From where and why did they come to disrupt the proceedings? They were filming a series of vignettes in several different genres, including a wild west sequence, a desert war sequence, a Confederate war sequence, and a science fiction sequence. They disagree with much of what is happening around them, and try to figure out how to escape the oppression they feel - symbolized by a big black box in which they are seemingly imprisoned - by the forces around. That oppression is often shown in the form of "The Big Victor Mature".
In this 1968 film, the Monkees valiantly attempted to deflate their own myth. The plot is, essentially, about demystification. Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith - with the aid of writer Jack Nicholson (the only credited author due to legalities)- tackle such topics as filmmaking, the media treatment and madness of the Vietnam War, Davy Jones' "way with the ladies", and, most importantly, commercialization. Each group member is presented in a unique light - in every case shattering the image that had been produced by the "media machine". The Monkees went out on a limb with this film by creating an almost surreal work with a loosely bound "plot". Their younger fans, unfortunately, simply missed the point. Because of the poor publicity of the film at the time of its release, older teenagers had no clue what "Head" was trying to say. As a result, its box office showing was disastrous. "Head" is more for the film enthusiast than the casual Monkees fan in some respects. The soundtrack does, however, feature some of the finest and most sophisticated music of the group's career. And yes, they DO play their own instruments on the tunes, but receive assistance in composing and performing from the likes of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Carole King.
The Monkees are tossed about in a psychedelic, surrealist, plotless, circular bit of fun fluff.
- This movie 'Head' is about the nature of free will, conceived and edited in a stream of consciousness style with no plot at all.
'Head' begins at the dedication of a bridge. As a local politician struggles with his microphone during the dedication speech, the "wacky, fun-loving" Monkees (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith), suddenly interrupt the ceremony by running through the assembled officials, to the sound of various horns and sirens....
The rest of the film shows what happened that led up to that.
Earlier... the four have just all kissed the same groupie, who tells them that they were indistinguishable. Throughout the film, they make their way both together and seperately through a series of unrelated vignettes, each being a different type of movie (a mystery, a war movie, a western, a desert adventure, etc...).
One memorable segment shows Micky trecking alone through a vast desert until he finds a soft drink vending machine standing on top of a sand dune. He is overjoyed to find that it is not a mirage, and happy that he has spare change, but infurated when the machine takes his money and gives him nothing back, for the machine is out of order. Then a small group of heavily armed soldiers, complete with a tank and all, arrive to fight Micky for control of the vending machine until Micky subdues the commanding officer, the entire unit surrenders to the lone Micky, who then takes advantage of this to commandeer the tank and blows up the broken down vending machine.
In each one segment, the Monkees try to deal with the fact that they're four real people in a real band that makes records for real people, but are also scripted characters in a fake TV band doing nothing except exactly what the director wants them to.
They continually try to prove to themselves that they're free and can make any choice they want. But no matter what they try deliberately flubbing their lines in scenes from their TV show, pointing out to other characters that they're really just actors making a movie, complaining to producers Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson... who are on the set but not part of the film, smashing through the painted paper walls, walking off the set and into the street, physically attacking other actors for no reason, and making everyone they encounter mad at them they discover that their every word and deed was predetermined to the finest detail by the script of the movie they're in and the director directing it.
For example, they forget their worries at a party where girls are go-go dancing. But a mirror on the wall reveals the movie camera shooting directly into it, recording the scene we are watching while Rafelson sits next to the camera in the mirror.
At one point, Peter actually discovers the answer to the free will contradiction in their reality. The four frequently find themselves inside a large black box from which they cannot escape. The box represents the constraints of being fictional characters unable to make any real choices. Peter announces that he will talk about the nature of conceptual reality, then informs the others that "it doesn't matter if we're in the box". He realizes that the difference between free will and pre-scripted action is illusory. As long as you can do anything you want, 'it doesn't matter' if your choices were known in advance by some powerful entity in a higher level of context outside the universe, because the situation in which you find yourself is identical to one in which there is no outer context and you really are free.
Unfortunately, the other three pay no attention to Pete's liberating revelation, which they characterize as navel-contemplating nonsense, and soon, even Pete forgets about it.
While being chased by everyone they've encountered (and disrupted) in the various vignettes, they run onto a bridge, shoving people out of the way. We see that they weren't being "wacky" at the beginning of the film; they were desperately trying to escape being mere scripted puppets. Finally, we see that they went to the bridge to make the ultimate assertion of free will. They jump off the edge and commit suicide, falling a very long way and slamming into the water far below.
However in the final scene, we see that this, too, was scripted. The film's director hauls their soaked bodies away in a huge aquarium while the four stare blankly through the glass, struggling under the water. Laughing, he rolls the aquarium into a slot at the studio warehouse, to be taken out when he wants to use them again in another movie.