Matt Berninger and his brother Tom chilling in the garden (Scene from "Mistaken From Strangers")

Matt Berninger and his brother Tom chilling in the garden
(Scene from ‘Mistaken From Strangers’)

Blood is thicker than water. Or wine. Or basically anything. We are all supposed to take this old saying for granted. It’s a thin string to hold on to. Anyone who grew up in a difficult family situation might know a thing or two about that. Whether you like it or not – family is family. Cynics might say you are obligated to join forces with people you might barely share common interests besides the fact that you share the same blood. Yes, that’s a common scenario. No family is perfect. Some are way more broken on the inside than they might admit on the outside. But what’s the solution? Sticking together anyway? ‘Getting along with it’? Talking it out? Part ways? Therapy? Plenty of ideas. Matthew Berninger, leadsinger of indie-rock heroes THE NATIONAL, made a different choice. One he wasn’t immediately aware of, in the beginning.

‘I defend my family with my orange umbrella’ – from ‘Afraid of Everyone’ by THE NATIONAL

In the haze of the band’s 2013 released record Trouble Will Find Me THE NATIONALalso premiered a movie that shares a title with their 2007 hit single Mistaken For Strangers. It was directed by Matt’s brother Tom Berninger, who is also the unintended star of it. On the surface this might look like another ‘Band goes on tour, camera follows its moves’-documentary. Well, it originally was intended as one and it might feel like one in the start. But then it takes a whole different direction. Something way more meta and highly emotional. It not only becomes an insight into the life on the road with the successful band around the period of their 2010 hit record High Violet. It becomes an insight into a struggling relationship of two brothers. And it somehow becomes a lesson in resolving that struggle.

During the band’s recent stop in Berlin NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION had the chance to take an exclusive look on the movie. We won’t give away too much right now. The band and Tom Berninger are currently in talks about a global premiere of the movie in 2014. If you get the chance to watch it somewhere in the meantime (it’s at plenty of film festivals) please do so. You won’t regret it.

To touch on the story a bit… the initial position is clear. Matt is a semi-famous rock star who’s band finally made the breakthrough after a decade of hard work. Tom’s younger brother is a … well, to put it plainly, loser in the traditional way. He’s a metal head with a big gut and a big passion of beginning various creative projects and not finishing them in the end due to fear and laziness. He’s in his thirties, lives with his parents and is a bit weird and childish in general. But in the end he’s a lovely guy and Matt is his brother. And since Matt remains the only one without a brother as a bandmate, he thought taking his brother with the band on the road might be a good idea. Of course it was not. We won’t tell you what happens in the course of these 90 minutes. But expect an intense ride of emotions and a fascinating insight into the heat of THE NATIONAL and its front man. The level of intimacy is something you don’t see in many other documentaries.


‘All the very best of us, string ourselves up for love’ – from ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ by THE NATIONAL


New roles. Tom protecting his brother Matt during a show.

New roles? Tom protecting his brother Matt during a show.

Rivalry, jealousy, competition and protective instinct. The relationship between brothers can be a tough one. Tom and Matt might be aware of that and focusing on the facile positive aspects for as long as they can. But under the surface conflict is brewing. Everyone with siblings might know this feeling. We’ve all been there before. Any general solution to the problems? ‘It’s good to leave your roles’ said Matthew Berninger in a short Q&A-session after the screening. ‘We’ve met on an equal level. He stopped being the little brother, I stopped being the older one. We’ve became friends.’ Especially in the closing scenes of the movie you can feel that. Matt furiously performs Terrible Love while running through the crowd. Tom is a security guard, following his brother, holding the microphone cable and holding his brother as well. At the end he’s smiling. Accepting the fact that he might not be as famous as his brother but that he’ll find his own way. As a human being and as a creative person.

In the end this is the lesson Mistaken For Strangers offers to the audience. There is no perfect relationship, especially within your own family. And your brother or sister might be the weirdest person around. He or she might not share your ideas or your values. He or she might even be an asshole from time to time. But in the end he or she is as much of an individual as you are. Life is too short to fight, you just have to find a right approach to it. You have to find your way, questioning yourself while tolerating a few aspects of the other one. And it’s never too late to start. That’s what Mistaken For Strangers teaches you. It’s mainly patience as THE NATIONAL front man Berninger told the audience after the presentation. Hard work and patience, to be exactly. Like it always is in life. But it might be easier in the end with your own relatives as with complete strangers, wouldn’t you agree?

‘Mistaken For Strangers’ was directed by Tom Berninger. The documentary is out now in selected cinemas and also available via iTunes. Find more information about the current and upcoming screening events of the film on it’s homepage.