I’ve been thinking about something for over a year now. It started with this:
This was the first time I can ever recall that a fantasy movie crossed a very real bridge for me. I remember watching this and thinking, clear as day, “this is real.” A superhero movie was addressing an issue that was relevant in our day and age, without any guise, and I wondered how many other people got that. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I thought about it in Age of Ultron, when the Sokovia Accords started to be addressed. I thought about it in Captain America: Civil War when Iron Man and Cap faced the reality that they supported two very different realities. And I thought about it with StarWars— I thought about that a lot. StarWars.
Our generation has been blissfully unaware of the reality of war. The Iraq War is the extent of our experience with warfare, and even that seemed awfully far off, almost surreal in its distant. Perhaps others remember more, being older than I was, but all I really recall is yellow ribbons. I didn’t have any family members who were in the military at that time, and I didn’t know anyone who died overseas during the war. This was not Vietnam, where those who did come back came back indescribably scarred, both mentally and physically. This was not WWII where every able-bodied man was drafted to support the cause. Our generation has never faced the reality of uprisings and rebellions and catastrophic loss. And this is a reality that is added to by the privilege of our nation. It’s been 150 years since our nation was torn by civil war, while numerous countries are still locked in deathly struggles and have been for years; it’s been over a decade since a U.S. city faced the threat of attacks from the air, while even in the past week, entire towns have been obliterated by air strikes. Rationing has not taken place in the states since WWII, while there are citizens of other countries starving to death due to the grips of warfare. And rebellions? What do we know? We are children, rebels without a cause, playing pretend and speaking when we feel like it. We have never been faced with the hard choice, never faced the fork in the road. Sure, we make decisions– speak up on social media, maybe even say something to a stranger who is harassing someone. And then what? We return to our bubble, we step back into our scene, we walk down the sidewalk of the free world and do not have to worry about what lurks around the next corner or who heard us defending someone who is deemed lesser than us. We do not know of the gestapo or the thought police or the people’s security. We know nothing and we have nothing to fear.
StarWars. Perhaps our closest association to a war-torn galaxy, and it has been presented to us over the course of 30 years, eight movies, a number of books, one TV show, and endless merchandise. The implications of The Rebellion versus The Empire are, for most people, almost entirely lost in their shiny packaging and sweeping soundtracks. Han Solo! Leia! Oh and Yoda! Who doesn’t love Yoda… How easy it is to forget that this is a war story. The rebel alliance made the choice to stand up against a global– nay a galactic– superpower. Leia risked her life and her position– not to mention lost her entire planet (her country, if you will)– to stand up for the rest of the galaxy. Ambassadors gave up their privilege, their positions, and their safety to give what they could. Yoda was one of the last remaining survivors of a genocide. We watch these movies and forget that we are watching a violent grappling for freedom. We forget that beneath every storm trooper helmet lies a human being. Count Dooku, General Grievous, Darth Maul– these are generals and weapons specialists. Han Solo and Chewie are average citizens turned rebels, normal people who made the choice to fight for what they believed to be right.
What I’m trying to say is that I think we have missed the point, and I think we still are. Rogue One reminded me once again of the implications and far-reaching impacts of war. Rebellions start somewhere, and rebellions are not merciful. And while most people my age will watch Rogue One two or three times and enjoy the fight scenes and hat-tips to the original trilogy, I find it safe to say that the majority will never grasp what is actually happening and what the series is actually about. The prequels catalog a descent into war. Senators doing their best to maintain a grasp on control, government officials choosing between what is right and what is easy. I can’t help but think a similar scenario looms on the horizon for us, in which we will have to choose. Choose to live a quiet life of safety and not speaking up, or if we will choose to brave the colder horizons of Hoth, where danger lurks at every turn, but where we are fighting for the future.
And yet still, we are removed. We’ve seen how many of the rebels die, how many of the fighter pilots are shot down. But they’re extras in a movie, and we’re not surprised when they die, are we? We are removed from the reality of war. I’ve been seeing a lot of Empire bumper stickers lately, and it gives me pause. I struggle to comprehend the reasoning behind supporting the empire. Even Wikipedia describes it as “a brutal dictatorship, one based on tyranny, xenophobic hatred of non-humans, power projection through brutal and lethal force, and, above all else, constant fear.” Why would anyone openly support that? And then I remember– it’s a movie. Darth Vader is a badass. It’s all fiction. It’s easy to pick sides. And in a way, this only makes me more frustrated. Because how far off is that, really? Here lies what may very well be our generation’s best frame of reference for what is right and what is wrong within government structures, and are we overlooking it?
I have long pondered the implications of desensitization in media and videogames (which is a topic for a different post) and I wonder if this is a similar case. How easy is it to look at the clash of rebels vs empire with excitement. We settle in with our popcorn, the lights dim, we squirm excitedly. We forget that the Empire is a dynasty built on hatred, leaving entire races extinct in the blink of an eye. Half of me says I’m being melodramatic and taking all the fun out of an enjoyable franchise that has been a part of my life for over a decade. But the other half says it is childish and irresponsible to overlook the larger themes. Stories hold meaning.
Ever since I read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was seven or eight, I knew there was a larger struggle in the world. An overreaching battle between good and evil, one that would manifest itself in virtually every worthwhile story for the rest of my life. And sure, they’re just stories. But stories are often based on history, and history is destined to repeat itself. And when that day comes, when the circle restarts, wouldn’t we want to be the Leia Organas and the Lucy Pevinses of our stories? Wouldn’t we want to stand up and say no, this is not right? Wouldn’t we want to be the heroes, the protectors, the valiant? Wouldn’t we want to speak the truth, even if our voices shake?
These are the films that I’ve watched more than once (and in the case of Amelie and The Boxtrolls, watched more than ten times) and am consequently certain of their places in my all-star lineup. These are the movies that held up over multiple viewings, and in some cases, have even improved.
Concept: A young immigrant girl is bored at a hospital and befriends an injured stuntman. He tells her a story to help pass the time, and we see that story through the lens of her vivid imagination.
Why I love it: This is my number one favorite film. Everything gets a little murky after this, with no discernible order to the favorites, and they often shift rank based on my mood– but this is a clear cut and unquestionable first place. The Fall has an impeccable storyline with small Easter eggs noticeable on second and third viewings. The cinematography is breathtaking and the costuming is stunning. There is an inventive narrative approach, largely thanks to utilizing the lens of the MC’s imagination, and the characterization that progresses throughout the film is impressive as can be. If you haven’t watched this film yet, then you are really and truly missing out.
Concept: Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 book The Price of Salt, the film follows the story of a salesgirl who meets an older woman around the Christmas season. Hardships ensue as their relationship becomes more intimate and subsequently, more elicit.
Why I love it: In my opinion, this film excelled in a lot of the places that Blue is the Warmest Color fell short for me. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post that will discuss the male gaze in film!) The chemistry is quietly powerful and it lends a simmering undercurrent of tension to the entire viewing. The film also showcases one of my all-time favorite uses of color theory. I’m hoping to share a full post about how it does so in the future, so for now I’ll just say that color plays as important of a role as any of the characters do. Carol is one of my favorite adaptions as well, and you can read more of my thoughts on that transition here. And last but not least, Cate Blanchett is the light of my life.
Concept: After the death of her family, a young girl is taken in by a middle-aged assassin. Their relationship is somehow simultaneously complicated and simple, but as the story progresses, things become less clear-cut.
Why I love it: Honestly, I think this is a film that shouldn’t work but it somehow does. Twelve-year old Natalie Portman stuns in her first ever feature film, especially given the subject matter. What makes this film one of my favorites is the way quiet interactions take on so much meaning within the scope of this super off the wall scenario. Nothing about the situation is normal, but somehow that allows the humanity to take center stage. It’s a brilliant bit of story telling, and one that tugs on my heartstrings every single time I watch it.
Concept: A dysfunctional family undergoes an exceptionally dysfunctional and challenging period in their lives as their patriarch attempts to insert himself back into their lives.
Why I love it: I think everyone has a favorite Wes Anderson film. It’s hard not to. His aesthetics are magnificent and his characters are all so unique, and this film is no exception. As much as I adore Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums will always hold a very special place in my heart. Something about the arrested development and extensive cast of characters (and the dalmatian mice, obviously) just connects with me. I once wrote an entire paper for a college course about the movie and it’s the only Anderson film I own on DVD.
Concept: A young girl in the foster care system finds an unexpected passion in carving butter. She ends up rivaling the area’s most headstrong southern belle in a regional butter sculpture competition.
Why I love it: I grew up in Texas, and remember all too well the massive butter sculptures at the state fair every year (one year there was a life-sized cowboy on horseback). This film fills that very specific setting with an amazing cast: Jennifer Garner, Hugh Jackman, Oliva Wilde, and Ty Burrell. If there’s anyone I love more than Cate Blanchett, it’s Oliva Wilde. Each character has a huge personality, and somehow they all manage to mesh seamlessly with each other. It’s a very specific style of humor– it’s weird and satirical and sarcastic, and it’s quite possible that this is my very favorite comedy to date.
Concept: An orphan boy is raised by a small group of agoraphobic trolls who collect trash. They live underground and are being hunted to extinction due to a campaign of fear and propaganda from the evil exterminator. Also, cheese.
Why I love it: It’s no secret that I love a well-executed animated film, and I think I love this one most of all. I’ve seen this feature more times than any other movie in the world, and each time it charms me in new ways. It’s witty and imaginative, and amusing without feeling trite. In a world of animated movies like Trolls and The Emoji Movie, which tend to leave plot and characterization by the wayside, Boxtrolls is a blissful haven. The cast of voice actors is sublime (especially considering Elle Fanning’s most recent voice work in Leap! left much to be desired) and the animation itself is perfectly suited to the subject matter.
Runner-ups: Amelie, Rise of the Guardians, and Cry-Baby
One of the Good Ones
These are the films that I have only watched once thus far, but that really connected with me in the first viewing. Although they struck me as sublime upon that initial viewing, I would require a re-watch to be really certain.
Concept: A documentary following the lives of the people who were largely responsible for the birth of the drag scene in the 1980s. It focuses on balls, voguing and “the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.”
Why I love it: I went through a very brief documentary phase early last year, and out of the dozen I watched, this was the only one that really connected with me. It is heartbreaking in its honesty, and there is a tangible sense of both hope and fear throughout the entire film. It is beautifully composed, but more importantly, it tells such imperative stories, both on a cultural and individual level.
Concept: A young boy in the foster care system gets his last chance with an older couple living in the New Zealand bush. Shenanigans (and a national manhunt) ensue.
Why I love it: I should probably preface this with saying that I adore Taika Watiti. I was introduced to him via What We Do in the Shadows, and only became further enamored with him during the course of the Team Thor shorts that were released during the Captain America: Civil War marketing campaign. I’m definitely late to the Hunt for the Wilderpeople party, having just watched it last month. But boy oh boy did it blow me away– I think I experienced the full range of human emotion throughout the hour and a half viewing time. Watiti somehow manages to meld his quirky humor with a deep sense of humanity for a story that is poignant and enjoyable.
Concept: A Japanese heiress is being courted by a conman. She has a mysterious uncle. That’s all I’m going to say because it’s a far more enjoyable viewing if you don’t know the storyline.
Why I love it: Plot twists abound! It’s not very often that I come across a plot twist that fully catches me off guard, but this story kept me guessing at every turn. Chan-wook Park did a brilliant job in approaching the multiple POVs, and each of the three acts brings a new perspective to what you thought you knew. In addition, every frame is visually stunning, as are the costumes. I can’t wait to watch this a second time and see what hidden things I pick up on now that I know the storyline. This isn’t like any love story you’ve seen before.
Runner-ups: Captain Fantastic, What We Do in the Shadows, The Longest Week
They always say you should under-promise and over-deliver, but today I’m going to be talking about books that over-promised and under-delivered. Whether it comes to you via a personalized recommendation or a dust cover, sometimes you hear about a book that sounds just about perfect. There’s not really any feeling like diving into such a book with a load of anticipation and excitement, only to progressively realize what a letdown it is. Here are some of the books that did that for me.
The Circle — Dave Eggers
Concept: A social media conglomerate infiltrates every aspect of the world. Imagine Google and Apple and Facebook were all one platform/company, and that entire company was consolidated on a self-contained and self-sufficient campus where all the employees lived and worked and shopped and partied. Then imagine that monopoly-styled social media/cult decided to apply their policies and insidious over-sharing to the entire world.
Why I was excited: This idea is up there with the recent Black Mirror episode Arkangel in terms of things I think about on a very regular basis (coincidentally, I think Arkangel was poorly executed as well). Social media is becoming an integral aspect of life, and it’s not a stretch to imagine a world in which everything is conducted over those platforms. Super-corps like Amazon and Google are already expanding into new sectors, and I’ve said more than once that someday those two companies will probably rule the world. It’s a spooky concept, largely because it doesn’t take a huge stretch of imagination to picture a world where social media runs everything and everyone is “transparent”. In our current world of live-streaming, apps that track “likes” and interactions, and global networks of online friends, the world of The Circle doesn’t seem very far off.
What didn’t work: When I first started this blog, I wrote a post about my pet peeves in female characters, and that post was largely sparked by the main character of this book, Mae. Mae is, hands down, the absolute worst female lead I have ever read. She is an insult to women and it is glaringly obvious that she was written by a male writer. She’s sickeningly one-dimensional (to be fair, the majority of the characters are), excessively contentious, overly and vocally emotional, easily distracted, overtly sexual (all within horribly written and trite sex scenes), and consistently jealous.
The book features very little plot development outside of events that propel the concept rather than the characters, and there is zero understanding of human behavior. People just accept that they are going to be on camera 24 hours a day for the rest of their lives, and the only people who don’t agree with it are painted as these crackpot outliers. The foreshadowing was obscenely heavy-handed (gee I wonder what that vicious killer shark in the office aquarium could possibly be alluding to). The entire story was undercooked, as were the characters and plot points. Eggers made little to no attempts to make the technological advances believable, and didn’t even bother to give a set time frame so readers could know how far in the future this is supposedly taking place.
“There were a handful of times when I looked something up, or asked the opinion of someone more tech-savvy than I am, but for the most part this was just a process of pure speculative fiction.”
Who did it better: I don’t know if anyone has really delved into this concept yet? Obviously, 1984 does a pretty stellar job with the concept of being watched and how that impacts behavior, but it’s the social media aspect that I’m so fascinated by. If you know of a book that has a similar concept, please let me know because I would LOVE to read a better version of this idea. Social media and oversharing give me the willies.
The Hunger Games — Suzanne Collins
Concept: In a dystopian society, children are forced to fight to the death, which somehow serves to enforce the power and control of the Capitol. The various “districts” are kept separated from each other to prevent communication and uprisings, but a teenage girl in this year’s games inadvertently starts a rebellion.
Why I was excited: Honestly, I just really love a good dystopian world with a rebel uprising. Even more so when those rebels are young folks trying to navigate the experience of growing up while simultaneously saving the world. Add in some borderline gladiator fights being broadcast around the world and I’m in.
What didn’t work: I haven’t read these books since they came out… because I really hated them. I remember being over the moon for the idea, but gradually finding myself more and more disappointed (and dare I say, disgusted) with the route things took. Even at the ripe old age of 14, I loathed love triangles with a passion, and Gale and Peeta made me want to set fire to those damn novels.
More to the point though: why kids instead of criminals? Why not force any other group except children to engage in gladiator-style showdowns? Regardless, Collins’s writing style is really not well-suited to this concept. She tends to be descriptive in the wrong places and bland and unimaginative everywhere else– I don’t really need three paragraphs about a dress, but I would like more than two sentences about the giant cornucopia in the arena. Also, Katniss is a total Mary Sue. Sorry not sorry, she really is.
Who did it better: I know that the common comparison is to Battle Royale, which I unfortunately haven’t read. However, if it’s teens fighting to the death that you want, Red Rising really knocks it out of the park and features a far more believable premise in a far more immersive world.
Annihilation — Jeff VanderMeer
Concept: This is a tricky one to describe, given that the book was so damn vague about everything. Essentially, a strange biological invasion is very slowly spreading from the mysterious “Area X”. Expeditions fail to safely return, and a new group is sent in to try and chart further progress. We’re thrust into a world that’s kind of (not really) that different from our own. There are some weird creatures that are eerily sentient, strange lights and brightness, a gelatin monster in a tower/tunnel, lots of words that don’t make sense, and that’s basically it.
Why I was excited: I wrote a full review (see link below) about this book a while back, and I mentioned that I read the book because I saw the trailer. The trailer made it all look very exciting and mysterious, and even the blurb for the book made it sound similarly intriguing and eerie. A excerpt from the dust cover reads as follows: “They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.” I mean come on– what’s not to be excited about?
What didn’t work: Aside from the unpredictable narrator, pretty much none of it worked for me. The book presents loads of questions but provides no answers, and the whole thing feels like a long drawn-out fever dream instead of the psychological thriller that the synopsis makes it out to be. It would be the kind of dream where you’re listening to someone tell you about it, and you can tell it really resonated with them because they were there for it all, but they can’t really convey the specific atmosphere that made it resonate with them in the first place. I largely blame VanderMeer’s writing style for the atmospheric shortcomings. It had a lot of potential, but there’s very little that’s actually said and even less to be found between the lines. It spools on and on without actually saying much of anything or creating an immersive world. His descriptions are distracting and his prose is clunky, and it all just serves to take the reader further out of a world that’s extremely challenging to get into in the first place. You can read my full review here, where I complain a bit more eloquently.
Who did it better: I don’t have an exact literary example, but I recently watched The Machinist for the first time and I think this book could have (and should have) felt like that film. I had an elevated heart rate the entire time the movie was playing. From start to finish, there is a tangible tension because you know something is wrong, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. Annihilation had the potential to harness that same uneasy energy, and it would have been infinitely better for it. It also would have been infinitely better as a short story instead of a novel.
Uglies — Scott Westerfeld
Concept: A futuristic world features what appears on the surface to be a utopian society that requires all teenagers to undergo a surgery which makes them beautiful and happy. They are told that the operation is the great equalizer and that this way of life is so much better than the lifestyle of the humans who destroyed the planet and decimated natural resources. Plot twist: the surgery actually infects parts of the brain to make people complacent and ignorant. And so begins the epic saga of Tally Youngblood and her efforts to restore free will to the world.
Why I was excited: Are you picking up on a common theme here? I really like stories about dystopian societies and the people who try to fix them. Like The Hunger Games, I read this book back in my freshman year of high school. Unlike The Hunger Games, I really loved this book at the time and found it to be quite successfully executed. In a fit of nostalgia, I re-read the full trilogy in February, and needless to say, I didn’t find it so successful this time around. However, I don’t find the concept any less intriguing. The idea behind the surgeries in the story is that we put so much stock into physical appearances. There are so many references to the old days when people judged others based on their skin tone, or people forced themselves to throw up because they felt inadequate. Sound familiar? The surgery gives everyone the same olive skin tone, the same BMI, as well as similar heights and bone structures. It’s supposed to bring peace by imposing physical equality. It’s easy to see how the leaders of the story’s society thought this could be beneficial. Unlike the other books on this list, there wasn’t a tyrannical dictatorship or a mega-monopoly that took things too far, just a group of people who looked at the world and saw that something needed to change.
What didn’t work: The biggest sticking point for me was the surgeries. These reconstructive surgeries completely revamp bodies: they peel back skin, change facial bone structure by shaving down the bones themselves, add height by introducing additional vertebrae, synthesize muscle tissue and hair follicles– all in an overnight surgery. The operations are impossible in their scope and inconceivable in their lack of recovery time. Westerfeld is a talented writer, but his descriptions consistently and repeatedly fall short. He fails to fully explain any of the technology that makes these surgeries (and all the other feats through the books) possible. In this regard– and several others– the trilogy progressively gets worse. The surgeries become increasingly intense and invasive, going so far as to create super-powered humans with faces like wolves (?!?). Of course, this all takes place in the course of a single year, so our MC is only 16 during all of these events.
Who did it better:Red Rising features an important reconstructive surgery, and instead of taking 12 hours, it takes closer to six months. The patient is in excruciating pain, has to undergo extensive physical therapy, and the surgeries come in waves instead of all at once. It’s believable, and because that surgery is the groundwork for the entire plot, it makes the rest of the story more believable by default.
While I was writing this post, I picked up a few common themes between these books: all of them had weak female leads, all but one were made into movies, and all but one were clever dystopian societies. When it comes to the film versions, I felt that all of them were just as poorly executed as the books, but in different ways. For example, Hunger Games vastly improved on the visuals and settings that Collins’s descriptions left lacking. However, it failed on simple items of importance, such as the source of the mockingjay pin.
We all know how much I love a strong female lead, and now I’m realizing how much I gravitate towards dystopian societies. So if you have a recommendation for me, drop it in the comments! As always, thanks for reading ♥
For someone who can’t match anything except black to white, I really do have a strange fascination with fashion. It’s something I haven’t delved too deeply into on this blog yet (although I do have the beginnings of a category for it) but it’s one of my favorite parts of an immersive film. I feel like menswear is a largely underappreciated aspect of costume design, so I thought I would take a minute to touch on some of my favorite menswear moments in film. Enjoy!
The Place Beyond the Pines || Costume Design by Erin Benach
Anyone who knows me knows that my very favorite outfit on a guy is a fitted white tee and dark blue jeans. That’s it. Whether it’s crisp and clean or slouchy and stained, there is something so simple and nonchalant about the combo that makes it feel timeless. In film, the simplicity of the outfit allows character traits and demeanors to take center stage. In The Place Beyond the Pines, Luke wears an oversized tee and acid splashed jeans that serve to make him look simultaneously tough and aloof. His devil-may-care attitude is played up by the wardrobe choice and fits seamlessly with the storyline.
Also see: Wade Walker (played by Johnny Depp) in Cry-Baby and Jim Stark (played by James Dean) in Rebel Without a Cause
Django Unchained || Costume Design by Sharen Davis
All too often, men’s costumes are reduced to monotone suits and nondescript outfits that might as well have been pulled from a department store. Thanks to costume designer Sharen Davis, however, that was the furthest thing from the case for 2012’s Django Unchained. Every wardrobe change is meaningful and feels like a step down a path of self-discovery– none of them more so than Django’s green bounty hunter garb. It is functional yet stylish, and in it, he looks like his true self: a hero.
Also see: No one. This outfit is unparalleled.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them || Costume Design by Colleen Atwood
I may or may not have a thing for lanky boys with floppy hair and freckles. Bonus points if they’re a little awkward and have eyes that crinkle when they smile (I’m looking at you, Andrew Garfield). The icing on the cake of this very particular look is the outfits that they are typically paired with. In most cases this means soft sweaters and eyeglasses, but in the best cases, this means Oxford shoes and rumpled button downs. No one does this look better than the one and only Newt Scamander. A cosplayers dream, Eddie Redmayne’s costume for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a tailored combination of peacock blue and mustard yellow. The layered outfit, the hemmed trousers, and the tiny bowtie somehow add to his overall vulnerability while simultaneously making him look polished and oh-so-very English. Designer Colleen Atwood says of the look: “I felt like he was a bird or one of his fantastical beasts. I wanted him to look regular in the world to pass, but also to be exceptional in a sort of subtle way.”
Also see: Brian Johnson (played by Anthony Michael Hall) in The Breakfast Club and Ronald Miller (played by Patrick Dempsey) in Money Can’t Buy Me Love
A Streetcar Named Desire || Wardrobe by Lucinda Ballard
While certainly not the pinnacle of fashion, dirty tanks and trousers are still iconic, almost entirely thanks to Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Stanley in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Of course, that fame was largely due to the fact that Brando was a total dreamboat strutting around with his muscles rippling under a sheen of sweat.
Also see: Donny Donowitz (played by Eli Roth) in Inglorious Basterds and Tyler Gage (played by Channing Tatum) in Step Up
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid || Costume Design by Edith Head
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid absolutely devastated me when I watched it in college. I’ve watched 983 movies in my lifetime (but who’s counting), and this is one of only two that had an ending that really stuck with me. The ending doesn’t have anything to do with fashion, I just had to get that out of the way. The wardrobe choices in this film are all about practicality. Every item of clothing has that soft look that comes with wearing the same exact thing every single day, and the layered clothes probably smell like sweat and sunshine. Combined with the neck bandannas and flat brimmed hats, the whole ensemble comes together realistically, but also stylishly, and that is thanks to the effortless suaveness of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. They make dusty coats and rumpled trousers look like haute couture. Cowboy chic to the max.
Also see: Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford) in A New Hope and Jim Craig (played by Tom Burlinson) in The Man From Snowy River
Pretty in Pink || Costume Design by Marilyn Vance
While I’m sadly not a big Molly Ringwald fan, Pretty in Pink was a high school favorite for one big reason: Ducky. I have a hunch that I might feel different if I were to rewatch it now, but at the time, I found Ducky’s loyalty and sense of humor to be downright marvelous. His fashion sense only made him seem more delightful, even though I could never quite tell if he was quirky without trying to be, or if he was actually trying really really hard. Either way, his bolo ties, layered looks, and small shades are still the absolute coolest in my book.
Also see:Sing Street‘s music video ensembles.
The Great Gatsby || Costume Design by Theoni Aldredge (1974) & Catherine Martin (2012)
I suppose no list about menswear would be complete without a mention of suits. They say a bespoke suit is the male equivalent of extravagant lingerie. And whoever “they” are, they aren’t entirely wrong. There is something so divine about the crisp lines of a tailored suit. A good suit can transform the wearer, elevate the scenario, and delight the company. And no one is a better example of this than the late, great Jay Gatsby. You can take your pick between Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal– the effect is the same. He is, after all, the man with the cool, beautiful shirts.
Also see: Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht) in TV’s Suits and Dr. Robert Laing (played by Tom Hiddleston) in High-Rise. And James Bond, probably.
The Fall || Costume Design by Eiko Ishioka
I would be truly remiss if I didn’t at least mention The Fall. I’ve talked at length about my adoration for Eiko Ishioka’s costume design, and her work on The Fall is no exception. The over the top presentation of the colors and styles are a perfect match for the rest of the film, and all of the bright primary colors work in perfect sync to create a flawless set of costumes.
Runner ups include: Erik Killmonger’s hip museum outfit in Black Panther, Willy Wonka’s posh velvet suit and top hat in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chris Hemsworth’s deep v-necks in Rush, Roux’s everything in Chocolat, Sam’s boy scout chic in Moonrise Kingdom, Ben’s red suit in Captain Fantastic, Tarzan’s loincloth, Armie Hammer’s turtlenecks in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Tyler Durden’s bizarrely colorful statement pieces in Fight Club.
What are some of your favorite film moments in men’s fashion? Let me know in the comments below!
And we’re back! I was hoping to share an official post about color in film before starting a second round of color-themed cinematography posts, but hopefully it’ll be coming along soon! (It’s one I’ve been planning for a long time.) In the meantime, enjoy this batch of green frames!
Sometime last year, I saw a blogger talking about Before Sunrise and how it was her favorite movie. I didn’t think much of it until a week or two later, when something ended up on my dash referring to the Before trilogy. Now that caught my attention: three movies following the same couple, set in real time? Far more interesting than a standalone romance plot, if you ask me. I added all three films to my watchlist, but honestly didn’t think much of them for a while. But then I watched Boyhood and realized that Richard Linklater might possibly be a storytelling genius, which left only one option: a movie marathon. The first lazy Sunday I had in February, I sat down and watched all three movies back to back to back. I don’t know if this post counts as a review or not, but I’ll definitely be rambling about all three movies and my thoughts on each one. Thanks for looking!
Before Sunrise (1995)
While watching this movie, I found myself with a similar reaction as I had to Boyhood, albeit on a lesser level. Despite the quietness and meandering pace of the story, I couldn’t help but be wholly invested in what was happening. It seemed sacrilegious to even think about scrolling through my phone or cooking food while bearing witness to two people connecting in such a human way.
What worked for me: Linklater has a way of telling stories that resonate, and I think that’s largely due to how he captures basic human interactions. A lot of romance movies (and lots of movies in general) feature a plot point or character interaction that is wholly unrealistic. It can make it difficult to relate, even if it’s a beautiful or touching moment. The power of Linklater’s stories is the humanity of them– they’re so peaceful and unassuming. He manages to capture day-to-day moments and frame them in a way that feels a little more charming– as if the light was hitting them just right and making them look almost magical. I think he’s the visual medium equivalent of Billy Collins.
What didn’t work for me: Honestly, I would’ve totally bought into their relationship if not for one thing: Celine is WAY too good for Jesse. She’s clever, opinionated, mature, funny, and honest (and French, of course). He is none of things. He’s cynical and derogatory and irresponsible. In many ways, he feels like a manchild that she will be responsible for educating and elevating. She reminds me of myself in a lot of ways, and maybe that’s why I struggled with their interactions. It was impossible for me to ignore his red flags, and I wished she had been more up front about calling them out.
Favorite moment: The poet writing them the piece using the word “milkshake”.
Before Sunset (2004)
I think the first and third installments would have benefited from being the same length as this one. The impending time of departure carries a lot more weight for the viewer when you can feel the end sneaking up on you. I felt like Hawke and Delpy had even better chemistry here than in the first film, and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the natural flow of their conversation and interactions.
What worked for me: Chemistry aside, there was one thing that really got my mind to spinning. As a disclaimer, I’m rather a fan of conspiracy theories (my personal favorite: Idaho doesn’t exist). My theory isn’t quite as preposterous as that one, but I googled it and apparently I’m the only one thinking about it! I couldn’t find a single post, review, or article, so here it is: is no one talking about the possibility of Celine being a figment of Jesse’s imagination?? I think he made her up.
What didn’t work for me: I have one huge qualm with this installment: how in the world did Jesse become a writer?? Sorry, but he’s dull as hell and previously showed no artistic inclination or creativity. However, his sudden and miraculous transition into becoming a writer did spark my aforementioned conspiracy theory, so I guess I can’t really complain.
Favorite moment: The last two lines. That was the most impeccable ending imaginable and it gives me chills just thinking about it.
Before Midnight (2013)
To be fair, I think this installment was probably far more profound for viewers in the same age group as Celine and Jesse. Those who had been following the trilogy since 1995 had aged along with the couple, which indubitably made their arguments and challenges far more relatable. However, it was my least favorite, largely because all those red flags I saw in Jesse 18 years ago come roaring to the surface and Celine is stuck with the aftermath.
What worked for me: The opening scenes remind me so much of A Bigger Splash, which I mean as the highest compliment. The idyllic nature of Greece just feels so soothing and drowsy. It makes me want figs and sparkling wine on a sun-baked veranda. It was also interesting to see the two characters interact with other people for the first time. It was a risk on Linklater’s part, and I think it paid off.
What didn’t work for me: gaslighting, gaslighting, gaslighting. Jesse invalidates Celine’s emotions, disregards her reasons to be angry, and continuously attempts to sweep her feelings under the rug. He calls her “the mayor of crazy town” and belittles her for “carrying that much feminine oppression”. It was really disheartening to read IMDb reviews and realize how many people thought Celine was “being a bitter bitch” or was “totally overreacting”.
The ending also felt like a total copout. Watching Celine resign herself and dumb herself down at the cafe broke my heart. She had been making compromises for so long, and it felt like each time she did, she lost a little more of herself. You could actually see the moment she gave up.
Favorite moment: Celine storms out of the hotel room for the third time, but this time she leaves the keycard. The finality of that moment was so sublime, and the fact that she intentionally left it behind made me gasp out loud.
Overall, this was a deeply enjoyable and admirable undertaking. It’s rare to see such dialogue heavy films, much less ones that successfully execute such a specific stylistic choice. While I had my qualms throughout the series (primarily with Jesse being the worst), it was well worth the lazy Sunday to watch all three films in succession. I’ll probably be perusing more Linklater projects in the future, as I really haven’t come across another storyteller like him.
Remember that time I mentioned that once you see something that connects with you, you start to notice similar things elsewhere? Well, this is another stellar example of that! I had grabbed the below still from Spike Lee’s 2015 film Chi-Raq and set it aside, but had no idea what I was going to end up using it for. But once it was in my head, I started to see similar frames with similar compositions all over the place. I’ve been really excited to share this collection for a while, so thanks for looking!
Throughout the process of writing this post, I realized how much easier it is to write reviews for books you don’t like. I read these two books in the middle of March, devouring them in less than two days each, and I was absolutely over the moon for them both. There’s a lot more to talk about when books let me down, but I’m super excited by how great these two stories are, so here we go!
Red Rising –– Pierce Brown
Talk about your pleasant surprises! This book was a total home run for me. It’s like Harry Potter meets Ender’s Game. There’s a dystopian space society featuring a caste system, high powered humans, stunning technology, an undercover rebel, and fierce competitions pitting teens against each other in fights to the death. It’s brilliant. It’s stark and gritty and strategic and it was so much more than I was expecting (I bought a hard copy after reading an e-book version, so you know it’s real). It also introduced a character by the name of Sevro who is quickly on his way to becoming one of my favorite male characters of all time.
What worked for me: I seem to have been reading a lot of books lately featuring young MCs, and it doesn’t always come across as wholly believable (looking at you, Six of Crows). But for the first time in a long time, the youth of the characters feels legitimate. We’re thrown into this group of entitled 16 and 17 year olds and suddenly we’re surrounded by arrogance, emotion, posturing, and unbridled rage. Vendettas arise, lines are crossed, and there’s no shortage of angst. These teenagers are out in a wilderness and are engaging in the most cutthroat game of Capture the Flag imaginable. Some of the characters find themselves stepping up to the responsibility and leading, while others devolve into their basest selves. It’s all very Lord of the Flies and it totally works.
I also appreciated the integration of female characters as a natural and powerful presence. Even though the MC is a male, he surrounds himself with strong women, and at one point, his two military lieutenants are both young women. It brought to mind the part of Black Panther where T’challa was told to surround himself with people he trusted and he chose strong and brilliant women. The ruler of the entire galaxy is a women, and the familial structures alternate between patriarchal and matriarchal. The representation left a bit to be desired, but overall, the female characters were strong, varied, and refreshing.
The writing style is a stellar example of stylistic choices heightening the mood of the story itself. I touched on this way back when I wrote my Annihilation review and referenced the mind-boggling House of Leaves as a benchmark. Red Rising features a crisp, almost stark, writing style that totally plays up the militaristic tone of the entire plot. Everything is written in a clinical and expository nature, which outlines in no uncertain terms what is happening, what is being felt, and what is being planned. The entire book revolves around strategy, and the briskly clear-cut writing styles emphasizes that in the best kind of way.
What didn’t work for me: Although the female leads were solid, Brown does have a bad habit of basing the majority of derogatory comments on feminine traits (“he cried like a girl”/”they flaunt their weapons like girls with new toys”/”you sound like a girl, I thought you were tough”). For a world set centuries in the future and filled with powerful women, the jabs feel out of place and too reflective of our current misogynistic society.
I think the only other thing that brought me any frustration was the litany of house and family names. It feels very George R.R. Martin-esque in some spots, and in a book filled with planets, moons, and caste titles, the huge amount of characters and their allegiances can be a bit tricky to keep track of. Some of the houses have the same names as the planets, and different families have loyalties to one or the other or both.
Overall rating: Honestly, I think I would give it 9 out of 10 stars. It’s a super enjoyable and immersive read, and I’m so excited to dive into the rest of the trilogy. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s 11 reasons why you absolutely should.
Ready Player One — Ernest Cline
Ready Player One quickly became one of my favorite books back when I first read it in 2015. It came as a recommendation from a friend, and while I rarely end up enjoying recommendations, I could instantly tell something was special about this one. Over the years, it has become my go-to recommendation for people who don’t really like to read, especially if those people are 20-something year old males. Although I have less than zero interest in seeing the upcoming movie (because boooo, adpations), I saw the trailer in theaters and realized I was sorely overdue for a re-read. I blazed through the book in a weekend– which might have been even faster than I devoured it the first time– and to my surprise, the book totally holds up.
What worked for me: Like Red Rising, the writing style in the book plays up some of the best aspects of the story. Ready Player One takes place almost entirely in an online virtual reality world, and Cline creates this world for the readers. He’s the kind of writer that I could (probably) be if I wasn’t extremely lazy/my mind didn’t go so much faster than my words. His attention to detail is utterly flooring, and all of that hyper-detail helps to make the reader feel like they’re in VR as well. It’s a stroke of genius on Cline’s part, because he doesn’t just say that everything in the online world is perfectly rendered, he actually takes the time to show us that it is. It’s as immersive as writing gets, and for a story about virtual reality, it couldn’t have been more perfectly executed.
Wade, the main character, has a lingering aura of wish fulfillment, but overall, he’s a pretty splendid MC, especially for a nerdy white male. He’s relatable and honest, respectful and brilliant. I knew he was a likeable character when he opens his locker and his only decoration is a picture of Princess Leia posing with a blaster pistol. Anyone who doesn’t choose Leia in her slave bikini is okay in my book.
What didn’t work for me: Like I mentioned above, the wish fulfillment can be a bit heavy-handed in a few spots. Although Wade has spent his entire life in the online world, his incredible hacking abilities and memory retention can feel a wee bit far-fetched. However, there is no doubt that he also has shortcomings in this regard, which become obvious when he doesn’t make a few connections for the second key.
Overall rating: Although this is one of my favorite storylines of all time, there are a few gratuitous plot points that I find pretty difficult to ignore. For this reason, I would give it a solid 7.7 out of 10. For a far more intellectual reaction to Ready Player One, I highly recommend Michael Moreci’s think piece.
It’s no secret that I love red on the big screen. It’s my favorite color to watch be utilized, largely because it elicits such specific reactions from viewers, consciously or not. I just shared a post about the red dress in film, and how it can be used in such a variety of ways to achieve different thematic results. Someone recommended I do a similar post, but without the fashion aspect. So here we are! I have an extensive folder filled with my favorite red frames, so it was loads of fun to go through them and pick selections for this post. Enjoy!
Desire — Amélie
There was a summer of my life where I watched this movie on a weekly basis. I relate to Amélie on so many levels, and the whimsy that takes a front seat in the story truly delights me. While I’m not a huge fan of the overall color palette in the film, there are a couple of color choices that were really brilliant, and this frame is one of them. The overhead shot adds to the effect of Amélie being lost in a sea of red, which helps to increase the mood of aching desire that is so important throughout this movie.
Love — Captain Fantastic
This was one of my favorite films of the entire year, and I could honestly write an entire blog post about what made it so successful to me. It’s such a tender story about a father doing his very best by himself after his wife is no longer in their lives. It is clear from the very beginning how much he relied on her throughout his life and that they were two sides of the same coin. After their untimely (and unwanted) separation, we see Viggo Mortensen wearing his one suit—a red one. He wears it twice throughout the course of the movie, and both times are to bid her farewell. It was a stellar costuming choice, largely because it is such a visceral and vivid color, one we traditionally associate with romance and passion. As he tells her goodbye for the last time, his suit manages to feel like a torch, a beating heart, a love letter.
Longing — Atonement
I include frames from this movie so often in my cinematography posts, and with good reason. Seamus McGarvey is one of my favorite cinematographers, working on projects from Nocturnal Animals to We Need to Talk About Kevin. He has a real knack for setting up frames to convey varying emotions and moods (and in movies like We Need to Talk About Kevin, this is especially crucial). He’s a master of building tension through angles and symmetry, and the below frame is no exception. Atonement is one of the most heartbreaking films I’ve ever seen, with a plot twist that literally took my breath away. There is a tangible undercurrent of longing that the entire film is built upon is and relies upon, and I don’t think it would have been as successfully felt if not for McGarvey. Here, the pairing of the red curtains and the sliver through which the character is looking work together to emphasize the “outsider looking in” nature of the entire story. You can physically feel how badly she wants to be on the other side, to move forward.
Scheming — Big Eyes
This is a pretty recent viewing for me, and one that was largely fueled by Christoph Waltz’s presence (I’m not a big Amy Adams fan). He tends to just play variations of himself, but he’s one of my favorite villainous actors of all time because of his charismatic nature. There’s something extra sinister about a bad guy who comes off as so appealing. In this scene in Big Eyes, the character is not only lying in wait for potential clients, but he’s also about to pass off someone else’s art as his own. The red glow of the hallway makes the cheerful club seem a bit more ambiguous, and serves to hint to the viewer that someone is up to no good.
Passion — Chicago
I feel like this cellblock tango scene is probably on some “Top 100 Most Iconic Scenes” list somewhere. Even people who haven’t seen the movie can often recognize this frame. This entire song/dance number is lit in red light (with one important thematic exception) which ramps the sensual and passionate nature up to 100. It’s no coincidence that this scene is all about women murdering their husbands—crimes of passion, as it were. The red light helps to convey a lot of that important passion and heat to the viewer.
Anxiety — Neon Demon
For the sake of transparency, I’m going to come right out and say that I did not finish this movie. I found very little about it enjoyable, aside from some of the visuals. It’s the kind of movie that benefits from being watched in a theater—so much of it was shot in low lighting, making it hard to see on a smaller screen or brighter room. However, there are a lot of strobes and colored lights throughout the film, all of which serve to ramp up the discomfort and anxiety that the main character feels over her surroundings.
Is there anyone with quite as much angst as the Kylo Ren? Rian Johnson did a splendid job of playing up Adam Driver’s acting chops by choosing to bathe so many of his scenes in red. The scene in Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room is a particularly apt example of this. In this scene, Kylo is fighting a mental battle on just about every level. He is trying to choose who to help, and pondering how that will change things moving forward. This frame shows him with a bowed head against a field of red. The huge amount of the bloody shade in this frame screams at the viewer that Kylo is facing a brutal struggle.
Spring is almost here! While the first day of spring is still officially a week away, the beginning of March always feels like the beginning of the new season for me. Like my fall media intake, this winter was pretty visually inclined as well. Here are my top five favorites from the past several months!
I know I’m late to this party, but wow. What a treat this film is. Stoker has long been one of my favorite films, so I don’t know why I waited so long to check out another Park Chan-wook project. The structure of the film is impeccable, the varying POVs is seamless, the set and costume design is gorgeous, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. I watched the movie without knowing anything about the storyline (something I’m a huge fan of doing and highly recommend), so I was completely caught off guard by the plot twists and resolutions. This is now up there with Carol in terms of my favorite love stories, and one I’m super eager to watch again.
Six of Crows
I mentioned this duology in my recent post about book series, so I won’t talk about it too much here. However, coming from someone who hated the Grisha trilogy, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were so enjoyable. There’s a great character lineup, government infiltration, solid representation, and of course magic and assassins. It’s rare to read a book that successfully meshes six MCs and their point of views, but Bardugo executes it surprisingly seamlessly. Each character is unique and has their own set of driving forces and issues, but they interact as a group as well. I almost didn’t give these books a chance because of my dislike for the Grisha trilogy, but I’m so glad I did. (Artist credit here)
Another one I’ve mentioned recently, this movie was directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and was my female director pick for January. I love good costume design in a film, and in that regard, this viewing was delightful down to the last detail. Considering I can count on one hand all of the Kate Winslet movies I’ve ever seen, it seems noteworthy that she has ended up on my list of favorites both this season and last season. This is an Australian movie from 2015, based on the book by Rosalie Ham. If you’ve been following my cinematography posts, you might have noticed the name Donald McAlpine pop up a lot. He’s an extremely talented DP who happens to have worked on many of my favorite films. He has an extraordinary eye for framing, and this project is no exception.
The End of the F***ing world
Okay. So I first binge watched this when it was released, and really really enjoyed it. I talked about what it does right in my mini-review on You, but didn’t go very in depth. I just rewatched it again in January, and being aware of the storyline allowed me to really absorb the chemistry and characterization of the two main characters. Their on-screen interactions are so natural and charged, and it was a stroke of genius to include both of their internal narratives in tandem. The soundtrack is absolute perfection as well, and overall it’s a show worthy of multiple viewings. (I recommend watching all the episodes in quick succession, preferably in one day if possible. It allows the story to build and the character connections to become more tangible.)
Because I included The Last Jedi on my last favorites list, I was hoping to include another accessible blockbuster here… which ended up being entirely too easy after seeing Black Panther. I’ve been struggling with pacing in a lot of recent releases, and while I felt the same about Black Panther, Ryan Coogler absolutely knocked this out of the park in virtually every regard. This is a beautiful and empowering and important story, filled with impeccable casting and paired with a stellar soundtrack. The costume design was flawless (more to come on Ruth E. Carter in a future post) and Coogler’s inspiration from Ta-Nehisi Coates (who is undeniably one of the most talented writers of our time) made this script sing. Representation matters, and bearing witness to how uplifting and important this story is has been nothing short of magical. As Christopher Orr aptly puts it: Black Panther is more than a superhero movie. (Bonus: the second after-credits sequence was enough to make my heart implode.)
So there you have it! These were my top five favorites from this winter. Did you read or watch anything this over the past several months that stood out to you? If so, let me know in the comments!
For some reason, this was a challenging post to put words to. I want to talk about how impressive a character can seem if they’re framed properly, about how tension between two characters can be tangible if they’re framed properly, and how groups can be so imposing if– you guessed it– they’re framed properly. But words are hard today, so let’s just jump right in!
I’m going to start with a few frames featuring solo characters. I think this is a largely underrated and unnoticed aspect of film that many viewers might not pick up on, but there is so much potential to character introductions, and it feels rare to see that full potential being met. For that reason, I wanted to start with my all-time favorite first appearance: the one and only Marla Singer.
The below frame is a stellar example of showing instead of telling. We don’t really know anything about Marla at this point, but the instant the camera turns to her, it’s impossible not be in awe.
Straying away from first appearances, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m including a Donald McAlpine frame. The symmetry, shadows, and coloring of this character presentation all combine to work within the drama of the movie itself, and the tension of this particular scene.
The visuals of a character walking away from a fire/explosion/burning building is an age old technique. We see it in westerns, in spy flicks, in super hero movies, etc. But rarely do we see it paired with a femme fatale garbed in handmade haute couture. And boy oh boy does it work. What a force to be reckoned with.
Two people sharing a scene can run the gamut from stale to sensual. Characters can interact romantically, angrily, averagely, and so on and so forth. However, my favorite way for two people to share a frame is always when it’s charged with tension. This could be in a passionate way (a la cellblock tango in Chicago) or in a fearsome way (a la the xenomorph edging into a frame with a petrified Ellen Ripley).
The Handmaiden is an exquisite film, with every scene beautifully arranged and the characters perfectly positioned. But one of my very favorites moments was the one seen below. The repetition of the branches, the color juxtaposition of the costumes, and the locked eye contact all combine to create a tense and breathtaking scene.
Speaking of tense, how about this faceoff from the recent Black Panther? The tension is tangible between the two royals as they size each other up and stare each other down. Largely thanks to the negative space and forceful eye contact, you can feel the heat between the two of them.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve watched Hanna, and while I wasn’t over the moon for it back then, the final scene at the abandoned theme park has always stayed with me. This wide angle in particular is such a brilliant frame. Between the wolf head and the body language, the space between the two characters feels like a living thing, one Hanna is utterly determined to keep in existence.
Most of us have some sort of familiarity with standing in front of a large group of people. Either we are being watched, or we are doing the watching, and both carry with them their own sort of weight. It isn’t every day that a character is faced with a huge group of people on screen, which is part of why the below frames are so enjoyable.
In this frame from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, using Alice’s POV was a brilliant choice. Paired with the sea of white clothes and blankly expectant faces fading into the distance, you can almost feel the panic setting in.
A Cure for Wellness is easily one of my most hated films. However, it is undeniably incredibly visually appealing. From start to finish, the movie focuses on repetition, reflections, and uncomfortable focal points to institute an undercurrent of unease. You can’t shake the feeling that something is off. This eerily centered frame is no exception. The color coordinated balls, the lines of the pool and staircases, and the razor sharp focus of the group in the pool combine to leave a tinge of discomfort with the viewer due to the unnatural perfection of it all.
While I wasn’t wild about the storyline, Girl Asleep (directed by Rosemary Myers) is another shockingly beautiful film. Based on the play of the same name, the film utilizes an almost constant feeling of being watched to inject tension and unease through the movie. Between the dark forest, characters in masks, mirrors, and clever framework during school scenes, you can feel the discomfort of our main character.
So I was watching Requiem for a Dream for the first time back around Christmas, and was really fascinated by the use of the symbolic red dress, both for Sara Goldfarb and Marion. I set aside a frame from the film for a future post, and since then, have been slowly squirreling away red dresses to utilize. From the woman in the red dress in The Matrix to an entire wardrobe dedication in Bedazzled, red dresses have often functioned as symbolic articles of clothing. I’m super excited to share what I’ve found, and am really looking forward to touching on all the ways the color red is utilized to drive a certain message or mood home. Enjoy!
Defiance — The Dressmaker
I watched this movie in January and was absolutely over the moon for the costume design. Every single dress, glove, throw, and shoe is magnificent in its usage and presentation. Kate Winslet plays Myrtle, an estranged young woman from a small and secluded town in Australia. Her presence is unexpected and borders on unwelcome, and her every decision is an act of defiance against the traditional roles that the town still relies upon. She goes against the grain in just about every way, and her choice of outfits for a rugby match is an exquisite example of that. In this context, the red dress symbolizes an outlier and even a bit of a rebel by highlighting the person who isn’t afraid to make a scene. (If you like fashion in film and haven’t watched The Dressmaker yet, you’re really missing out.)
Power — Black Panther
First of all, the wardrobe for Black Panther was utterly impeccable. Ruth Carter paid so much attention to every detail, from historic accuracy to color themes for certain characters (i.e. Nakia always wearing green). The choice to garb the guards (especially Okoye) in all red was an excellent decision. As I’ve discussed before, the color red instantly alerts viewers to the importance of something happening on screen. It is a color that can elicit strong emotional responses, and even heighten heart rate and breathing. To garb a fierce warrior in red serves to emphasize that power and the strength that she has. I’m specifically choosing the red dress from the Busan casino scene for this post because it strikes me as so empowering that dolled up or not, Okoye was a force of nature. In this context, the red dress functions as a symbol of raw power and sheer skill.
Passion — The Rum Diary
In terms of wardrobe, The Rum Diary is one of my favorite films of all time. As much as I love decadence, there is so much to be said for the sleek and subtle costuming of this film. Everything Chenault wears is so strikingly simple that it’s impossible to pretend like the clothes aren’t extravagantly expensive. Crisp diamond earrings, neutral dresses that look as if they were made for her, and red lipstick that goes on so smoothly it can only be Chanel– these are the trademarks of Chenault’s wardrobe. There is a scene where Chenault cuts loose and dances with a stranger at a jazz club, and the chemistry between them is electric. You can feel the tension while watching the scene, and I owe a large portion of that to the power of the red dress. In this context, the red dress serves as a vehicle of heightened sensuality and chemistry.
Longing — Requiem for a Dream
This is the frame that sparked this blog post. Although the red dress is an important plot point much earlier on, this feverish scene takes place toward the end of the film, after viewers have been taken through the emotional and mental ringer. We have seen our characters fall into such darkness and instability, and there is something utterly heartbreaking about the immense longing that Harry conveys as he moves towards Marion at the end of the pier. Her simple red dress is rustling the breeze, she is centered in perfect symmetry, her surroundings a blank canvas that make her stand out all the more. Harry has a razor sharp focus, perhaps for the first time in the entire film, and all that matters in that moment is moving towards her. In this context, the red dress heightens the focus and longing of the moment, and functions as a focal point to pour all that yearning into.
Seduction — Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Would any list about red dresses be complete without the iconic Jessica Rabbit number? Jessica Rabbit is a vastly underappreciated character, and is one who is often reduced to little more than a sex symbol. Her famous line “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” hints at the depths that lie beneath her surface. I’ve seen so many great posts about her and her characterization (one of my favorites: a theory that she’s asexual despite being boxed into her sex symbol status) and her outfit is a popular choice among fan art and cosplayers alike. She’s devoted and loyal, and is willing to put herself in unsavory situations for the sake of her husband. She makes it clear that she puts value in things other than physical appearances, which hints at her desire for others to value those same things in her as well. She’s clever when it comes to solving mysteries, sensual within the scope of her job, and doesn’t put up with anyone’s BS (bear trap hidden in her cleavage, anyone?) I get the impression that she resigned herself to always being judged at face value, and for that reason played up the sexuality she was “drawn” with. In this context, the red dress functions as a symbol of sex appeal and sensuality, able to be utilized as a tool of the trade.
Lust — The Great Gatsby
Baz Luhrmann is my favorite director for one big reason: decadence. From Strictly Ballroom to Australia, Luhrmann’s films make my heart sing– and The Great Gatsby is no exception. There’s hundreds of posts and articles about the wardrobe in this movie, largely thanks to Daisy’s costume design. And while those gauzy gowns are nothing short of ethereal, I’ll actually be focusing on someone else today: Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson. Because virtually everyone has read the book at some point, I don’t think Myrtle counts as a spoiler, but consider yourself warned. Daisy’s husband, Tom, is having an affair with the wife of his mechanic. She is a dewy and bright woman, and her husband is a worn down man who struggles to give her all that she wants. Tom comes along, all shiny cars and crisp suits and the rest is history. There’s this moment in Luhrmann’s movie where Tom and Nick are at the mechanic’s shop getting gas, and Myrtle floats down the stairs wearing a dress with red ruffling along the neckline, and there’s a flurry of stolen glances and touches. Later, the two are in an apartment together and Myrtle is wearing head to toe red. Tom can’t keep his hands off her. In this context, the red dress seems sensual and full of lust, acting as a magnet or a homing beacon to the object of Myrtle’s desire.
Love — Pretty Woman
Like Jessica Rabbit’s ensemble, this gown is pretty much as iconic as it gets. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, or isn’t at least familiar with it, so it probably comes as no surprise that it is on this list. Vivian wears this stunning floor-length red opera gown at a point in the movie where it’s clear both of our leads are catching the feels. In this context, the red dress seems decadent and romantic, and catches the attention of the viewer to show them that something has changed.
My personal Instagram features many a photo of crisp clean lines. Whether it be rafters or sidewalks or warehouses, I am endlessly enamored by the orderliness and structure of long lines. It’s one of the things that always elicits verbal responses from me when watching a film, and I never get tired of seeing new ways they’re showcased. Below, I’ve gathered some of my favorite film frames that use lines to highlight something or someone. Enjoy!
I’d be lying if I said series, both in books and in film, don’t exhaust me sometimes. The thought of an endless litany can wear me out to even consider, especially if it’s for a series that hasn’t yet been completed. It happens to me with TV shows that are still being aired (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), with book series that go on long hiatuses between novels (Song of Ice and Fire), and movie sagas that seem as if they will stretch on indefinitely and infinitely (Star Wars). There is something so daunting to me about jumping into a series that is not and may never be truly completed. I have a special place in my heart for series that follow their natural course instead of spinning their wheels ceaselessly. It’s why I loved Parks and Recreation all the way through, unlike The Office which had that weird two season slump that seemed as if it would never end. All that is to say that I have a lot of respect for authors who let stories run their natural course. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite book series!
I’ve mentioned before how much I adore prose that reads like poetry. For years, I struggled to write creatively outside of free form poetry, and I think I carried that affinity for rhythmic flows with me through my adult years. Books like The Virgin Suicides and Song of Achilles have very special places in my heart (and on my bookshelf) because of the lyrical nature of their narrative.
Catherynne M. Valente is the author of my favorite book series, known as the Fairyland Series, and she does lyrical prose better than anyone. The first book of her five-novel arc is titled The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and when I read it for the first time, I cried like a baby. It has heavy Alice in Wonderland themes, but with more logical rules and a more Arya Stark style heroine. Two of the leads, September and Saturday, are on my favorite female and male character lists, respectively, which speaks to the quality and consistency of Valente’s characterization. I’ve recommended this series more than once on this blog, and I’ll recommend it again here. It’s the most beautiful book series I have ever read, and it connects with me in new ways every time I return to it.
The Raven Cycle
I should probably stop writing about this series on what is starting to feel like a weekly basis— I think it’s starting to make me look a little one-dimensional. But honestly, it’s just that good. I love these characters like they’re my own children and I may or may not have a massive fan-cast post sitting in my drafts at this very moment.
In the past year or two, I’ve found myself with a growing appreciation for really solid characterization. One of my first posts on this blog was about my pet peeves in female characters, and it was entirely too easy to come up with specific examples for all of those annoyances. I have such a soft spot for flawed characters that a reader can still identify with– no Mary Sues or manic pixie dream girls or excessive wish fulfillment roles. The Raven Cycle has some of the best characterization I’ve ever come across, especially considering the sheer number of characters that are important throughout the course of the four books. Every single one of them is dynamic and unique, with their own set of flaws and weaknesses and desires. It’s nearly impossible not to connect with them, because their humanity emanates from every page of the books. Maggie Stiefvater, like Valente, is an incredibly talented author who possesses a huge capability for writing goosebump-inducing prose. Her work has a lyrical nature that is so deeply embedded with nostalgia and longing.
Six of Crows
So this was a recent read for me, and not something I was expecting to enjoy, much less devour. This duology takes place in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, which was a trilogy I was sorely disappointed by. To my slight frustration, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom take place after the Grisha trilogy and are set in the same world, so they are far more enjoyable for readers who are already familiar with the Grishaverse. There are many references to places, people, politics, and Grisha knowledge that would largely be lost on readers who hadn’t previously read the Grisha trilogy.
With that being said, Six of Crows excels in all the ways that the Grisha trilogy fell short for me. The characterization is spot on, the interactions are natural, the representation doesn’t feel like an afterthought, and the action is plausible and immersive. Bardugo’s writing feels like it came a long way between Ruin and Rising and Six of Crows, even though they were only a year apart. I read the e-book version of Six of Crows, and picked up the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, the instant I was finished with the first one. It’s rare for me to enjoy an e-book so much that I buy a hard copy, but I purchased the hardcover versions of both books immediately after completing them.
I really only had two qualms with the duology: the ages of the main characters, and the immersion of the settings. The first is a simple shortcoming, but it’s one that many other readers struggled with as well. The MCs are just too young to be believably engaging in the activities that they do (I wont say much on the topic for the sake of avoiding spoilers). My second complaint, however, is more of a personal preference. I’ve always been deeply impressed by Bardugo’s world-building– she crafts incredible political tensions, governmental structures, layered intrigue, and wholly viable geographics. But for some reason, I struggle to really visualize and immerse myself in her individual settings. From the Ice Court to the Crow Club, I always find her descriptions a bit lacking for my personal taste. I noticed the same thing in the Grisha trilogy, and can’t help but find myself a little disappointed by her visuals (or lack thereof).
Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom was also my first experience with a duology. The fascinating thing about duologies as opposed to trilogies is that the middle of the full story arc falls in between the two books, as opposed to the second book of a trilogy. For people who love a good cliffhanger, this is a wonderful treat, and Six of Crows pulls it off splendidly. The turn at the end of the first book propels the entire story forward in a huge way (again, vagueness in the interest of spoilers). Jodi over at Publishing Crawl has a great post on how to successfully manage this format, for anyone who might be interested.
All in all, Six of Crows has been my favorite read of 2018 thus far. It’s like Oceans Eleven meets Rogue One, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good heist story. Bonus: I’m a huge sucker for good fan art, and this duology has an abundance of it ♥
The Lord of the Rings
Oh Tolkien. How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Much to my embarrassment, I still haven’t gotten around to picking up The Silmarillion, which I know would give me even more reasons to adore Middle Earth. I’ve mentioned in the past that I first read The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was ten or eleven… and that I really struggled with it. I wasn’t allowed to watch the movies unless I read the books, so I did my best to slog through the seemingly endless litany of names and places. Subsequently, for much of my high school and college years, I thought I just wasn’t a fan of Tolkien’s writing style. But then, I picked the series back up last summer for a re-read. And I fell in love with Middle Earth all over again.
What a master of his craft Tolkien was. I think it’s safe to say he was one of the single largest influences on the fantasy genre, and that his work impacted the literary sphere in an incalculable way. Tolkien created an entire language during the process of breathing life into Middle Earth, a feat that baffles me to this day. While his prose can be dense and his world is whitewashed, it’s impossible to not appreciate the scope of his creativity and ingenuity. Merry and Pippin will forever be some of my favorite literary characters, and I honestly hope I come back as a hobbit in my next life.
A Song of Ice and Fire
Similar to The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire is nothing short of a massive undertaking. World building is seldom seen to the extent that Martin utilized for this series. Between his family houses, generational history, and plotted maps, he has crafted a vastly impressive world over the past 15 years. I’ve discussed before that I feel as if the books and the show are best as companions to each other rather than standalones, and I’ve also discussed in detail my issues with some aspects of the series. While I’m not sure if this book series is necessarily one of my true favorites, I’m including it here for one reason: continuity.
For four books, Martin blew me away with his skill at connecting storylines and bringing loose ends together. I can’t even wrap my head around how much work it must take to maintain a chronological stream of narrative told by a litany of different characters. I often wonder if he has an entire wall full of names and strings and time lines, or maybe a life size chess board with different characters on different squares. While I didn’t really enjoy the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, it was still thrilling to see how the big picture is starting to form. Pieces are falling into place in slow motion, and it’s incredible to think of the amount of foresight Martin must have had from the very beginning to be able to mesh so many stories together now.
So here’s my deal with the Harry Potter universe: at this point, I think it’s become far too dragged out. The original seven-book series was pure undiluted magic. Bringing the schoolbooks to life was brilliant. Pottermore and Harry Potter World were strokes of genius. But it’s started to feel like overkill. I was one of the very few who enjoyed reading The Cursed Child, but even I can agree that it felt a bit like a money grab. And now, a whole new movie series revolving around the tiny Fantastic Beasts textbook feels rather gratuitous, especially with the addition of Ilvermorny and a whole new set of houses. (But to be fair, Newt Scamander is my precious angel baby who I love more than life.)
However, Harry Potter was (and remains) a spectacular feat and one of the most immersive examples of world building I have ever come across. The amount of creativity and ingenuity it takes to pull an entire world from the ether is flooring. Spells, potions, transfiguration, magical laws and occupations, transportation, wand lore, and creatures were materialized at our fingertips. Growing up in a hyper-conservative religious household, Harry Potter was strictly forbidden due to the magical themes. I didn’t have the opportunity to read the books until the summer before I left for college, and since then I have re-read the series every year. I think it speaks to the skill with which they were written that they are just as enjoyable to read at age 24 as they are at age 11. J.K. Rowling has one of the most creative and inspired minds of our time, and it’s nothing short of an honor to have such magical books in our lives.
So what do you think? Have you read and enjoyed any of these series? What are some series I should try next? Leave a comment below and let me know!
It’s funny how once you’ve noticed something, you start seeing it more and more frequently. I really loved the below frame from La La Land, featuring a focused pink neon glow over a club entry. After seeing that frame, I started to notice more frames featuring that dreamy pink glow. Here are some of my favorites!
Kathryn Bigelow is the only female to have ever won an Oscar for Best Director. Since 1929, the first year the Oscars ran, only four women have even been nominated (Italian director Lina Wertmüller in 1977 for Seven Beauties,New Zealand director Jane Campion in 1994 for The Piano,Sofia Coppola in 2004 for Lost in Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker) and from those four, Bigelow was the only one to have actually been awarded the Oscar. But here’s the thing: I am 100% certain that Bigelow would not have been awarded an Oscar if her film had been about literally anything other than war.
Oscar nominations for Best Picture often feature a war movie: Hacksaw Ridge in 2017, American Sniper in 2015, Zero Dark Thirty in 2013, The Hurt Locker in 2010, and so on and so forth. There were also the lesser war-centric nominations of Bridge of Spies in 2016, The Imitation Game in 2015, and War Horse in 2012. This year, Christopher Nolan’s WWII film Dunkirk is up for Best Picture and Nolan received a nomination for Best Director. The very first Oscars ceremony ever saw Wings win Best Picture, which goes to show that the academy has always adored and honored war movies. No less than sixteen war movies have won Oscar awards for Best Picture, and over five times that many have won Oscars in various other categories.
Now that some background is out of the way, prepare yourself for the incoming unpopular opinion.
My senior year of high school, my friend had me sit through Act of Valor. I felt appalled by what I was watching– I was sick to my stomach with the intensity and violence and fear of it all, bothered by the glorification and theatricality of the entire scenario, and guilty for feeling that way at all. Two years later, my college boyfriend tried to convince me to see American Sniper with him. By this point I was starting to come to terms with hating war movies, even if I couldn’t completely put my finger on why I hated them. It’s a complex thing to feel this way about this specific genre. I couldn’t really understand why I had so much trouble sitting through Saving Private Ryan, or why Black Hawk Down left a bitter taste in my mouth for weeks.
Experiencing negative feelings over the form of entertainment heralded as the pinnacle of patriotism wasn’t something I really knew how to handle, much less verbalize. I grew up with four brothers and a hyper-republican father so war movies were commonplace– Lawrence of Arabia was the very first movie I have memories of watching at home. By the time I started my second year of college, friends I had known for years were in all the branches of the military: Marco in the Marines, JP and Anthony in the Air Force, Carlo and Vivian in the Navy, Ryan and Lindsey in the Army. How do you express your opposition to war movies (and war in general) without coming off as being opposed to soldiers and veterans?
Over time, as I grew increasingly aware of current events and my surroundings, I stopped feeling guilty for disliking the genre. I realized that it isn’t a question of whether or not the depicted situations were difficult for American soldiers– of course they were (and are). It’s more a question of what other stories we’re leaving out in order to tell how hard it is on American soldiers.
The criticism here isn’t against soldiers. The criticism is against a military machine, glorified and propagated through the films we’ve been surrounded by for generations. The leadership of this industry has allowed misinformation and praise to be spread to the point that it’s painted in black and white: if you don’t support war you’re unpatriotic; to die for your country is the greatest honor imaginable. George Elerick says that “somehow patriotism, nationalism and identity have seemingly come together in such a way that most Americans don’t know how to separate themselves from these ideas. There is a religious zeal to American nationalism and its relationship to foreign policy.”
Recent war movies such as Zero Dark Thirty and the upcoming 12 Strong have a feel of moral justness. There is an overarching theme to them that the portrayed Americans made the right choices, were justified in what they did, and were even noble in their actions– despite being the invading forces in a foreign country. I can’t help but worry about the influence of the military industrial complex on American viewers. It is undeniably profitable to always have an enemy, which seems to lead to the dramatization of certain threats– even if that comes at the expense of peace. Elerick also states that “Consciously or not, these movies are teaching us that all behavior is justified under the guise of nationalism. […] Movies play a role in presenting back to us our own fears, wants, desires, dreams and nightmares. Whether they are given to us on our own is the question we should be exploring.”
In his think piece on Dunkirk, writer and filmmaker John Ott outlines it like this: “War is by its very nature a high-drama enterprise. The stakes are not only life and death, but the fate of nations. It is natural for filmmakers to be drawn to stories set during war.” These stories are packaged to be entertaining, and maybe that’s because we’re so eager to be entertained by them. But that’s not the whole story, and it never will be.
This is why films like the documentary The White Helmets are so imperative– because we need truthful accounts to show us the utter devastation and havoc that we help to wreak, to show us the real effects of scenarios that are glorified in movies like 12 Strong and American Sniper. To show that our involvement in foreign countries has led to mass destruction, hundreds of thousands of deaths, humanitarian crises, widespread diseases due to a lack of sanitation, and political radicalization that continues to inflict terror on innocents. To show us the other side of the story.
This is why films like Eye in the Sky are important– because we need to be shown how much of the “boots on the ground” image we’re fed is just kids following orders from up the chain. To be shown how that chain of command leads to men in suits in their ivory towers, ordering things– oftentimes without truly seeing the whole picture.
This is why films like Atonement are so rare– because finally, we bear witness to the pain of war rather than the glorification of it. Because even in movies that attempt to show the reality of war, they are still painting soldiers as heroes worthy of endless idolization.
But herein lies the issue: none of those three films are American. The White Helmets has a British director and a British producer. Eye in the Sky features a South African director and a British screenplay writer. Atonement was directed by an Englishman. American war movies aren’t like the ones listed above. Not only are Americans not being told the whole story in our gun-touting, explosion-blasting, shoot ’em up films, but the films that do tell the whole story often don’t even make it across our radar. And there’s a reason why.
Remember at the beginning of this post when I was talking about the Oscars and mentioned Wings being the first ever Best Picture? It just so happens that it was made with hands-on support from the U.S. military. In fact, a lot of American war movies were. Medium’s must-read exclusive article, written by Insurge Intelligence, outlines the documents that revealed the full scope of the relationship between the Department of Defense and Hollywood.
“When we first looked at the relationship between politics, film and television at the turn of the 21st century, we accepted the consensus opinion that a small office at the Pentagon had, on request, assisted the production of around 200 movies throughout the history of modern media, with minimal input on the scripts. How ignorant we were. These documents for the first time demonstrate that the US government has worked behind the scenes on over 800 major movies and more than 1,000 TV titles.”
-Tom Secker and Matthew Alford
From Top Gun (which was paired with Navy recruiting booths in cinema lobbies after showings and led to a reported 400% increase in Navy recruitment) to Transformers (aimed at a young audience and filled with thrilling action and civic duty turned splendid heroism), these movies are shoving pro-war messages down the throats of viewers. While arrangements like these mean that production costs go down for filmmakers, it also means that the Department of Defense gets to veto creative choices, scripts, and portrayals if they feel it doesn’t paint the military in a positive enough light.
“Our desire is that the military are portrayed as good people trying to do the right thing the right way,”
–Philip Strub, Director of Entertainment Media at the US Department of Defense
Medium & Insurge explain: “When a writer or producer approaches the Pentagon and asks for access to military assets to help make their film, they have to submit their script to the entertainment liaison offices for vetting. Ultimately, the man with the final say is Phil Strub, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) chief Hollywood liaison. If there are characters, action or dialogue that the DOD don’t approve of then the film-maker has to make changes to accommodate the military’s demands. If they refuse then the Pentagon packs up its toys and goes home.” Having this much control over so many aspects of such popular films is nothing short of insidious and dangerous. By portraying themselves as sparkling poster children, the military is ensuring that the average movie-goer is seeing only the best parts of the war machine. They place themselves on a pedestal. Author Lawrence Suid coined the phrase “mutual exploitation” in regards to the relationship between Hollywood and the U.S. military. “The U.S. military gets incredible publicity and recruitment advantages, and the film industry gets equipment, locations and authenticity.” he explains.
“When Ridley Scott went to Morocco to film Blackhawk Down, the U.S. Army was so gung-ho to immortalize this bit of military derring-do history onto celluloid forever, that they not only supplied all the weapons and vehicles for the film, but they actually provided a real life Ranger regiment to train and advise the filmmakers for their film about an embattled Ranger regiment in the Battle of Mogadishu, in Somalia.”
-Thought Co’s exposé on military support of war films
So what’s the issue with this? Plenty of filmmakers strike deals with other institutions to allow themselves access to locations and props. Surely it’s up to the filmmakers themselves if they want to sacrifice the integrity of their script for the sake of production value, right? The problem is that the military is a governmental structure. The Department of Defense is a huge arm of the executive branch, and as such, should not be able to dictate what information is being spread about them. Some people believe that this falls under a breach of First Amendment rights, some believe that it’s entirely fair game. I believe that it’s bordering on propaganda.
Thought Co sums it up perfectly: “Pentagon support of filmmaking likely shaped the type of movies we got throughout the first half of the 20th century. When one considers the effect that cinema has had on shaping culture, it’s not a big leap to suggest that Pentagon subsidies for filmmakers might have very well helped shape parts of our American culture.”
And now we live in a culture that borders on a fiscal-military state, that sends children to invade foreign countries and kill younger children, that puts war on a pedestal and produces glamorized tales of these wars packaged as entertainment.
So whether it’s Act of Valor with its line about the worst part of growing old being the fact that people don’t find you dangerous, or American Sniper applying the analogy of soldiers being sheepdogs to protect the sheep from the wolves to the entire Iraq War, keep in mind that American war movies are not the whole story. What is the rest of the story? The rest of the story is that during some periods of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, more U.S. servicemen have killed themselves than have died in combat. The rest of the story is that in the first two years of U.S. airstrikes in the Middle East, the U.S. and coalition partners have conducted more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, with nearly 11,000 of those strikes coming from U.S. aircraft and resulting in an estimated 4,000 civilian deaths. The rest of the story is that America’s military spending is astronomically higher than anyone else in the world, with the 2017 military budget clocking in at $611B, nearly $400B more than the second highest military budget in the world. The rest of the story is that the level of indifference to non-American lives on the part of the U.S. military and DOD is staggering: U.S. military forces were directly responsible for approximately 10 to 15 million deaths during the course of the Korean, Vietnam, and two Iraq Wars. There’s more to the story than explosions and heroism and happy endings tied in nice bows. There’s always more.
In film, a reflection is rarely just a reflection. It says something about the character, about the moment, about what is being realized or learned or considered. Zack Sharf says: “A mirror shot is never just a mirror shot, and each image speaks volumes to the respective movie’s themes.” Duality, turmoil, hesitation, tranquility– reflections often allude to the fact that there is more going on beneath the surface than the character has admitted to. Below are some of my recent favorite reflections.
I’ve mentioned once or twice how much I love Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. But what I haven’t mentioned is that very few books in my lifetime have made me fangirl as hard as this series does. I just completed my third reading of the series in January, and somehow loved it even more this time around than the previous two turns. There are a few pieces of knowledge that have made the books even more enjoyable for me, so I wanted to compile them here on the off chance any other readers would benefit from them.
As a beginner reader of the tarot, seeing the references in the books was extremely enjoyable. I wanted to collect all of the references to specific cards from all four books and outline their meanings and significance, because I feel that it sheds a lot of light on the characters themselves, especially Adam. I did leave out a couple of instances where Adam pulls a card to assist him with Cabeswater, but aside from that, every card used in the books should be here! Most of the interpretations were pulled from The Biddy Tarot for her simple wording and thoroughness.
Three of Swords || Interpretation: Painful separation, sorrow heartbreak, grief, rejection. The heart is symbolic of emotion and beauty, while the piercing swords reflect the ability of logic and power to harm the physical body and the emotions of a person. The sky is heavily clouded and rain pours down violently, representing a grim moment in time.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Calla was the first to speak. She flipped the three of swords around for the man to look at. On her card, the three swords stabbed into a dark, bleeding heart the color of her lips. “You’ve lost someone close to you.” (Book 1, page 122) || Appearance: Calla/Persephone’s reading for Greenmantle — “The card was the three of swords. It depicted a bloody heart stabbed with the aforementioned three swords. Gore dripped down the blades. Maura called it “the heartbreak card.” Blue needed no psychic perception to feel the threat oozing from it.” (Book 3, page 75)
Five of Pentacles || Interpretation: Isolation, insecurity, worry, financial loss, poverty. The Five of Pentacles, like the fives in the other suits, portrays a situation of adversity. Both appear to be living in poverty and with little or no possessions. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Maura touched the edge of the five of pentacles. “Money’s a concern,” she noted. On her card, a man with a crutch limped through snow under a stained-glass window while a woman held a shawl beneath her chin.” (Book 1, page 123)
Knight of Pentacles || Interpretation: Efficiency, routine, conservatism, methodical. The Knight of Pentacles, like the Knights of the other suits, represents work, effort, and the responsibility that follows upon the dreams of the Page. His eyes reflect careful thought and consideration. The Knight is engaged in the often toilsome, routine efforts required to realize the dreams of his heart. He is building the foundations to support his dreams and his goals. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Persephone touched the first card she had drawn. The knight of pentacles. An armored man with cold eyes surveyed a field from the back of a horse, a coin in his hand. […] Persephone finally spoke. In her small, precise voice, she told the man, “You’re looking for something.” […] Calla’s card, beside Persephone’s, was also the knight of pentacles. It was unusual for two decks to agree exactly. Even stranger was to see that Maura’s card was also the knight of pentacles. Three cold-eyed knights surveyed the land before them.” (Book 1, page 124)
The Tower || Interpretation: Disaster, upheaval, sudden change, revelation. The Tower signifies darkness and destruction on a physical scale, as opposed to a spiritual scale. The Tower itself represents ambitions built on false premises. The lightning bolt breaks down existing forms in order to make room for new ones. It represents a sudden, momentary glimpse of truth, a flash of inspiration that breaks down structures of ignorance and false reasoning.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Her attention moved from the Tower, which meant his life was about to change dramatically” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card, where men fell from a burning tower (Book 2, page 357) || Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “All of the women had turned over five different versions of the Tower. Calla’s version of the Tower perhaps best depicted the card’s meaning: A castle labelled STABILITY was in the process of being struck by lightning, burning down, and being attacked by what looked like garter snakes. A woman in a window was experiencing the full effects of the lightning bolt. At the top of the tower, a man had been thrown from the ramparts – or possibly he had jumped. In any case, he was on fire as well, and a snake flew after him. “So we’re all going to die unless we do something,” Calla said.” (Book 4, page 10)
Page of Cups || Interpretation: A messenger, creative beginnings, synchronicity. The Page of Cups, like the Pages in all the suits, represents some sort of beginning or renewal. The Page of Cups indicates the surprising and unexpected nature of inspiration that comes to us from the realm of the unconscious and the spirit. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk where we find out this card represents Blue — “the last card in the reading, the page of cups. Blue glanced at her frowning mother. It wasn’t that the page of cups was a negative card; in fact, it was the card Maura always said she thought represented Blue when she was doing a reading for herself. You’re the page of cups, Maura had told her once. Look at all that potential she holds in that cup. Look, she even looks like you. And there was not just one page of cups in this reading. Like the knight of pentacles, it was tripled. Three young people holding a cup of full of potential, all wearing Blue’s face.” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: twice in the one-off for Gansey — “As she flipped it over, she let out a little helpless laugh. The page of cups looked back at Blue with her own face. It felt like someone
was laughing at her, but she had no one to blame for the selection of the card but herself. When Maura saw it, her voice went still and remote. “Not that one. Make him choose another.” Blue replaced the card and shuffled the deck with less drama than before. When she offered the cards to him, Gansey turned his face away like he was pulling a raffle winner. His fingers grazed the edges of the cards, contemplative. He selected one, then flipped it over to show the room. It was the page of cups.” (Book 1, page 150)|| Appearance: single card for Blue by Maura — Maura gave Blue’s hand an affectionate shake and flipped over a card at random. “Ah, there you are.” It was the page of cups, the card Maura always said reminded her of Blue. In this deck, the art was of a fresh-faced young person holding a jewel-studded goblet. The suite of cups represented relationships — love and friendship — and the page stood for new and budding possibilities. (Book 2, page 10)|| Appearance: hinted at in whole-life reading by whole group — “Does this mean she’s going to leave?” Orla asked, tapping on another card and referring to a different she. “Probably,” Maura sighed. (Book 4, page 13)
Two of Swords || Interpretation: Indecision, choices, truce, stalemate, blocked emotions. The blindfold shows that the woman in this card is confused about her situation and that she can see neither the problem nor the solution clearly. The swords she holds are perfectly balanced, showing a balanced and stable mind, and that both sides of the situation need to be addressed. The crossed swords are also symbolic of the need for a truce and the Suit of Swords indicates that the problem at hand needs to be resolved using logic and intellect. The waxing moon to the right of the woman shows a new beginning arising out of the solutions found for this problem.|| Appearance: one-off for Adam — “Selecting a card, Adam presented it to Maura. “Two of swords,” she said. “You’re avoiding a hard choice. Acting by not acting. You’re ambitious, but you feel like someone’s asking something of you you’re not willing to give. Asking you to compromise your principles. Someone close to you, I think. Your father?” “Brother, I think,” Persephone said. “Do you want to ask a question?” Maura asked. Adam considered. “What’s the right choice?” Maura and Persephone conferred. Maura replied, “There isn’t a right one. Just one you can live with. There might be a third option that will suit you better, but right now, you’re not seeing it because you’re so involved with the other two. I’d guess from what I’m seeing that any other path would have to do with you going outside those other two options and making your own option.” (Book 1, page 145)
Death || Interpretation: Endings, beginnings, change, transformation, transition. The armour he is wearing indicates that he is invincible and unconquerable. Indeed, no-one has yet triumphed over death. The horse that Death rides is white, the colour of purity. Death is therefore the ultimate purifier. All things are reborn fresh, new and pure. || Appearance: one-off for Gansey — “Flippantly, Gansey snagged another card, clearly finished with this exercise. With flourish, he turned the card over and slapped it on the table. Blue swallowed. Maura said, “That’s your card.” On the card on the table was a black knight astride a white horse. The knight’s helmet was lifted so that it was obvious that his face was a bare skull dominated by eyeless sockets. The sun set beyond him, and below his horse’s hooves lay a corpse. […] “I thought that psychics didn’t predict death,” Adam said quietly. “I read that the Death card was only symbolic.” (Book 1, page 151) || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)
Ten of Swords || Interpretation: Defeat, crisis, betrayal, endings, loss. Despite the ominous images, there are positive aspects to this card. The sea before which the body lies is still and calm and the sun is rising in the distance beyond the mountains, indicating that the darkness will soon be dispelled. Thus, each new beginning must come from an end, and with every defeat are sown the seeds of future victory.|| Appearance: not within a reading but for Mr. Gray’s situation — He leaned to pick up one she had missed. “This fellow looks unhappy,” he observed. The art depicted a man stuck with ten swords. The victim lay on his face, as most people did after being stuck with ten swords. […] “Good news for him is that the tens represent the end of a cycle. This card represents the absolute worst it’ll get.” (Book 2, page 110) || “The Gray Man’s hand hung down and Maura stroked it. “This is the ten of swords,” he guessed. Maura kissed the back of his hand. “You’re going to have to be brave.” The Gray Man said, “I’m always brave.” She said, “Braver than that.” (Book 2, page 334)
King of Swords || Interpretation: Clear thinking, intellectual power, authority, truth. On his left Saturn finger is a ring, symbolic of power and taking his responsibilities seriously. The King wears a blue tunic, symbolic of a desire for spiritual understanding, and a purple cape, symbolic of compassion combined with intellect. The sky is relatively clear with a few clouds, representing general mental clarity. The trees in the background appear motionless and reflect the stern judgement of the King. || Appearance: Persephone’s interpretation for Mr. Gray — Persephone’s quiet voice cut through Maura’s and Calla’s increasingly loud competition. “The king of swords.” Everyone turned to look at Persephone […] The Gray Man’s hand hovered obediently over the deck. “Top or bottom?” Persephone blinked. “Sixteen cards from the top, I believe.” […] The Gray Man carefully counted the cards, double-checked his count, and then turned over the sixteenth card for the others to see. The king of swords, master of his own emotions, master of his own intellect, master of reason, gazed out at them, expression inscrutable. “That’s Mr. Gray’s card,” Persephone said. The Gray Man turned the card one way and another, as if it would reveal its secrets to him. “I don’t know much about tarot. Is it a terrible card?” “No card is a terrible card,” Maura said. […] “And the interpretation can be very different at each reading. But. . . the king of swords is a powerful card. He’s strong, but impartial— cold. He is very, very good about making decisions based upon facts instead of emotion. No, it’s not a terrible card.” (Book 2, page 112)
The Hanged Man || Interpretation: Suspension, restriction, letting go, sacrifice. This is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. This is the archetype to meditate on to help break old patterns of behaviour and bad habits that restrict you. || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card […] to the second, where a man hung upside down from a tree. (Book 2, page 357)
Nine of Swords || Interpretation: Depression, nightmares, intense anxiety, despair. She appears to have just woken up from a bad nightmare, and is obviously upset, fearful and anxious following her dream. Nine swords hang on the wall behind her and the base of the bed is decorated with a carving of a duel in which one person is being defeated by another.|| Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. […] That third card, that utter despair. He couldn’t take his gaze from it. Adam said, “It looks like he’s woken from a nightmare.” (Book 2, page 357)
The Magician || Interpretation: Power, skill, concentration, action, resourcefulness. The Magician is the bridge between the world of the spirit and the world of humanity. His magical table holds all four suits of the Tarot, each of which represents one of the four primordial elements of the alchemists – earth, air, fire and water. These symbolise the appropriate use of mind, heart, body and soul in the process of manifestation. || Appearance: Adam’s draw for himself — “I’m pulling another card.” […] Adam cut the deck, laid his hand on each stack. He took the card that felt warmer. Flipping it, he placed the card beside the nine of swords. A robed figure stood before a coin, a goblet, a sword, a wand — all of the symbols of all the tarot suits. An infinity symbol floated above his head; one arm was lifted in a posture of power. Yes, thought Adam. Understanding prickled and then evaded him. He read the words at the bottom of the card. The Magician.” (Book 2, page 357)
Three of Wands || Interpretation: Preparation, foresight, enterprise, expansion. From this height, he can see all that lies ahead and is aware of the impending challenges and opportunities. The three Wands surrounding him are firmly planted in the ground, reflecting his commitment to his future plans.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. Three of wands: build a bridge across the stream with these three stones.” (Book 2, page 396)
Seven of Swords || Interpretation: Betrayal, deception, getting away with something, stealth. The Seven of Swords shows a man sneaking away from a military camp with a bundle of five swords in his arms. Two other swords remain planted in the ground just behind him. His expression exhibits a sense of over-confidence and mocking, as though he felt absolutely sure of his success of getting away with the theft. However, in the distance a small group of soldiers can be seen to the left of the thief, and one of them holds a sword upraised.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. […] Seven of swords: Just dig out the biggest of the stones and put it in the tri-colored car.” (Book 2, page 396)
The Devil || Interpretation: Bondage, addiction, sexuality, materialism. The goat symbolizes the scapegoat, the person or thing upon which people project the inferior side of themselves in order to feel better about themselves. Thus the Devil is the scapegoat we blame for our troubles in life. The Devil has an almost hypnotic stare, bringing those who come near him within his power. At the foot of the Devil stands a man and a woman, both naked and chained to the podium on which the Devil sits. They appear to be held here, against their will, but only closer observation, the chains around their necks are loose and could be easily removed. This symbolises that bondage to the Devil is ultimately a voluntary matter which consciousness can release. The man and woman wear tiny horns like those of the Satyr – they are becoming more and more like the devil the longer they stay here. The dark and doorless cave implies that the Devil dwells in the most inaccessible realm of the unconscious and only crisis can break through the walls.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone turned over a card. The Devil. All of a sudden, Adam was quite certain of why they were hurrying.” (Book 2, page 398)|| Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126) || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Ronan — “Ronan turned his head sideways to read the cards. Something with flames, something with a sword. The Devil.” (Book 4, page 141)
The Empress || Interpretation: Fertility, femininity, beauty, nature, abundance. The Empress is the archetypal Earth Mother. The Empress is surrounded by a beautiful, lush forest with a stream running through it, demonstrating the Empress’s deep emotional connection with Mother Earth and life. She draws her sense of peace from the trees and the water and is rejuvenated by the energy of nature. || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)
Knight of Wands || Interpretation: Energy, passion, lust, action, adventure, impulsiveness. The Knight of Wands is seen riding upon his horse, which rears up in the intensity of the Knight’s quest for success. The Knight’s face bears the determination of one bound to succeed. || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Blue — “He placed a random card on the warm hood. His unfocused eyes skipped over the image — a black-smudged knight on horseback carrying a vine-wrapped staff — and began to remake it into something wordless and dreamy. Sight was replaced with sensation. A vertiginous feeling of travel, climbing, rightness. He covered the image with his hand until he got his eyes back, and then he put the card away. “Knight of wands?” Blue asked him.” (Book 3, page 305)
Queen of Swords || Interpretation: Quick thinker, organised, perceptive, independent. The Queen of Swords sits high on her throne with a stern look on her face indicating that no-one can fool her. In her right hand, she comfortably holds a sword pointed to the sky, and her left hand extends as if she has something to offer to others. Behind her is a spring sky, different from the winter settings on most other Swords cards, and this has an emergence and growth quality to it. The sky is clear, representing her clarity of mind as she considers matters of the intellect.|| Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “”Does this mean she’s still alive?” Maura asked, tapping on a card in one of the branches – the Queen of Swords. “Probably,” Calla grunted.” (Book 4, page 13) || Note: I’ve seen people write in their reviews that they thought this was referring to Persephone and were consequentially disappointed when she didn’t return. However, because the card is the Queen of Swords, it is undoubtedly a reference to either Piper or Neeve.
Throughout my third reading, I also noticed that there are several instances of intentionally untranslated Latin throughout the four books. I jotted down the translations in the margins of my hard copies and figured that I would share my findings for anyone else who might be interested in doing the same! Please note that I do not speak any Latin whatsoever, so these translations were pulled off Google. As such, I cannot attest to the correctness of the grammar.
Book 1, page 115: “You know what they say about men with large bags,” Ronan replied. “Ostendes tuum et ostendam meus?” = I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
Book 2, page 121: “In indiget homo battery,” muttered Ronan. = a man needs a battery -or- a similar battery is needed
Book 2, page 128: “Occidet eum!” begged Orphan Girl, clinging to Ronan’s leg. […] The girl sobbed out, “Ronan, imploro te!” || Occidet eum = kill || Ronan, imploro te = Ronan, kill him
Book 2, page 230: “Adam was in the dream, too; he traced the tangled pattern of the ink with his finger. He said, “Scio quid hoc est.” As he traced it farther and farther down on the bare skin of Ronan’s back, Ronan himself disappeared entirely, and the tattoo got smaller and smaller. It was a Celtic knot the size of a wafer, and then Adam, who had become Kavinsky, said, “Scio quid estis vos.” He put the tattoo in his mouth and swallowed it.” || Scio quid hoc est = I know what that is || Scio quid estis vos = I know what you are
Book 4, page 35: “Periculosum,” she warned. “Suscitat.” = peril awakens
Book 4, page 74: “Operae pretium est,” Orphan Girl said. = it is worthwhile
Book 4, page 221: “Miseria fortes viros, Ronan,” Adam said. = Fire tests gold; adversity tests strong men
Book 4, page 284: Adam studied the tattoo that covered Ronan’s back: all the sharp edges that hooked wondrously and fearfully into each other. “Unguibus et rostro,” Adam said. = claws and beaks –or- with beak and talon, or tooth and nail.*
Book 4, page 394: Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit,” Ronan said into Adam’s hearing ear = and perhaps one day it will please us to remember these things
*So this line shows up twice in the fourth book, and many readers view it as a phrase of endearment between Ronan and Adam. The two translations are similar in wording, but one carries infinitely more weight. “Claws and beaks” could simply be a way for the boys to refer to themselves, an endearing line that has meaning to them within the scope of their interactions. However, “with beak and talon, or tooth and nail” is far more loaded. We’re all familiar with the phrase “fighting tooth and nail” and when this line shows up for the second time at the end of the book, Ronan is indisputably fighting with all he has. This interpretation implies that Ronan (and Adam) will always fight for what they have and what they love.