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.
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.
I’ve talked about the color red before, in regards to Tarantino and Anderson‘s use of it to drive home drama and importance. It’s an intense color that is visceral in a way no other color is. I’ve arranged these frames in order of presence/intensity, but I think all of them utilize the various shades in an amazing way. Enjoy!