Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Pariah

For the record, even though the images to follow would suggest otherwise, Dee Rees’ Pariah is a film which despite focusing on the specific coming-of-age of its protagonist does not eschew the development of its supporting cast. Still, in finding candidates for best shots I kept returning to those shots featuring our teenaged heroine Alike. 17 year old Alike is growing aware and trying be comfortable with her sexuality and Rees film traces her movement from tentative to confident – so, a coming-of-age, in short.

 The camera loves Adepero Oduye, and Odudye is so in touch with the mediative nature of Alike. I do not mean to be simplistic, but in that very way she reminds me of Jenny Mellor in An Education (another coming of age drama, littered with great supporting turns but one where my attention was constantly pilfered by Carey Mulligan’s thinking face). It’s not always worry, but as the budding poet that she is Odudye telegraphs the feeling that Alike is constantly philosophising.
A furrowed brow, a propped chin, distant eyes – the poster child for the beleaguered contemporary teen, no?

She shouldn’t have to be such a heavy thinker, though. She’s only seventeen, it shouldn’t be like the weight of the world is on her shoulders.
This thinking stance is more aggressive. The conversation Alike’s father has with her as he tries to both suss out if she’s gay and denounce it is like a complicated dance, and we can see her mind working furiously in that shot.

And, it’s such a nice (technically, it's a heartbreaking moment in the film) contrast to the conversation she has with her mother at the film’s end. “I love you, mom” she cries as her mother departs, silent.
And then she sits and ponders. What is she thinking there? I thought I’d gotten my best shot with that one, so natural – so honest. But, then, we reach the film’s end and Alike makes her way to a six-week writing workshop.

She gets on the bus and looks out…still thinking….
And, then, the light hits her and she smiles and the image is beautiful.
Alike is on her journey towards finding peace with self, and the shot is beautiful for so many reasons. For one the light there is subtle, no overwhelming golden uses that hit home their point too deliberately. In addition, it’s a shot of Alike on a bus beginning another journey and her smile – not overt, but tangible – is evocative of so much hope, just like the film - which is why it's my *best shot.

(*Addendum: Apologies I was ready to cut and print with the above shot as my favourite when I realised it was reminding me of an earlier shot, which I had to go back to find.)
And, I can’t quite choose which of the two is my favourite – (okay, fine, in deference to Nathaniel asking us for our best shot if pushed, probably the one on the bus, and the one immediately above doesn’t fit into the general thrust of my article). It’s beautiful to me almost solely from an aesthetic level. It’s got the golden hues of the shot on the bus, but more. The reason I include it is to discuss some interesting things about the photography. This shot should seem more negative, Alike is at the low point of the structure, she seems minute among the larger objects around, and her head is bowed but yet the image exudes one of peace and calm and positivity that I can’t explain.
This is a part of Nathaniel's excellent Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.

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