Over the past two weekends I have had a chance to look at some famous movies and have had very different reactions to it.
The first movie that I saw was “The Color Purple” starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey among others. Now before I do talk about what I thought the movie was, I would like to mention a few words about the book. “The Color Purple” is an award winning novel which tells the story of two African American sisters who live through an abusive childhood . Its narrative is in the voice of the older sister who first suffers from an incestous relationship with her father and then marries a violent husband. Its a dark and depressing a book told in such a matter of fact fashion that there is oddly a sense of hope.
Now to translate the subteleties of language into a visual media is no mean feat. Though the movie “The Color Purple” excels in certain areas , in some places it just falls flat.
I believe Whoopi Goldberg’s casting as Celie is brilliant ! She plays the elder of the two sisters who because of being raped as a child and being married very young to an abusive and extremely violent husband becomes docile and in some ways stunted in her mental growth. WG nailed the part – her body language was so perfect – the permanent cowering look, the amusing tolerance towards her husband that she has gotton used to , the shyness while talking to strangers.
Celie’s sister Nettie disappears from the movie frame soon enought but not without determining the strenght of their relationship and not without leaving Celie an important gift – the ability to read. Nettie promises she will write and Ceilie waits for years and years to receive the letter. Its almost heartbreaking.
The movie is also not just about Celie and Nettie – its also about other black woman and their plight in that pre- war period. Another important character is Sophie who is a complete contrast to Celie. She is loud, imposing and strong willed. She refuses to let the norms of the society get her down and fights abuse boldy – but even she is not able to escape the rascist laws which land her in prison and eventually break her spirit. Oprah Winfrey is another brilliant casting choice for this role and I cannot imagine any other actor play this role at all. She brings such a breath of fresh air into the dreary story that you cannot help but cheer for her when she defends herself.
The other character is that of Shug Avery – she is a club singer and truly liberated. She is also Celine’s husband’s lover. It is through her that Celine learns to live and love. She represents hope in the lives of the women of the sad little Georgian town.
I dont know enought about African American history during the war period to say if this was an accurate depiction of the state of the woman – but I know enough about the history of women in social structures across the world to not be surprised by any of this. Society so conditions a person that even if something hurts you – you accept it coz thats what you have always known. Celie’s spirit broke very early in childhood when her father raped her and when her husband hit her – for her it was as if there was no place in the world where she had any choice and any say. That is why when she saw Sophie saw taking control of her life her only advice to Sophie’s husband was – beat her. The movie is a very telling commentary on the structures that societies create and how different people either flourish or die in those structures.
The movie though executed very well with a very good cast begins to fall flat towards the later half. Firstly the movie is too long , even for the kind of story it is trying to tell. The camera tries to hunt for objects of symbolism so desperately that it wastes a lot of time. For a story that is so deep, we dont need to add extra layers of philosophy by panning cameras on fields of purple flowers, sunsets, empty kitchens etc etc.
The movie was quite true to the book and maybe that was not such a good idea. In a book its easier to give multiple messages and have several character based storylines that the reader can get used to – in the movie they should have done some editing and picked some of the most compelling material. A span of 3 hours is not enough to build empathy with the situation of some 5-7 characters in the cast. And with that the message of the movie is lost.
So my verdict : Read the book and then decide if you would want to watch the movie or not.
Coming Soon : Review of Driving Miss Daisy