The Color Purple Reviews
Exceptionally acted and photographed film, based on Alice Walker book, about the life of a young African American woman living in the early 1900s. Great moments of beauty, and spectacle, are plenty, but film is seriously weakened by its overlength and direction flaws. Still a fascinating journey that made Goldberg an international superstar, and left an impact on the art of cinema. Allen Daviau's cinematography is outstanding.
Whoopi Goldberg (playing Celie) is a debut performance that is nothing short of amazing. I'm sure it must have been a difficult job - she rarely speaks, dreams or interacts. It is only when the movie ends that you realize the story is not of Celie's suffering but of her victory. Every scene shines with the love of the people who made it.
Here, the film opens with an idyllic pastoral scene: young girls playing in a field of flowers. When they step out of the head-high stalks, we see that one of the girls, Celie, is pregnant. Clearly, something is amiss. The next two scenes reveal Celie's painful childbirth, the cruel theft of the infant by her father, and the statement that her father is also the father of her child. The moral lines are very stark, the villain and victim very clear. If only real life had the perfect clarity that it has in Spielberg's versions of it.
At times, of course, it does. There have been, and still are, women like Celie (Whoopie Goldberg), abused and despised and trapped by their deranged fathers or husbands. There have been, and still are, women like Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), unjustly imprisoned or mistreated by their employers because of the color of their skin. But do people bear their circumstances with the saintly, childlike, often bemused patience of Celie, or alternate between Sofia's polar extremes of unbridled confidence and utterly defeated resignation? Some perhaps do, but for most people, life is lived in the middle. There are monsters in the world, like Danny Glover's tyrannical Albert, but do monsters like that ever change in time for a Spielberg-sanctioned happy ending? These characters are simple when they should be rich, and mercurial when they should be static.
That said, if Spielberg's prime objective is to convey a strong, positive message through raw, uplifting emotion, he succeeds. Many have focused on the film's famous march to a church, a big musical number that feels good and creates a neat resolution for a juke joint singer named Shug (Margaret Avery). Yet this is actually a side plot, and not strictly necessary to the core ideas about strong female relationships. In fact, it works against those ideas: Shug is the film's most complicated and interesting on-screen character (an equally intriguing storyline set in Africa exists only on the margins), but in the church she is railroaded into what audiences in 1985 found a crowd-pleasing conformity that, to me, just feels like conformity. The idea that really drives "The Color Purple," and that remains as daring and intense and uncompromising and subversive now as it was then, is that bonds between women have the ability to weather the destructive power that certain men employ to maintain their position of privilege in society. Celie's different but equally strong connections with Sofia, Shug, and a sister who remade herself in Africa are mutually empowering and healing, and the worthiness of this message makes the film worth seeing and talking about in spite of its many missteps.