Thoughts On: Three Colours: Red - Colour Symbolism: Beauty-Complexity


Three Colours: Red - Colour Symbolism: Beauty-Complexity

Thoughts On: Three Colours: Red (Trois Couleurs: Rouge, 1994)

A young model meets a retired judge who spies on his neighbours phone calls.

Kieślowski's Three Colours: Red is a masterpiece of a rare class; a film that is not just as beautiful as it is complex, but one that gives way to beauty through complexity, which is to say, all that makes this film mesmerising is its profundity and existential translucency. You then certainly feel your way into Red, giving thought and assigning meaning to the confusion that Kieślowski's parallelism conjures within you. And in following this through - in questioning your own confusion - Red becomes a film about balance and destiny.

The idea of truth is presented through red as a colour symbolising fraternity. This theme of fraternity is in the relationships that characters form as well as the methods of communication between them. In such, fraternity is split into a dichotomy of intimacy and invasion. The concept of people coming together is then shown as positive and negative through telephones and human contact. Telephones represent invasion. Human contact is intimacy. Watching characters mediate between these two spheres - have arguments over, and spy through, phones; care for and betray one another in person - there forms an abstract commentary on the complexity of fraternity, of relationships, in (what was) the modern day. In one sense, Red shows us that technology arouses anxiety and distrust. In another sense, Red shows that, whilst technology represents a certain kind of invasion, it also reveals the ways in which we are both alone and in yearning in the modern world. We see this with our main character, Valentine, coming into contact with a former judge, Joseph, who spies on people by listening in on their phone conversations. Initially, the situation seems transparent; he is illegally invading privacy. However, as Valentine investigates and questions Joseph and his philosophy/morality, she comes to discover that his invasion is not necessarily malevolent, but tragic. After all, he is alone and, though he reaches out to people, he is also helpless; unable to positively effect their lives. Valentine finds herself in a similar situation; she too is alone in the world and so often fails to reach out to those around her - to, for example, have her boyfriend believe that she is being faithful to him. Alas, it is their meeting, the physical connection that Valentine and Joseph build by coming together in the same spaces, that reveals this truth and simultaneously allows the couple to transcend the tragedy. By realising that they are both alone and helpless, they then find friends in one another and manage to lend a hand in each other's lives. Hence, they surpass the barriers that phones construct which prevent people from helping and bonding with one another. The colour red looms over all of this as to represent both the intimacy of contact and the danger of invasion. Its presence over the complex meeting of invasion of intimacy emphasises the abstract thought-felt truth that the narrative supplies. We see this best with this image:

It is uncoincidental that the most iconic and affecting image of the film is one that has a waving red flag behind Valentine's face. Red in this context represents the simultaneous intimacy she means to project with her acting, but also the invasion she invites. In such, it is ironic that this poster is both art of possible meaning and an advertisement that uses beauty to merely sell a product. Here is invasion and intimacy. But, they are in a balance and so this is what red emphasises: a balance between the two opposing forces, danger on one hand, intimacy on the other; the red light of a traffic signal and the red lips of a woman.

What red ultimately comes to represent in the grander, more abstract scheme of this story is destiny. Arguably, Kieślowski's greatest achievement with Red is his manifestation of 'butterfly montage'. This is a kind of montage that represents connections across time and space, emphasising the effect that, for example, a butterfly's beating wings can have on a storm system on the opposite side of the world. The fundamental base of butterfly montage is parallelism. We see this in Red with the uncanny similarity between the young judge and the old judge, as well as the uncanny similarity between the young judge's thoughts that he is being cheated on and Valentine's boyfriend's thoughts that he is being cheated on. There are many more examples of this: the presence of dogs, the listening to weather reports, to certain music and going certain places (such as a bowling alley), etc. It's this parallelism that relates one time in the past (the old judge's backstory) to the present (the young judge's present story) as well as spaces and lives that are seemingly distinct and individual. It is then almost impossible to tell if each of these characters are related and how; if history and past are colliding, if doubles of individuals are meeting. This is butterfly montage (Kieślowski uses it in many of his films, outside of the Three Colours Trilogy, The Double Life of Veronique is a clear example) and its purpose is to say much about destiny.

There is a philosophy of destiny presented through Three Colours: Red, one that you may call a philosophy of 'relative destiny'. In showing intimacy alongside invasion and juxtaposing this with parallelism that leaves you wondering who is who, Kieślowski emphasises the many ways in which his characters are the same and the many ways in which they face the same conflicts. Nonetheless, he also makes clear that, though many people are bound by forces that press upon them, each individual experiences their struggle singularly. Moreover, we are shown that we all have a destiny, but that individual destines conflict. Thus, each destiny is relative to another; the destiny of collectives seemingly too difficult to come to terms with. (An analysis of the Three Colours Trilogy as a whole may provide a picture of collective destiny, but individual films in the trilogy signify its elusiveness). The conflict and relative nature of personal destiny is made clear with the older judge causing the girlfriend of the younger judge to cheat on him. This implies that they are not the same people, despite the innumerable similarities between the two. It also shows the way in which the forces that guide one person can negatively effect the forces that guide another, but nonetheless leave all blame in the hands of the individual. And that is to say, it seems that the judge, Joseph, puts his will upon the young judge by listening in and wanting him to break up with his girlfriend. He then effects the young judge's destiny. And maybe the Joseph can't blame his own destiny for this. Alas, this is where I feel the trilogy becomes too abstract and ambiguous to really make sense of. What matters, however, is that, though destines are relative, they don't always have to conflict. And this is what the final scene signifies. In the end, the forces that be invade Valentine's journey - which the judge and weather reports predicts will be fine. There is then a storm that almost kills Valentine (and the characters from the other films in the trilogy). Nonetheless, she survives, the young judge and Valentine seem to be together and we get this image...

This is a very hard image to decipher. However, it seems to me that the colour red binds this to the rest of the narrative. And in such, we see the conflict between invasion and intimacy. As the judge sees this image on his television, he is seeing his 'younger self' meeting his friend to-be. He is then invading the veil of destiny and time to look back on his life and see an alternate vision and a time of different meaning. From this invasion comes the perception and feeling of intimacy. Moreover, there seems to be a harmony, or a lack of conflict, between individual destinies in this moment. Maybe Joseph is then comforted by witnessing the divergence of the young judge's destiny from his own; the young judge may form a relationship with Valentine instead of pursue his ex-lover to Britain as Joseph did, and thus live a happier life than him. It is hard to say anything concrete about this final image, but, what seems to be true is that the colour symbolism is what mediates the emergence of profound beauty from confounding complexity.

To find out why this post is apart of the Kaleidoscope series, please check out my newest screenplay.

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