Colour choice in films is not usually a happenstance accident, it helps to tell the story. Colour can set the mood, create emotion, draw focus to things and define characters.
Here are 5 of my favourite films that use colour in inspiring ways. If you haven’t already seen them, heat up the popcorn and settle in for a movie night, you won’t regret it!
~Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
“Complementary colour scheme for symbology and harmony”
A complementary colour scheme of red and green is consistent throughout the entirety of this beautiful french film, wavering only a handful of times to add a pop of blue to rest the eye on occasion. The warm red tones resemble vibrance, energy and passion, helping to build the viewer’s understanding of Amelie’s character. The green, not only pleasing to the eye when paired with red, helps to set a calm tone overlaid with hope and perhaps good fortune.
~Directed by Steven Spielberg
“A black and white film scattered with a punch of colour”
Undoubtedly one of the most iconic filmmakers of our time, Steven Spielberg is not only a master of light but storytelling, and Schindler’s List has got to be one of the most revered war films to date. The movie, while filmed entirely in black and white has an iconic scene in which a young girl in a brightly coloured red coat walks through a crowd of soldiers and Jewish civilians. Your eye cannot help follow the young girl as her coat almost pops right out of the screen.
While the theory behind this artistic choice is still debated, even throughout many High School curricula, it is difficult to move away from the theory that the red coat symbolises life, and the eventual loss of life when later in the film, Schindler sees the young girls slayed body, coat drained of much of the colour it once had.
~Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
“Using colour to define character”
The 4th film in this series brings all 3 otherworldly characters together in an epic showdown. The three megalomaniac superheroes have distinct characters, which are clearly symbolised by the colours in which they are robed throughout the film. Director M Night Shyamalan generously shared his incites via twitter on his choice of colours for each individual character:
Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McEvoy)
“I chose ochre or mustard for The Beast because this color is associated with religious ceremonies. Hindu and Buddhist. A monks robe. I see The Beast as an evangelist. A preacher who wants to help save The Broken”
David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis)
“I chose green for David Dunn because psychologically it is associated with life giving properties. David is the protector of life”.
Elijah Price (played bySamuel L. Jackson)
“Finally, I chose purple for Mr Glass because this color has been associated with royalty. Majestic qualities. Elijah sees himself as important. A main character of comics”.
Wes Anderson is renowned for using colour as an integral component of his storytelling. The king of eccentric indie filmmaking, his choice of washing this particular film in hues of yellows, greens and browns has a calming nostalgic impact lending perfectly to the story of innocent young love in the 1960’s. The choice of a soft pink for the protagonist love interest rounds out the colour palette perfectly.
~Directed by Damien Chazelle
“Using primary colours to emphasise separation between characters”
Winning best Cinematography (amongst many other awards), LaLa Land is a ‘story of colour’. It begins with the epic opening scene which sees a heavily congested Los Angeles freeway explode into a high energy stage performance of dancers in boldly toned mono-coloured costumes, alluding to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. You cannot help but notice the colour in this film from the absolute get go.
One of the most interesting uses of colour is the application of primary colours throughout the beginning of the film, helping to separate the personalities, desires and characteristics of the two protagonists, Mia and Sebastian. As the film goes on, we see more of the tertiary colours, purple, orange and green, suggesting a merging or coming together of the characters as they fall in love. As their relationship shifts and they begin to drift, the colour scheme reverts back to the primary red, yellow and blues once more.
Looking to learn more about colour and sink your teeth into the meaning behind it? Did you know that April Milani is running a course on colour theory? She will take you through all parts of colour theory including the Psychology of Colour, Colour Harmony & Symbolism, and so much more.