Friday, July 29, 2011

736. The Color Purple (1985)

Running Time: 154 minutes
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Menno Meyjes, from the novel by Alice Walker
Main Cast: Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Akosua Busia


I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't start this post with the phrase, "Continuing on with Spielberg Week". Okay, promise carried out. Now then...Continuing on with "Spielberg Week", we come to a different kind of Spielberg picture in "The Color Purple", as he takes a year off from making big budget summer blockbusters and tackles a more sentimental subject.

Celie (Goldberg) and Nettie (Busia) are sisters, living in the south during the turn of the 20th Century. Celie is raped by her father on multiple occasions, leading to the birth of two children by him, both of which are immediately taken from her and sold. The years tick by and with the passing of time brings new faces, one of whom is Albert (Glover), who has eyes for the younger of the two sisters, Nettie. When asking for her hand in marriage, the girls' Pa objects, but says that if Albert insists he can marry Celie instead. He reluctantly obliges and the two are married and share a home together. Albert has a mess of kids from a previous marriage and while she stays fairly mute, Celie manages well enough handling the kids and keeping the house. It doesn't take long for Albert to become abusive, putting Celie in her place whenever the urge strikes him, backhanding her for the most insignificant of reasons. When Nettie comes for a visit, Albert attempts to rape her, but is kicked away by Albert. Albert, feeling embarrassed, sends Nettie away, citing that she is no longer welcome. The sisters are crushed, but promise to write one another. The years roll on, characters come and go, characters grow up and some become more immature. Celie and Albert eventually settle into a somewhat contented arrangement, which is helped by the entrance of Shug Avery (Avery), Albert's mistress and a woman who also becomes quite close with Celie as well.


I had some gripes about "The Color Purple", but for the most part I give it a nod of approval. I never knew that there was a Whoopi Goldberg film that existed, that could nearly bring me to tears and I'll be damned if Oprah Winfrey didn't turn in a truly deserving, Oscar nominated performance. In fact, I think Oprah's character of Sofia may have been my favorite character in the film. She was such a powerful woman and when the time finally came for her to get knocked down a peg or two, it was heartbreaking to see such a powerful woman put through such shame. Goldberg was really good too and hell, there really wasn't a bad actor in the bunch, as Danny Glover and Margaret Avery showed their prowess as well. "The Color Purple" is a film rife with visual spectacles, as Spielberg transforms the early 20th Century South into a sometimes larger than life world, with rolling meadows of pink and purple flowers, giant (sometimes menacing) skies and wide shots that put the make the characters look small against the natural backdrops. I don't think of Spielberg movies as pretty movies, but this was a pretty picture that Spielberg painted and kudos to him on taking a risk and producing something different, at that point in his career.

I did, however, have some gripes and some of them are kind of major. Towards the end of the film, when Celie discovers that Albert has been hiding Nettie's letters from her, she steals them back and begins to read them. Later, at the meal table, Celie begins to finally show some gumption and bites back at Albert, stating that she's going to live with Shug, cursing Albert up one side and down the other. This seemed really preposterous to me. I've never read Alice Walker's novel, so I don't know if the film maker's were just staying true to the novel, but this really seems like a cheap trick to conjure up a happy, movie going audience. I just can't see a woman who has been beaten and abused (verbally and physically) finally standing up for herself and cursing at her spousal attacker. To me, this was a character who didn't do things on such a grand scale, but backed off when intimidated and never stood up for herself. In another example, I don't see Albert as the type of man, who when reaching his older years, catching himself falling further and further into a bottle, who would finally learn his lesson and do a good deed. If Albert hadn't learned his lesson by that point in his life, then he was going to go to the grave as a bitter old man.

Both of these character twists only served to disconnect me from the film and in my opinion, were way too uncharacteristic. Maybe they were just following the book and when adapting someone else's material, it's always good to stick with it - so if that's what they were doing, then fine. But it reeks of Spielberg wanting to provide his viewers with as happy an ending as possible. You could have just as easily left the Albert character to wallow in self pity for the rest of his life and gave us the ending of Nettie returning from Africa and reuniting with Celie. It would have worked just as well and not been so fake.

In the end though, these characters and situations did a fine job of nearly bringing me to tears any film that can make you well up with emotion must be doing something right. The actors shine, the visuals are intense and the director takes a risk and tackles a tough subject and does a fine job with it.

RATING: 7/10 Again, who would've though that Oprah and Whoopi had this in them, but they did and I'm shocked. Next up for Spielberg: "Jurassic Park".


July 29, 2011 2:54pm


  1. I enjoyed your review -- that's an interesting point about Celie's abrupt turnaround. I read the book, but it was many moons ago, and I don't remember what happened, really, in either one. I may have to revisit them.

  2. Thanks for reading Karen, and as always I appreciate your comments.


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