Passing

Passing ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Saw this twice at Sundance and it’s worth another look.

I can see people finding the film intriguing but not loving it and I relate with that. At the same time the more you consider what the film is saying the more you’ll get out of it. It’s definitely one to dissect and talk about with others.

From a filmmaking standpoint this is a very impressive debut from Rebecca Hall since it shows a lot of attention to framing, composition, and tone. You can tell this is based on a book because the conflict is very internal, which makes a visual adaptation difficult to pull off, unless you rely on heavy handed dialogue or other narrative devices, which kills the ambiguity. Hall doesn’t give into this impulse and you can still understand the intentions of the characters if you pay attention. She silently communicates volumes and trusts the audience. Consider how Irene carries herself when in public, how she looks at Claire, and how she holds onto her husband in the last shot. I’m excited about Hall as a director.

Tessa Thompson is very good throughout and Ruth Negga really shines. Andre Holland is just as good and I’m thrilled to see all three of them in this. There aren’t enough big moments to earn any an Oscar nomination but it’s really solid work all around — again, all having to communicate a lot silently.

I’d like to dive a bit into what the film is saying which I consider spoilers, even though I won’t spoil plot. So...

***Spoiler warning***

Here’s my take on the movie. This film is about how racial identity shapes your view on the world, whether you want it to or not.

Irene begins the story content because she doesn’t focus on the hatred that white people have towards people like her. This is because she is able to “pass” and can move about society mostly unencumbered. Her husband on the other hand is dissatisfied because the world he lives in is more hostile (unable to pass). It’s only when she meets Claire that she realizes by contrast the life she could have, completely unburdened by her race (or so she thinks). Had she Claire’s life, she would not have to explain to her kids why people that look like them are lynched. But of course Claire has her own discontentment, and sees the greener grass in Irene, it’s really about Irene projecting these this ideal life onto Claire (hence she thinks Claire can make her husband happier than she can). Either way, it’s seen as a ticket to leave the box they are in, a box Irene didn’t know existed or didn’t want to believe existed. 

It’s a story of simmering discontentment when you discover the edges of your world.

There may be more to the story and I could see others having a different takeaway. It is a bit hard to understand the intentions of the film and perhaps that’s a weakness. But I think there’s a good amount of meat in here and the conversations should continue