My favorite protagonists are highly flawed, my favorite book is “The Stranger” and my favorite movie of the year so far is “Luce”. Speaking as a Black American, “Luce” is everything I want in a movie.
Directed by Julius Onah (The Cloverfrield Paradox) and co-written by J.C. Lee (adapted from his own play) this slow-burn thriller (which makes it sound more simplistic than it is) tells the story of Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) an honor student, originally from war-torn Eritrea and adopted at age ten by white American parents (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). One day a teacher (Octavia Spencer) becomes suspicious that Luce’s calm and affable exterior may be hiding something a bit more sinister. In the end it leaves you asking one question: How does one go from directing “The Cloverfield Paradox” to this thought provoking masterpiece?
Visually the film comes across as a thriller, meaning the tension is high throughout. It is the story and its characters which serve as the intrigue.
It’s quite fascinating to see all of the dynamics at play. From the white American parents who struggle with how much to trust their black child, to the black teacher whose ideology comes in direct conflict with Luce’s. And Luce, a character that struggles with his identity as an immigrant person of color, going to a predominately white school, where he is praised for his eloquence and ability to basically make the white people around him feel good about themselves, is a revelation of a character. Harrison Jr.’s performance is quite disturbing, as I spent the entire movie trying to read his eyes but couldn’t.
Final Thought: The beauty of a film like this is that ten different people could watch it and come out with ten differing takeaways. To me this isn’t a story about a sociopath or a star student, but rather a commentary on being black in America; how as a permanent immigrant (based on skin color alone) there is a dichotomy within the community and individual, which causes a schism in mentality and social norms. What does it mean to be a Black American? Is it Obama? Is it a rapper on BET? Is it a Mammy? Is it even an American? Or is it all of these things and none of them at the same time? “Luce” asks all of these questions, while making the bold statement that the Black American is culturally schizophrenic and as James Baldwin once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” To me, “Luce” is an example of how one perfectly tells the story of what it’s like to be black in America.
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